Yehuda Lave
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Not fasting on Tisha B’Av this year, because of Corona, Revisited

In the synagogue, everyone sprays on the hand gel, like they are drinking scotch, and no one knows if what we are doing is helping or not. Every five minutes they are taking another hit of alcohol.

One thing is for sure. The  Health Department and Bibi tell us we are in a pandemic. And during a pandemic, while the Halacha does not change, the circumstances have changed and we must adjust.

For the first time, we have two classes of people. Those under 60 and those over. The disease attacks those over 60 and those with pre-existing conditions so the two classes of people must behave differently.

I have some friends over 60 that have not come out of their house for five months. This, of course, is an over the top reaction, but the media and the government have done a great job in scaring everyone, so everyone is scared.

Now we turn to the Jewish holidays. Praying in synagogues used to be good for you, now the great leaders have decided maybe the germs are spread in the synagogue. There must be 10 men for a minyan, and so the numbers have been going up and down from 10 to 50.

Fasting. It just makes common sense that not eating or especially not drinking on a hot day (both are part of a Jewish fast by Jewish law as opposed to fasting in the general sense of the term) would reduce your resistance to a virus or germ. There are six fasts in a Jewish calendar year. Five are of rabbinic origin and one is mandated by the Torah. In Orthodox Judaism today, we practice what is called Rabbinic Judaism, so that the Rabbis’ fasts are just as important as Yom Kippur in terms of stringencies.

The difference is that since the Rabbis created these fasts, they can also regulate how stringent they are. There is a general rule that for rabbinic regulations you can be quite lenient as they are considered extra mitzvahs to be able to get close to G-d. And since the most important mitzvah is the preservation of life, it makes sense to limit these fasts.  All of the other five besides Yom Kippur are rabbinic and this includes Tisha B’Av, although people think it is holier than the other four, but it is not.

Here are general rules about fasting as agreed to by a majority of Orthodox rabbis (In Judaism, although we welcome every opinion, we go according to the majority in general).

One who is healthy-General law by pandemic: The poskim[6] rule that during a pandemic one is not to abstain from eating and drinking, as it can make one more susceptible to the illness. However, it is unclear if this directive applies only to non-fast days, and it is coming to negate the establishment of fasts during a pandemic, or if it coming to negate fasting even the established fasts of the Sages. Practically, it all depends on the severity of the illness.[7] Regarding COVID-19: Some rabbanim view COVID-19 as a clear danger of life for all people and therefore advise the general public not to fast this year during the pandemic even on the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B’Av.  Many rabbanim, however, take a more complex view differentiating between areas[8], age groups, and risk groups, and so is to be followed in all areas absent of their own Mara Deasra to give them direction. Anyone who is fasting must take extra care to avoid leaving their home the entire day, and if they do leave their home, must do so while wearing a mask.[9]

The following are the practical directives publicized by the majority of rabbanim:[10]

People exempt from the fast:

  1. Women who are pregnant, even if in general they are stringent to fast.
  2. Women who are nursing, even if in general they are stringent to fast.
  3. Anyone sick with Corona, even if feeling healthy and not bedridden.
  4. Anyone with Corona symptoms such as loss of smell and taste, cough, difficulty in breathing.
  5. Anyone who is within a high-risk group for COVID-19, as listed on the CDC website[11] and other health ministries. (in this case, it certainly includes anyone over 60)
  6. Anyone who has a specific medical worry from the illness and has discussed with his doctor who instructed him not to fast.
  7. People in quarantine due to possible exposure to the virus are not to fast if they have been instructed by their doctor not to fast. Otherwise, if they feel healthy, they are to fast. Again this applies to anyone under 60. And if you are depressed, you are also not to fast. It seems to me that it would be impossible not to be depressed if you are in quarantine, so you certainly can opt-out of fasting if you so desire. The point is you are not required to eat and or drink like you would be if you are over sixty. In this case, it is more of a personal choice depending on your mood.

So you have to see what class you fall into, but for many people the Tisha B’Av fast is cancelled this year. Next year, let’s hope the Mashiach comes and Tisha B’Av becomes a feast like it is supposed to!

[1] Michaber 554:6 regarding Tishe Be’av; Rama 686:2 [regarding Taanis Esther]; Chayeh Adam 133:6; M”B 550:4; Kaf Hachaim 550:7

[2] M”B ibid; Kaf Hachaim ibid

[3] The reason: As the Sages did not institute the fast for those who are sick [Michaber ibid]

[4] Chayeh Adam 133:6; M”B 550:4; See Q&A for definition of sick

[5] See Rama 686:2; M”B 686:5; Shaareiy Tziyon 586:11; Kaf Hachaim 686:22

[6] M”A 576:2

[7] See Biur Halacha 554:6 “Debimakom Choli” in name of Pischeiy Olam

[8] See Biur Halacha 554:6 “Debimakom Choli” in name of Pischeiy Olam

[9] Biur Halacha 554:6 “Debimakom Choli” in name of Pischeiy Olam

[10] Beis Din Rabbanei Chabad of Eretz Yisrael; Rav Yitzchak Yosef; Rav David Lau, the chief Rabbi’s of Israel; Rav Moishe Bransdofer

[11] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html

  • The Sweet Hereafter

    Rabbi Saltzman made it a habit of visiting his congregants at home, especially his elder members. On one such visit to Morty Rubenstein he asked, “Mr. Rubenstein, do you have thoughts of what comes next…Olam Haba?”

    “What do you mean?” asked Mr. Rubenstein.

    “You know, the afterlife, the hereafter,” said Rabbi Saltzman.

    “Oh, I do all the time,” said Mr. Rubenstein. “No matter where I am – in the parlor, upstairs, in the kitchen, or down in the basement – I ask myself, ‘Now, what am I here after?'”

About the Author
Yehuda Lave writes a daily (except on Shabbat and Hags) motivational Torah blog at YehudaLave.com Loving-kindness my specialty. Internationally Known Speaker and Lecturer and Author. Self Help through Bible and Psychology. Classes in controlling anger and finding Joy. Now living and working in Israel. Remember, it only takes a moment to change your life. Learn to have all the joy in your life that you deserve!!! There are great masters here to interpret Spirituality. Studied Kabbalah and being a good human being with Rabbi Plizken and Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, my Rabbi. Torah is the name of the game in Israel, with 3,500 years of mystics and scholars interpreting G-D's word. Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual teacher and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law. He works with people from all walks of life and helps them in their search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money, and spiritual engagement
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