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The Fast of the Tenth Month: An Unusual Taanis

Rabbi Avraham Kosman

While the existence of a fast in Teves is referred to in Tanach, the great Tannaim Rabi Akiva and Rabi Shimon bar Yochai differ on its exact date. How did a dispute arise regarding such a fundamental matter? And, does the fast of Asarah B’Teves override Shabbos, as Yom Kippur does?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

“Hashem spoke to me … in the tenth month, on the tenth of the month, saying: Son of man, write for yourself the name of the day, this very day; the king of Bavel approached Yerushalayim on this very day” (Yechezkel 24:1–2).

This pasuk introduces the fast day for which the month of Teves is primarily known — the Tenth of Teves, which is named for the date on which it occurs, similar to the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av (but unlike Yom Kippur, Tzom Gedaliah, and Taanis Esther, whose names are derived from the reason for the fast). Actually, Chazal list three fast days that occur during this month: the 8th of Teves, when the Torah was translated into Greek; the 9th of the month, when Ezra HaSofer passed away; and the fast of the Tenth of Teves, the subject of this article. Of these, however, only the Tenth of Teves continues to be observed.

There are also two fast days during Teves that are observed by specific communities: the 23rd of Teves, the date of the expulsion of the Jews from Portugal, and the 25th of Teves, which saw the burning of the Jewish community of Frankfurt.[i] Not for naught do we recite in the Selichos for Asarah B’Teves, “The month of Teves — I was severely afflicted during it, and its path was changed upon me.”

Yet, while the existence of a fast in Teves is explicitly referenced in a pasuk, the great Tannaim Rabi Akiva and Rabi Shimon bar Yochai differ on whether the fast is observed on the tenth or the fifth of the month.


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