Adapted from Judaic.org
Four of the six fast days on the Jewish calendar are associated with the vanquishing of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Bet Hamiqdash. These terrible events occurred twice in Jewish history. Once they occurred with the extinguishing of the last flame of the first Jewish Commonwealth in 586 B.C.E. The second time they occurred during the corresponding events destroying the Second Temple in 70 C.E.
One of these fasts occurs this week on Thursday, July 9th 2020. This is the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, or Shib’a Asar B’Tammuz. The fast begins at 4:20 am on July 9th 2020 and concludes at 8:47 pm that evening.
On this date the Romans broke through Jerusalem’s walls in 70 C.E. In 586 B.C.E. the Babylonians broke through Jerusalem’s walls on the 9th of Tammuz, but the fast date was modified to reflect the later destruction, as it is that destruction that still prevails. The Talmud relates that on this day in different years four other national calamities befell the Jewish People: the Tablets of the Ten Commandments were broken by Moshe; the daily tamid sacrifice was terminated in the First Temple; the Roman Emperor Vespasian burned the Sefer Torah, and he placed an idol in the Temple.
The fasts of the 17th of Tammuz, begin at dawn (1.2 proportionate hours before sunrise) and concludes at evening. The following will deal with the 17th of Tammuz and the other three minor fast days only.
Eating and drinking, even of a small measure, is prohibited. Sick and very weak people whose health requires eating or drinking, even if the illness is not life-threatening, are exempt from the fast. Someone close to becoming sick, who by fasting might become sick, is also exempt from the fast. Someone who is able to fast but must take medicine may do so.
Pregnant women are exempt as are those who gave birth within twenty-four months before the fast. Children are discouraged from fasting during minor fasts before becoming Bar or Bat Mitzvah age when they are obligated in mitzvot (twelve years of age for girls, thirteen for boys).
If one mistakenly ate in the morning, regardless of how much, he should continue the fast from the moment he remembered. Taking showers and wearing fresh clothing are permitted. Brushing teeth and gargling mouthwash are permitted.
A special selection is read from the Torah both in shaharit and minha from Parashat Ki Tissa recounting Moshe Rabenu’s prayer after Israel’s transgression of the golden calf and Hashem’s favorable response to Moshe’s prayer.
Bircat Kohanim, the priestly blessing, is recited in minha when minha is prayed close to sunset. A kohen who is not fasting does not recite Bircat Kohanim in minha.
The ultimate purpose of the fast days is to offer us the opportunity to separate from daily, habitual concerns and to reflect inwardly. This reflection should, hopefully, foster repentance, change our thoughts for the better, and increase the Jewish people’s commitment to positive actions. We receive guidance and learn how to improve our path in the world by following Hashem’s mitzvot and studying Torah.
Many European and American Jewish communities restrict activities during the three weeks between 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av; weddings and celebrations, swimming, listening to live music, and even travel are restricted.
However, within the Sephardic tradition, these limitations usually commence only during the month of Av. Generally, most observe restrictions from the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av through the fast day. This year, that will occur from Saturday, July 25, 2020 through Tisha B’Av which ends on Thursday, July 30th.
In the land of Israel, it is common to observe restrictions, including limitations on washing clothes and on consuming meat, poultry or wine, beginning on the 1st of Av (this year, July 22nd)and a number of Sephardic communities follow this practice.
The 17th of Tammuz is related to the upcoming, and more significant, fast day of Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av. Tisha B’Av occurs exactly three weeks after the 17th of Tammuz. The Mishnah relates that on Tisha B’Av the destruction of both the first and second Temples occurred and three other national calamities befell the Jewish People: Hashem’s decree denying entry to the Land of Israel to the generation that exited Egypt, because of the transgression associated with the spies, that the people were fearful of proceeding to the land, capture of the great city of Bethar (by the Romans in 135 C. E., crushing the Bar Kokhba revolution) and the ploughing of Jerusalem (see Jer. 26:18).
Yom Kippur and Tisha B’av are different, more intense fast days than the 17th of Tammuz. They have unique halakhot, or Jewish laws, that relate specifically to those days. Yom Kippur and Tisha B’av are the only 24 hour (plus) fast days that begin at sunset and conclude the next evening (at ‘the appearance of the stars’). This year, Tisha B’Av will start at 7:55 pm on Wednesday, July 29th and continue through Thursday, July 30th 2020 at 8:40 pm.