Jonathan Muskat

Asara B’Tevet: It’s All About the Beginning

Tomorrow we will observe the fast of asara b’Tevet the tenth day of Tevet. This fast day is one of the four fasts that the prophet Zechariah announced to the Jews who returned to Eretz Yisrael at the beginning of the second Temple period (Zechariah 8:19). The other fasts are Tzom Gedaliah on the third day of Tishrei, the shiva asar b’Tammuz on the 17thday of Tammuz, and Tisha B’Av on the ninth day of Av. Interestingly enough, Zechariah refers to each of the fasts by the month in which they should be observed (i.e., the fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth month and the fast of the seventh month and the fast of the tenth month), but he does not provide a specific date in any month for when we should observe the fast.

However, in Sefer Melachim (Melachim II, 25:1-2), the navi clearly states that on the tenth day of the tenth month, later to be named Tevet, Nevuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem which lasted for approximately a year and a half until he finally conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Beit Ha-mikdash. We commemorate the fast of the destruction of the Beit Ha-mikdash on the ninth day of Av, and this fast is viewed as the most stringent of the four fasts listed in sefer Zechariah. After all, we observe this fast for an entire 24-hour day period and we also observe the inuyim, or the restrictions of Yom Kippur such as no leather shoes, no bathing, no anointing with oil and no marital intimacy, on Tisha B’Av.

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 550:3) rules that if Tisha B’Av and any of these other fasts  fall out on Shabbat, they are pushed off until after Shabbat. However, Rabbi David Abudarham disagreed with this position (Hilchot Taanit, p. 254). He writes that the fasts of Tisha B’Av, Tzom Gedalia and Shiva Asar B’Tammuz are all pushed off until Sunday if they fall out on Shabbat. But we would observe the fast of asara b’Tevet on Shabbat itself.

Why is that? He explains that the fast of asara B’Tevet is different from other fast days because when the navi Yechezkel prophesizes about this event, he refers to this day as happening “b’etzem hayom hazeh” – on this very day. Therefore, argues Rabbi Abudarham, we must always observe this fast day on the tenth of Tevet whatever day of the week it is. As a practical matter, after the Jewish calendar was fixed, asara B’Tevet can never fall out on Shabbat. However, Rabbi Yonatan Eybeschutz writes a different reason why we are more stringent to observe asara B’Tevet on Shabbat even if it would fall out on Shabbat. He writes, “tzara gedola hayta v’chol hatchalot kashot” – it was a great calamity and all beginnings are very difficult (Ya-arot Devash, 1:2). The siege that Nevuchadnezzar laid of Jerusalem was the beginning of the end. Obviously, at the last moment, God could always save us, but in retrospect, remembering the beginning of a tragedy is often more difficult than remembering the end of the tragedy. When we remember the beginning of a tragedy, we can reflect how the tragedy started and how we saw the writing on the wall but didn’t do anything to stop it from unfolding.

The siege of asara B’Tevet took place one and a half years before the actual destruction of the Beit Ha-mikdash. Yes, the devastation of the destruction of the Beit Ha-mikdash seemed more tragic than the siege. However, when we remember this tragedy, on some level we need to reflect even more seriously about the very beginning, where we went wrong spiritually, and began a downward spiral towards the ultimate tragedy. I think about this concept a lot now. I think about Israel’s political, military and intelligence failures which led to the October 7th massacres. But I think about it in a different way now, as well. I think about how united Israelis are now. I think about the tremendous upswing in Jewish pride, in Jewish practice, and in Jewish rituals in the State of Israel now. And that makes me wonder. Why was religion so under attack on October 6th? Why were we so divided on October 6th? I hope that we really think about these two tragedies that existed on October 6th and really think about the causes of these tragedies, the beginning of the downward spiral leading to such a lack of unity and such a disdain for religion among some parts of Israeli society. Perhaps, then, in the spirit of asara B’Tevet, we can use this time of unity and this time of Jewish pride to make the necessary changes to maintain and increase the unity and Jewish pride even after the war is over.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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