Peta Jones Pellach
Teacher and activist in Jerusalem
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Why do I fast?

The eve of the weeks commemorating the Temples' destruction is a time to love others and connect to the Divine

Once again, the Jewish season of the Three Weeks, a time of semi-mourning, will overlap with the Muslim month of Ramadan, so both communities find themselves in periods of intense self-reflection. In both communities, we dedicate this time to examining our behaviours in order to improve them. This is a subdued time but a time imbued with hope. We have power over our destinies. By recognizing our flaws, we can correct them. By changing ourselves, we can change the world.

While the Muslim month is based on a lunar calendar, meaning that it can occur at different times in the solar year and is meta-historical, the Jewish calendar is a solar-lunar combination. The rhythm of the year is connected to the change of the seasons; it is also deeply connected to history.

The period of the Three Weeks begins on the 17th Tammuz, the date on which Moses threw to the ground the first set of tablets on which were engraved the Ten Commandments, as a result of the sin of the Golden Calf. Moses was so angered by the Jewish people’s lack of faith and their need for a physical representation of the Divine presence that he could not deliver the holy gift which he was holding. As the tablets were shattered, so was something celestial. The day was ‘damaged’.
It was on 17th Tammuz that the Romans began the final siege of Jerusalem that was to lead to the destruction of the Second Temple three weeks later. While Jews believe that the First Temple was destroyed because of idolatry, the Second Temple was destroyed because of internal division, dubbed ‘baseless hatred’. The Jewish view of history is that everything is determined by the Divine response to human behavior: when we behave in an ethical and a sensitive way to others, God responds by treating us with mercy and kindness.
The 9th of Av, the final day of the three-week period is an even more damaged day, caused by the Jewish people’s rejection of the Promised Land, when the spies sent ahead to Canaan from the desert brought back a negative report. This was an act of betrayal of the covenant of Abraham and of cowardice. Consequently, on this day, both Temples were destroyed. On this day, the Jews were expelled from Spain. On this day, the first deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto to Auschwitz took place.

Time to move on? A scene from the Arch of Titus in Rome depicting the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
Time to move on? A scene from the Arch of Titus in Rome depicting the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

The only way that both these days can be repaired, and history set back onto a proper trajectory, is by a change in human behavior. We need to learn loyalty and faith, to be brave, to love our fellow human beings and to connect to the Divine. These are the goals of the fast of the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av.

This is consistent with the aims of Ramadan. Why do I fast – for 12 hours on 17th Tammuz and for 24 hours on the 9th Av? Why do Muslims fast during daylight hours for the entire month of Ramadan? Because it reminds us that we are no angels! Seriously! We are merely human, with all that that entails – bodily needs and moral flaws. Human beings have freedom of choice; sadly, we frequently abuse that power and make poor choices. We are often arrogant, believing that our only responsibility is for ourselves and that we are above having obligations to others and the rest of the world.

Women pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City February 11, 2013. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Women pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City February 11, 2013. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

By depriving ourselves just a little and changing our routines, we reflect on our weaknesses and this just might inspire us to make small changes. We are only human – so are the other people we meet. We should judge them favourably, treat them kindly and with respect. If we fast, we will reflect on who we are and we might realize what power we have despite our physical frailty. We can repair ourselves, our community, the world, and even change the course of history.

Peta Jones Pellach is a fifth generation Australian. She made Aliyah in 2010 and took up her position as Director of Educational Activities for the Elijah Interfaith Institute. She has visited places as exotic as Indonesia, India, Iceland, Poland and Morocco to participate in and teach interreligious dialogue. She is also a teacher of Torah and Jewish History, a Scrabble fanatic and an Israeli folk-dancer.

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About the Author
A fifth generation Australian, Peta made Aliyah in 2010. She is Senior Fellow of the Kiverstein Institute, Director of Educational Activities for the Elijah Interfaith Institute, secretary of the Jerusalem Rainbow Group for Jewish-Christian Encounter and Dialogue, a co-founder of Praying Together in Jerusalem and a teacher of Torah and Jewish History. She has visited places as exotic as Indonesia and Iceland to participate in and teach inter-religious dialogue. She also broadcasts weekly on SBS radio (Australia) with the latest news from Israel. Her other passions are Scrabble and Israeli folk-dancing.
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