For many orthodox Jews, “Asara BeTeves” is an annoying fast day that just reminds us that we are hungry. Why is this day so important to us?
Beginnings are very important milestones. This fast day initiates the cycle of mourning for the Land of Israel that begins with the Siege of Yerushalayim. The cycle concludes on Tzom Gedalia, which mourns the end of Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisrael. Those of us who live in Israel today are part of the new cycle of rebuilding Israel and preparing for the greeting of Moshiach.
It is documented in Melachim II, that on the 10th day of the 10th month of (Teves), in 588 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king began the siege of Yerushalayim.
מלכים ב, כה:א, כה
וַיְהִי בִשְׁנַת הַתְּשִׁיעִית לְמָלְכוֹ בַּחֹדֶשׁ הָעֲשִׂירִי בֶּעָשֹוֹר לַחֹדֶשׁ בָּא נְבֻכַדְנֶאצַּר מֶֽלֶךְ בָּבֶל הוּא וְכָל חֵילוֹ עַל יְרוּשָׁלַםִ וַיִּחַן עָלֶיהָ וַיִּבְנוּ עָלֶיהָ דָּיֵק סָבִֽיב:…וַיְהִי בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי בָּא יִשְׁמָעֵאל בֶּן נְתַנְיָה בֶּן אֱלִישָׁמָע מִזֶּרַע הַמְּלוּכָה וַעֲשָׂרָה אֲנָשִׁים אִתּוֹ וַיַּכּוּ אֶת גְּדַלְיָהוּ וַיָּמֹת וְאֶת הַיְּהוּדִים וְאֶת הַכַּשְׂדִּים אֲשֶׁר הָיוּ אִתּוֹ בַּמִּצְפָּֽה:
Melachim II, 25: 1,25
And it was in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar the king of Bavel came, he and his entire army, against Yerushalayim and encamped against it, and they built works of siege around it…And it was in the seventh month that Ishmael the son of Netanya the son of Elishama of the royal descent, came with ten men with him, and they struck down Gedaliah and he died, and the Judeans and the Chaldeans who were with him at Mizpah.
Eighteen months later, on the 17th of Tammuz, at the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign (586 BCE); the Babylonians broke through the city walls of Yerushalayim. The siege ended with the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash three weeks later, on the 9th of Av (Tisha B’Av). This was end of the first Kingdom and the exile of the elite of Yehudah to Bavel. The Tenth of Tevet is thus considered part of the cycle of fasts connected with these events, which includes Shivah Asar B’Tammuz (17th of Tammuz) and Tisha B’Av (9th of Av).
The First Reference To The Tenth Of Teves
The first reference to the Tenth of Teves as a “fast day” appears in the Book of Zechariah, where it is called the “fast of the tenth month.”
זכריה ח: יט
כֹּֽה אָמַר ה’ צְבָאוֹת צוֹם הָֽרְבִיעִי וְצוֹם הַֽחֲמִישִׁי וְצוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וְצוֹם הָֽעֲשִׂירִי יִֽהְיֶה לְבֵית יְהוּדָה לְשָׂשׂוֹן וּלְשִׂמְחָה וּֽלְמֹֽעֲדִים טוֹבִים וְהָֽאֱמֶת וְהַשָּׁלוֹם אֱהָֽבוּ:
So said the Hashem of Hosts: The fast of the fourth [month], the fast of the fifth [month], the fast of the seventh [month], and the fast of the tenth [month] shall be for the house of Yehuda for joy and happiness and for happy holidays-but love truth and peace.
Other references to the fast and the affliction can be found in the books of Yechezkel and Yimiyahu.
יחזקל כד: א,ב
וַיְהִי דְבַר ה’ אֵלַי בַּשָּׁנָה הַתְּשִׁיעִית, בַּחֹדֶשׁ הָעֲשִׂירִי, בֶּעָשׂוֹר לַחֹדֶשׁ, לֵאמֹר: בֶּן אָדָם, כתוב לְךָ אֶת שֵׁם הַיּוֹם אֶת עֶצֶם, הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה: סָמַךְ מֶלֶךְ בָּבֶל אֶל יְרוּשָׁלִַם, בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה.
And the word of Hashem came unto me in the ninth year, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, saying: ‘Son of man, you write the name of the day, even of this selfsame day; this selfsame day the king of Bavel has invested Yerushalayim.
ירמיהו נב: ד
וַיְהִי בַשָּׁנָה הַתְּשִׁעִית לְמָלְכוֹ, בַּחֹדֶשׁ הָעֲשִׂירִי בֶּעָשׂוֹר לַחֹדֶשׁ, בָּא נְבוּכַדְרֶאצַּר מֶלֶךְ בָּבֶל הוּא וְכָל חֵילוֹ עַל יְרוּשָׁלִַם, וַיַּחֲנוּ עָלֶיהָ; וַיִּבְנוּ עָלֶיהָ דָּיֵק, סָבִיב.
And it came to pass in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, that Nebuchadrezzar king of Bavel came, he and all his army, against Yerushalayim, and encamped against it; and they built forts against it round about.
Other Calamities On or Near the Tenth of Teves
According to tradition, as described by the liturgy for the day’s selichos, the fast also commemorates other calamities that occurred throughout Jewish history on the tenth of Teves and the two days preceding it:
- Targum Shivim – On the 8th of Teves, during the 3rd century BCE, a time of Hellenistic rule of Yehuda, during the Second Beis Hamikdash period, Ptolemy, King of Egypt, ordered the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, a work which later became known as the Septuagint (Tur Orach Chaim 580 ). Seventy two sages were placed in solitary confinement and ordered to translate the Torah into Greek. This event was a tragedy, as it reflected a deprivation and debasement of the divine nature of the Torah, and a subversion of its spiritual and literary qualities. Upon translation from the original Hebrew, the Torah’s legal codes and deeper layers of meaning would be lost. Many Jewish laws are formulated in terms of specific Hebrew words employed in the Torah; without the original Hebrew wording, the authenticity and essence of the legal system would be damaged. The mystical ideas contained in the Torah are also drawn from the original Hebrew. As such, these would not be accessed by individuals studying the Torah in Greek (or any other language) alone.
- Ezra HaSofer Died – On the 9th of Tevet, “something happened, but we do not know what it was…” (Shulchan Aruch, Ohr Chaim 549:1). The selichot liturgy for the day states that Ezra HaSofer, the great leader who brought some Jews back to Eretz Yisrael from the Bavel exile and who ushered in the era of the Second Temple, died on this day, and this is verified by the Kol Bo.
- Ezra and Nechemiah Died – According to the Geonim as recorded by Bahag and cited in Tur Orach Chaim (580), the specific tragedy of the 9th Teves is unknown. Some manuscripts of Bahag add that Ezra and Nechemiah died on this day.
- Jesus Was Born – In Sefer Ha-Ibur (Rav Avraham bar Chiya) Chapter 10, he states that on the 9th of Teves “The Nazarite” was born
This Fast Must Be On The 10th of Teves
Only Yom Kippur and the Fast of Teves must be on a specific day. The other fast days must be on a day in a specific month. The pasuk in Yechezkel says that this holiday must be “בעצם היום הזה” on that specific day (the 10th); just like the Torah describes Yom Kippur. The other fast days need only to be in the month of Elul, Tamuz, or Av.
The Abudraham (1340 ר׳ דָּוִד אַבּוּדַרְהָם), was a Rishon who lived at Seville. He noted that the 10th of Teves has an additional theoretical stringency not shared by any other fast except Yom Kippur, namely that if the Tenth of Tevet were to fall out on a Shabbis, this fast would actually be observed on Shabbis. This cannot actually happen under the current arrangement of the Hebrew calendar.
The reason the fasts of the Tenth of Tevet and Yom Kippur must be observed on the actual day on which they occur is because of the phrase “the very day” (עצם היום הזה) is used in reference to both of them, in Yechezkel 24:2 in reference to the Tenth of Teves, and similarly for Yom Kippur in Vayikra.
וְכָל מְלָאכָה לֹא תַֽעֲשׂוּ בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה כִּי יוֹם כִּפֻּרִים הוּא לְכַפֵּר עֲלֵיכֶם לִפְנֵי ה’ אֱלֹֽקֵיכֶֽם:
You shall not perform any work on that very day, for it is a day of atonement, for you to gain atonement before Hashem, your G-d (Vayikra 23:28).
Each fast commemorates a specific event that originally occurred on that day. The 17th of Tamuz is the day of the sin of golden calf. Tisha B’Av commemorates that tragedy on the 9th Av when the Spies (chet meraglim) told the Jewish Nation not to make Aliya. Tzom Gedalia commemorates the murder of Gedalia on Rosh Hashanah, celebrated on the 3rd of Tishrei. Whereas, the 10th Teves was the day that Yosef was sold by his brothers into slavery and taken down to Mitzrayim (Rav Shlomo Fisher).
Rav Shlomo Yehonasan Yehuda Fisher died on the 14th of Kislev in 2021 at the age of 90. He was the Rosh Yeshiva of Itri Yerushalayim and the Av Beis Din of Yerushalayim. In his sefer Beis Yishai (quoted by Rav Dovid Gotlieb), he comments that the fast of the 10th Teves was the original “Sinas Chinam” baseless hatred that destroyed the second Beis Hamikdash. The root of this hatred began with the sale of Yosef HaTzadik on the 10th of Teves. Interestingly, the Holiday of Chanukah precedes this fast day. On that Holiday we commemorate the victory or tragedy of Jews killing other Jews.
We commemorate this specific fast day on the 10th of Teves because the forgiveness of this sin can only occur only if we do sincere Teshuva (repentance) on this day. Once we are forgiven for this cardinals sin of Sinas Chinam, then we can usher in the era of Moshiach ben Yosef.