Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Shiva Asar B’Tamuz – The Seventeenth of Tamuz

The Seventeenth of Tamuz is the anniversary of several tragic events in Jewish history.
  1. The luchot were broken on this day when Moses came down from Sinai and found the Jews worshiping the golden calf.
  2. The Tamid (daily) sacrifice was discontinued on this day. (There is some disagreement in the sources as to when this happened (or, more accurately, which interruption of the Tamid service is commemorated on the 17th of Tammuz). Maimonides writes that this occurred prior to the  destruction of the first Temple, when Jerusalem was under siege and they were unable to get the necessary sheep. Others say that it occurred prior to the the destruction of the second Temple. And some say that this refers to an interruption of the Tamid service that took place at an earlier part of the second Temple period, under Hasmonean rule.)
  3. The Romans penetrated the city walls of Jerusalem on this day prior to the destruction of the second Temple.
  4. An idol was erected in the Temple on this day. (There is a difference of opinion in the Talmud (Yer. Taanis 4:5) whether this is talking about the first or second Beit HaMikdash.)
  5.  The Torah was burnt on this day by Apustemus, one of the Greek oppressors.
In memory of these events we are required to fast on this day to inspire ourselves to repentance.

The fast begins at the break of dawn and ends at nightfall. During this time we neither eat nor drink any food whatsoever, not even water. Even though we are, strictly speaking, permitted to bathe on this fast day (unlike Tisha B’Av and Yom Kippur) the custom is not to bathe on Shiva Asar B’Tamuz.

Pregnant or nursing women, as well as anyone else for whom fasting may be a health problem should consult with a rabbi whether they are permitted to fast. Children below the age of majority (bar or bat mitzvah) do not fast. (In some communities, it is customary for children to begin fasting a short time before they become bar/bat mitzvah.)

It is important to recognize that the primary idea behind a fast is to meditate on the fact that these sufferings came upon us because the sins of our ancestors, sins which we continue to commit, and that we must repent. Someone who fasts but spends the day in frivolous activity has completely missed the point.

The fast of Shiva Asar B’Tamuz marks the beginning of a three-week period of national mourning for the Jews that is completed on TishaB’Av, the ninth of Av.

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