Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Rogochover and More: Excursus on Fasting

The Rogochover and More: Excursus on Fasting
Marc B. Shapiro
Relevant to what appeared in the last post (see note 13), I wish to mention some leniencies regarding fast days that contradict mainstream halakhah. I have also included other interesting material regarding the fast days.
1. R. Israel Jacob Fischer, dayan on the beit din of the Edah Haredit, stated that in our day all pregnant women up until the ninth month must eat on Yom Kippur פחות מכשיעור. See his haskamah to R. Baruch Pinchas Goldberg, Penei Barukh (Jerusalem, 1985), where he writes:
כיום הזה שנחלשו הדורות, ועשרות רבות של נשים מפילות ע"י התענית, צריכין כל הנשים המעוברות עד החודש התשיעי לאכול ביוהכ"פ פחות מכשיעור.
For a criticism of this great leniency, which contradicts Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 617:1, see R. Eliezer Waldenberg, Tzitz Eliezer, vol. 17, no. 20. Elsewhere, R. Fischer states that pregnant women are forbidden to fast on Tisha be-Av.
מעוברת אסורה להתענות בת"ב, ואין כאן דין שיעורים, כי במקום סכנה לא גזרו חז"ל
See Even Yisrael, vol. 9, no. 62. This too is at odds with Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 554:5, which rules that pregnant women are obligated to fast on Tisha be-Av.
In an article on the OU website[1] R. Y. Dov Krakowski writes:
There are those who are Noheg that pregnant women do not even begin to fast on Tisha B’Av (there is very little if any Halachik backing to this hanhaga, but many of the chosheve senior Poskim have such a Mesorah. I have personally heard this from many family members who heard this from my great uncle the Veiner [!] Rov Zetzal and from my wife’s grandfather Harav Lipa Rabinowitz who says it in the name of his grandfather the Sundlander Rov Zatzal).
R. Yosef David Weissberg also reports that many halakhic authorities rule that in contemporary times pregnant women are not obligated to fast on Tisha be-Av.[2]
2. R. Akiva Joseph Schlesinger writes that he has a tradition from the Hatam Sofer that pregnant and nursing women should only fast on Yom Kippur, and even women who are not pregnant should only fast on Tisha be-Av and the other fast days if they are very healthy.[3] He also quotes an oral tradition from the Hatam Sofer which seems to be saying that if he had the authority, he would have abolished the fast days other than Yom Kippur and Tisha be-Av. (See note 4 for another source where the Hatam Sofer says this explicitly.)
ובפרט אחרי כי בא חולשא לעולם, שמענו מהחת"ס זיע"א שאמר אי לאו דמיסתפינא כלפי ד' תעניות חוץ מיוהכ"פ ות"ב מטעם חשש סכנה לכמה בני אדם, ובפרט לנשים ה' ירחם, ולא להניח לבנותיו להתענות חוץ מהנ"ל.
His last words are not entirely clear. I think they mean that he would have preferred not to allow his daughters to fast except on Yom Kippur and Tisha be-Av, but not that he did so in practice. He does not say ולא הניח לבנותיו but ולא להניח לבנותיו.
The editor adds a note explaining the passage just quoted, but he misunderstands what R. Schlesinger means when he writes .מטעם חשש סכנה לכמה בני אדם He also mistakenly understands the passage to mean that the Hatam Sofer forbade all women to fast, other than on Yom Kippur and Tisha be-Av.
כאן כתב רבינו פסק החת"ס לענין שאר תעניות, דהיה אוסר להתענות לכל הנשים ואפילו למי שאינם מעוברות ומניקות, ולאנשים היה מתיר לכמה בני אדם אי לא דמסתפינא, אבל לנשים החליט להיתר.
R. Schlesinger also states that the rabbis did not allow women to fast except for Yom Kippur and Tisha be-Av.
בענין התעניות, בחולשתינו, רבותינו לא הניחו לנשים להתענות חוץ מט"ב ויוהכ"פ.
R. Schlesinger himself suggests that the women not fasting should give some money to charity and fast a few hours or even abstain from food the evening before the fast actually begins.
Returning to the Hatam Sofer’s comment that if he had the authority, he would abolish the fast days other than Yom Kippur and Tisha be-Av, the exact same thing was said by R. Abraham Joshua Heschel of Apta. He added that on Yom Kippur, who needs to eat (since we should be so involved in our prayers), and on Tisha be-Av, who is able to eat (as we should be so focused on mourning what we have lost)?[5]
אם הייתי בכוחי הייתי מבטל כל התעניתים חוץ מיום המר והמנהר (הוא ט' באב), שאז מי יוכל לאכול. וחוץ מיום הקדוש והנורא (הוא יום כפור), דאז מי צריך לאכול.
R. Abraham also reported that he was told by his teacher, R. Elimelech of Lizhensk, that if he could find two others to join with him, he would abolish “the fasts” (presumably, everything except for Yom Kippur and Tisha be-Av).[6]
3. R. Ovadiah Yosef, Yabia Omer, vol. 10, Orah Hayyim no. 39, discusses the laws of a nursing woman and the various fasts. On p. 503, in the hosafot u-miluim, he adds:
מש"כ להקל במינקת שאפילו הפסיקה להניק אם היא בתוך כ"ד חודש ללידה פטורה מלהתענות ג' צומות ותענית אסתר. יש להסתייע ממ"ש הגאון בעל דרכי תשובה בשו"ת צבי תפארת סוף סי' מח: וז"ל: ודע כי שמעתי מפה קדוש של מורי הגאון הקדוש אדמו"ר רבי יחזקאל משינאווא זצללה"ה, שאמר, כי הוא מקובל מגאוני וצדיקי הדור הקודמים זצ"ל, שכל אשה שעומדת עדיין בימים שיכולה ללדת, ובימי הצומות היא חלושת המזג, אפילו היא בריאה ושלימה, נכון יותר שלא תתענה, ורק לאחר שיפסוק זמנה מללדת עוד, אם תהיה בבריאות תשלים אותם התעניות, לחיים ברכה ושלום. ע"כ
This is a fascinating passage as R. Ovadiah is quoting R. Zvi Hirsch Shapira in the name of R. Ezekiel Halberstam of Shinova, who himself is passing on a tradition from earlier geonim and tzadikim, that women of childbearing age, even if they are not pregnant, do not have to fast if they feel weak. This ruling is in contradiction to Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 550:1, which states that women are also obligated to fast on the 10th of Tevet, 17th of Tamuz and Tzom Gedaliah, and does not give any exemption if they feel weak (as pretty much everyone feels a little weak when fasting). As we have already seen, R. Akiva Joseph Schlesinger states that “our rabbis” did not allow any women, not just those of childbearing age, to fast on these days.
R. Meir Mazuz, Sansan le-Yair (2012 ed), p. 354, notes this passage of R. Zvi Hirsch Shapira and reacts very strongly:
והוא נגד חז"ל חכמי התלמוד וכל הפוסקים שלא התירו רק למעוברת ומניקה. ומזה למדו רוב המורות והתלמידות בבית יעקב בימינו שלא לצום כל ד' תעניות, ואוכלות בריש גלי בשעת ההפסקה כאילו לא היו ד' תעניות בעולם ולא תיקנו אותם הנביאים.
Is R. Mazuz correct that most teachers and students at Bais Yaakov schools do not fast on the 10th of Tevet, 17th of Tamuz, Tzom Gedaliah, and Ta’anit Esther? I know that in the yeshiva world many do not fast, but my question is, is this really the majority, and are there any differences between Bais Yaakov schools in the U.S. and Israel? (Even though R. Mazuz refers to ד' תעניות established by the prophets, I am assuming he means the 10th of Tevet, 17th of Tamuz, Tzom Gedaliah, and Ta’anit Esther, as religious women of all stripes fast on Tisha be-Av.)
See also here where R. Yitzhak Yosef states that he heard that in some seminaries they tell the young women that they do not have to fast except for Yom Kippur and Tisha be-Av.
When I told a friend about what this post is focused on, he mentioned that he knows that many women do not fast other than on Yom Kippur and Tisha be-Av, but that he never heard of a “mainstream” posek who had this position. From R. Mazuz’s harsh comment it seems that he too assumes that there is no real halakhic basis for the practice of not fasting. My response to my friend, which I now share with readers, is that you can’t get any more mainstream than the great R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, and this was indeed his position. In Halikhot Shlomo: Moadei ha-Shanah, Nisan-Av, p. 401 n. 16, the following appears:
ולענין נשים הי' דרכו של רבנו להשיב לשואלים שהמנהג במקומותינו היה שהנשים אינן מתענות כלל, ואף הנערות, מלבד תשעה באב ויוהכ"פ. אבל לאנשים אין להקל כלל בד' תעניות ותענית אסתר יותר מהבמואר בפוסקים.
It is hard to criticize women for not fasting on the 10th of Tevet, 17th of Tamuz, Tzom Gedaliah, and Ta’anit Esther when R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach saw no problem with this practice.
As with R. Mazuz, R. Eliezer Shlomo Schik, here, uses the expression “4 fast days” and it refers to the 10th of Tevet, 17th of Tamuz, Tzom Gedaliah and Ta’anit Esther. He notes that the practice in Breslov is that no women fast on these days. I have been told that among other hasidic groups there is variation. Some women fast on these days, others never fast, and some do not fast if they are married and of childbearing age. (In discussing unusual leniencies, there is no need to mention standard kulot that deal with pregnant and nursing women.)
R. Yohanan Wosner, a dayan in the Skverer community, writes that while some permit married women of childbearing age to forego the fasts (other than Tisha be-Av and Yom Kippur), there are those who permit even unmarried women to do so.[7]
In R. Simhah Rabinowitz’s Piskei Teshuvot, Orah Hayyim 550:1, he states that a few great figures (gedolei ha-dorot) were lenient and permitted all women of childbearing age to forego the fasts (other than Tisha be-Av and Yom Kippur). I must note, however, that none of the figures he refers to were halakhic authorities. The first source he cites was mentioned by me in the last post, note 13.[8] In it we see that the hasidic master R. Nathan David of Szydłowiec said that no women of childbearing age should fast, except for on Yom Kippur. The fact that he said that even on Tisha be-Av such women should not fast is, I think, quite radical. The passage also records a subversive comment from R. Ezekiel of Kozmir about how the Anshei Keneset ha-Gedolah, who instituted the fast days, are embarrassed now because they did not anticipate the much weaker recent generations. R. Ezekiel  The point of such a comment was presumably to “give cover” for those who find it difficult to fast and thus choose not to.  
ושמעתי מחסיד ישיש א' שנסע להרה"ק ר' יחזקאל מקאזמיר ז"ל שהוא היה מקיל גדול בתעניות, ואמר שאנשי כנסה"ג שתקנו התעניות מתביישין על שלא הסתכלו בדורות אלו, וסיפר כמה ענינים מקולותיו שהיה קשה לי לכתוב, ובשם רבינו הקדוש ז"ל מפאריסאב שמעתי שאמר בזה"ל מוזהר ועומד אני מהה"ק ר' נתן דוד ז"ל משידלאווצע לדרוש ברבים ששום אשה שראויה עדיין לילד לא תתענה כ"א ביום הקדוש, ולכן עכ"פ אדרוש זאת לידידיי.

The second source R. Rabinowitz cites is a report that R. Menahem Mendel of Kotzk said that with women one must be lenient when it comes to the fast days, as they need strength to give birth.[9]
שמעתי מהה"ג מהו"ר מאיר בארנשטיין ז"ל ששמע מפ"ק כ"ק מרן הקדוש זצוקלל"ה מקאצק דבאשה יש להקל בתעניות משום שצריכה כח להוליד בנים.
This is a very sensible statement which incidentally all poskim would agree with. But contrary to what R. Rabinowitz states, it says nothing about exempting women of childbearing age from any fast days. It only says that when dealing with such women the posek should be lenient.
The final source R. Rabinowitz quotes is from R. Ezekiel Halberstam of Shinova which was mentioned already.
4. R. Sadqa Hussein (1699-1772) was the leading rabbi in Baghdad in his day. He ruled that no pregnant women should fast on Tisha be-Av, as it was so hot in Baghdad that fasting created a situation of sakanat nefashot.[10] 
5. Here is a fascinating section of a 1953 letter from Joseph Weiss to Gershom Scholem.[11] It provides evidence that there was a time that members of the Ruzhiner “royal family” did not complete the fast of Tisha be-Av.[12] Do any readers know anything about this?
 
It could be that this practice relates to the tradition that R. Israel of Ruzhin died at the premature age of 54 as a result of fasting on Yom Kippur. Ahron Marcus writes:[13]
הוא נפטר מצמאון הלב שנגרם לו, כעדות הרופא המפורסם מלבוב, ד"ר יעקב רפפורט, ביום הכפורים האחרון תרי"א, כאשר התגבר על הבולמוס של צמא והשלים את תעניתו, מבלי לגמוע טיפת מים במשך היממה. הרבנים הנוכחים, אשר מורי הרבי שלמה רבינוביץ זצ"ל גינה את מבוכתם, לא העיזו להתיר לו את השתיה, על אף הדין המפורש בשולחן ערוך במקרה כזה. הוא הסתפק בכך, שטבל את קצות אצבעותיו בקערת מים ונשם את ריח המים, ובזה הגביר את ענוייו. המסכנים לא הבינו, כי גופו של אותו צדיק, על אף כפיפותו המוחלטת לכוחות הנפש, היה נתון לחוקי טבע רגילים. הוא לא שב לאיתנו, ונסתלק בג' מרחשון.
In discussing this story, R. Shlomo Yosef Zevin writes:[14]
ומכל הרבנים הגדולים שהיו שם לא עלתה אף על דעת אחד מהם, שאם הצדיק אמר כן, בודאי הוא מרגיש כי בנפשו הוא, ויש פקוח נפש בדבר. שתקו הרבנים ומכיון שלא התירו לו, סבל הצדיק, וקפצה עליו מחלת הלב, שקורין "הערץ-וועסער זוכט", ומאנה להרפא. מחלתו נמשכה עד יום ג' מרחשון, ונשמתו הטהורה עלתה אז לגנזי מרומים.
This is obviously an extreme example of being “frum” at someone else’s expense, in this case at the expense of literally his life.
Regarding R. Israel of Ruzhin, it is also recorded that he said that if someone feels a little bit weak he should not fast.[15]
וכשם שמצוה לשמור ישראל מעבירה כן מצוה ליזהר לכל איש אם יש לו מעט רפיון כח שלא יתענה.
It is not clear if this advice refers to all fasts, including Yom Kippur and Tisha be-Av.
Since the above-mentioned permission to eat on Tisha be-Av – and no doubt this also applied to the other fast days aside from Yom Kippur – was reserved for members of the Ruzhin “royal family,” it reminded me of a passage in R. Moses Sofer, Hatam Sofer al ha-Torah, vol. 2, p. 165a (haftarah for parashat Pekudei). The Hatam Sofer states that in theory, if one is able to focus all of his intentions on the glory of God, without getting any physical benefit, then it would permissible to eat on Yom Kippur. But he adds that this is something that only gedolei Yisrael can accomplish.
דודאי לאכול ביה"כ לשם מצוה אם אדם יכול לכוון כל מחשבתו לכבוד ה' בלי שום כונה אחרת להנאת הגוף אזי היא צורך גבוה כמו קרבנות נשיאים ועוד טוב ממנו ויפה דנו ק"ו אך מי יכול לעמוד בזה כ"א גדולי ישראל שהרי משום כך ס"ל לאבא שאול [יבמות לט ע"ב] מצות חליצה קודם למצות יבום לרוב העולם שאינם יכולי' לעמוד על מחשבתם שלא לכוון להנאת הגוף.
6. R. Joseph Mordechai Yedid Halevi, Yemei Yosef (Jerusalem, 1913), vol. 1, Orah Hayyim, no. 9, states that scholars and melamedim, if their fasting will affect their learning or teaching, are not obligated in any of the fasts other than Yom Kippur and Tisha be-Av.
7. The practice in Stockholm used to be that the community ended the fast of the 17th of Tamuz nine and a half hours after hatzot, which is before it is dark. This practice was defended by R. Benjamin Zvi Auerbach in his Nahal Eshkol, Hilkhot Tisha be-Av, p. 16 n. 1. I have heard from R. Chaim Greisman, the Chabad rabbi in Stockholm, that today they end the fast of 17th of Tamuz when it is dark. According to the times provided on www.chabad.org, in 2018 this will be at 11:38pm, with the fast beginning that morning at 12:51am (alot ha-shachar).[16] R. Michael Melchior, the chief rabbi of Norway, informs me that they also end the fast at darkness. This means that in 2018 in Oslo the fast of the 17th of Tamuz will end at 12:19am, with the fast beginning at 1:20am.[17]
R. Aaron Worms, Meorei Or, vol. 4 (Be’er Sheva), p. 14b, writes as follows about the northern European countries:
וכבר שמענו שהקילו רבנים קדמונים במדינו' ההם לסיים תעניתם בצום הרביעי וצום החמישי בעוד היום גדול בשעת חשיכה לרוב גלות ישראל ואף שתענית שלא שקעה עליו חמה לאו תענית שאני התם שמעקרא לא קבלו יותר מרוב ישראל.
Notice how he also refers to ending Tisha be-Av (tzom ha-hamishi) when it is still daylight. The justification he offers is the same as was later given by R. Auerbach, but R. Auerbach’s justification was only stated with regard to the 17th of Tamuz, not Tisha be-Av.
8. R. Ernst Gugenheim, Letters from Mir (New York, 2014), p. 106, wrote as follows in 1938:
Tomorrow [the day before Purim] will be a day of fasting. Here [in the Mir Yeshiva], they are rather meikil with respect to this viewpoint, and many bachurim, too weak, do not fast completely. It is true that every day for them is a day of half-fasting, such that they are quite weakened.[18]
9. R. Mordechai Eliyahu ruled that a pregnant or nursing woman can break her fast on Tisha be-Av if she is having difficulty fasting, and she does not need to ask a halakhic question. Rather, she is to determine herself if it is too difficult for her.[19] In 2007, because it was very hot on Tisha be-Av, R. Eliyahu ruled that no pregnant women needed to fast.[20]
10. R. Shmuel Salant was very liberal when it came to the fasts other than Yom Kippur and Tisha be-Av. If someone merely said that he was thirsty and wished to drink, R. Salant would immediately tell him to do so. If someone told R. Salant that fasting was difficult for him, R. Salant would permit him not to fast, and he did not ask for any particulars from the questioner. This was based on a teaching he had from R. Isaac of Volozhin, “that one safek sefeka related to pikuah nefesh pushes aside many fasts.”[21] Once, on a fast day between minhah and maariv, he heard someone say that he was thirsty and was waiting for maariv so that he could drink. R. Salant immediately got the man a cup of water and told him to drink it.[22]
A similar approach is recorded with regard to R. Meir Shapiro[23].
והיה אומר כי בדורות החלשים כבימינו כל מה שאוכלים הוי ככדי חייו, וצום הוי כסכנה לאנשים רבים, ולכן התיר להרבה לאכול בימי צום.
11. R. Haim Ovadia, a contemporary liberal Orthodox rabbi, argues that the minor fasts (which include all fasts other than Yom Kippur and Tisha be-Av) are optional in today’s day and age. See his discussion here. He concludes his analysis as follows:
In the current state of the Jewish people in Israel and abroad, the Talmudic rule demands that fasting on the minor fast days should be optional, and according to Ha’Meiri, fasting would even be forbidden, maybe because it shows lack of gratitude to God. For that reason, one who chooses not to fast on these days cannot be considered one who breaches the law, and can definitely rely on the ruling of Rashba. Hopefully, in the coming years, more and more individuals will choose to acknowledge the fact that we leave [!] in better times and develop a more positive worldview, and as a result maybe persuade the rabbinic leadership to reassess the situation and leave us with only two fast days, Tisha Be’Av and Yom Kippur, thus making those two much more meaningful.
12. R. Herschel Schachter, Nefesh ha-Rav, pp. 261-262, writes:
כשהורי רבנו התחתנו, שלח הגר"ח להודיע להכלה מרת פעשא שא"צ להתענות ביום חתונתה, כי כך היה דן כל אדם בזה"ז כחולה שאב"ס, שא"צ להתענות בשאר תעניות [ואפי בט' באב, כדעת המחבר (תקנ"ד ס"ו) והאבני נזר (חאו"ח סי' תכ"ט), ודלא כדעת הט"ז (שמה סק"ד), (כן שמעתי)] חוץ מביוה"כ. . . . נהג רנו להתענות בכל התעניות, ואפילו ביאה"צ.
R. Schachter cites R. Chaim Soloveitchik as saying that today everyone is regarded as suffering from a non-life-threatening illness and thus there is no obligation to fast other than on Yom Kippur. He adds that R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik did not follow this view but fasted on all the fast days, including when he had yahrzeit.
This is a radical view, as I do not know anyone else who stated that other than Yom Kippur, there is no longer an obligation to fast, even on Tisha be-Av. I must note, however, that there is no real source for this report in the name of R. Chaim. I spoke to R. Schachter about this and he told me that there is also a story that R. Chaim left a will stating that people should not fast on Tisha be-Av. Again, there is no source for this report, and like many such stories it is hard to know if there is any truth to it. Had R. Chaim felt strongly about this matter he could have announced his supposed view to his community, but he never did so.
There is something else that should be mentioned in this regard. The late Professor Aaron Schreiber told me that he heard from R. Simcha Sheps, who studied in Brisk, that one day on Tisha be-Av he visited the Brisker Rav, R. Isaac Zev Soloveitchik, in Jerusalem. He entered the Brisker Rav’s home and found him at the table eating! It is hard to know how much faith we can put in such a report as with the passage of time people’s memories can change. Regarding this story, someone I know was told by R. Ahron Soloveichik that it did not take place on Tisha be-Av but on the 17th of Tamuz. R. Ahron further said that the Brisker Rav was eating because of a medical reason, not because of any halakhic rationale regarding the current binding nature of the fasts.
13. The Ben Ish Hai, parashat Shoftim (first year), no. 17, rules that a groom – the same would apply to a bride – within the week of his wedding does not fast on Tzom Gedaliah, 10th of Tevet, Ta'anit Esther, and 17th of Tamuz. [24] He adds this was the practice in Baghdad.[25] (The exemption from fasting on Ta’anit Esther is mentioned by many others.[26])
R. Ovadiah Yosef is more stringent in this matter. He states that only if the 17th of Tamuz is pushed off to Sunday (and this would apply to the other fasts as well), then the bride and groom do not need to fast.[27]
R. Elijah Mani, another Baghdadi, records an additional liberal opinion (which he himself does not accept) in line with what the Ben Ish Hai wrote.[28]
נשאלתי אם החתן חייב להתענות [בעשרה בטבת]. ואני שמעתי ממורי הי"ו [הרב עבדאללה סומך] ששמע מהרב הגדול משה חיים זלה"ה, שאומר לחתן כרצונו אם תרצה להתענות ואם תרצה שלא להתענות.
14. R. Shmuel Wosner, Shevet ha-Levi, vol. 8, no. 261, states that someone who flies from Israel to the United States on a fast day such as the 17th of Tamuz does not need to wait until it is dark in the United States in order to break his fast. Rather, he can break the fast at the time that it is over in Israel. Since R. Wosner writes ביום תענית וכמו בי"ז בתמוז  I assume that he excludes Tisha be-Av from this lenient ruling.[29]
15. In my post here I discussed the original halakhic approach of R. Yitzhak Barda. When it comes to the fast days he also has an original perspective in that he holds that on Tzom Gedaliah, 10th of Tevet, Ta’anit Esther, and 17th of Tamuz, one can break the fast at sunset rather than waiting until darkness, which is the standard practice. See here. This is a more lenient position than his earlier approach found in his Yitzhak Yeranen, vol. 3, no. 20 and vol. 5, no. 41, where he only permits one to break the fast of the 10th of Tevet at sunset when the fast is on Friday.
16. In Teshuvot ha-Geonim: Shaarei Teshuvah, no. 325, the following appears:
זקן חלש שהיה מתענה ובתוך התענית שעבר עליו רובו של יום בתענית וכבר בא לידי חלישות בענין שחושש לסכנה מאכילין אותו אפילו ביום כיפור ולא שבקי ליה דימות וגמרינן מההיא עוברה דהריחה כו' כ"ש אם הוא זה זקן נכבד שאם ימות ויסתכן על תענית זה יהיה הפסד לרבים.
This geonic responsum has been cited numerous times and no one saw anything problematic with it. However, in 1995 R. Yehiel Avraham Silber published his Birur Halakhah: Telita’ah, and he has a different perspective.[30] He states that “there is no doubt” that this responsum is a forgery. His reason is that nowhere in halakhic discussions of pikuah nefesh is consideration ever given to whether a person is “honorable”. Yet in the geonic responsum it speaks of a זקן נכבד as a factor to be considered in permitting someone to break his Yom Kippur fast, as his life is not just an individual matter but is of importance to the community as a whole.
R. Silber writes:
תשובות הגאונים שערי תשובה נדפס לראשונה בשאלוניקי בשנת תקס"ב – תקופת הנסיון של עקירת התורה על ידי זיופים; סמוך לזה בשנת תקנ"ג יצא לאור לראשונה הספר שכולו זיוף בשמים ראש.
I think all readers can see that his argument has no basis whatsoever. Furthermore, the appearance of Besamim Rosh, a rabbinic forgery published by a maskil in Berlin in 1793, has absolutely nothing to do with a volume of responsa published in 1802 Salonika, a place far removed from any Haskalah influence. R. Silber’s claim is so unreasonable that I would never even refer to it in an academic article, and only mention it here as another curiosity from the world of seforim.
17. Here is a fascinating text that was called to my attention by R. Chaim Rapoport. It appears in R. Samuel Elijah Taub’s Imrei Esh (Jerusalem, 1996), p. 186, and has been subsequently included in other works.
 
R. Taub, the Modzitzer Rebbe (1905-1984), states that his forefather, R. Ezekiel of Kozmir (1772-1856), was lenient with all the fast days other than Yom Kippur and Tisha be-Av.[31] He then says that R. Ezekiel was very opposed to Tzom Gedaliah, and used to say that in Heaven Gedaliah is embarrassed that they established a fast day in his memory. Earlier in this post I cited a passage from R. Abraham Yelin that mentions how R. Ezekiel said that Anshei Keneset ha-Gedolah are now embarrassed for having instituted the fast days (see the source in n. 8). R. Yelin also writes that “it is difficult for him to record” some of R. Ezekiel’s leniencies regarding the fast days.[32]
R. Ezekiel’s opposition to Tzom Gedaliah was such that in his beit midrash it was declared that whoever wishes to fast on this day should leave Kozmir. We can thus assume that none of R. Ezekiel’s followers fasted on Tzom Gedaliah. Does anyone know if this antinomian view about Tzom Gedaliah continued among his descendants, which include the rebbes of Modzitz?
18. There is a joke in the “frum” world which goes as follows: There are three reasons not to fast on Tzom Gedaliah.
            1. It is a nidcheh (as he was killed on Rosh ha-Shanah).[33]
            2. Even if he was not killed he would not have been alive today.
            3. He would not have fasted for me if I was killed.
While this is only a joke, R. Ephraim Bilitzer records that it was widely reported that certain hasidic rebbes said that Gedaliah was troubled in heaven by the fact that thousands of Jews fasted on his account.[34] Therefore, followers of these hasidic rebbes did not fast on Tzom Gedaliah. R. Bilitzer finds it hard to believe such stories, but after what we have seen with R. Ezekiel of Kozmir, it is obvious that, at least with regard to R. Ezekiel, this was indeed the case.
Would R. Ezekiel, or any other hasidic rebbe who told his followers not to fast on Tzom Gedaliah, be impressed by R. Bilitzer’s very non-hasidic objection?
הלא דין הוא בש"ע להתענות ומה זה שנהגו שלא להתענות נגד הש"ע
After all, the Shulhan Arukh also gives the times for prayer, and a number of hasidic rebbes ignored these as well.[35]
In general, it should not surprise us to find hasidic rebbes with lenient approaches to fast days. R. Bilitzer himself informs us that R. Yissachar Dov Rokeah, the Belzer Rebbe, told his followers who were with him for the High Holy Days that anyone who felt the least bit weak on Tzom Gedaliah should immediately eat. This is a very lenient approach, and if followed by the Jewish world at large it would mean, I think, that not many teenagers would fast on this day. While fasting gets easier as one gets older, my experience has been that most teenagers find it at least a little bit difficult to fast.
The following story, about R. Solomon of Radomsk, even shows great leniency with regard to Tisha be-Av. I am sure readers will wonder why R. Solomon thought it was necessary for people to drink when the fast was just about over. If he wanted people to break the fast, why not have them drink earlier in the day?[36]
היה נוהג להקל בתעניות. פעם אחת, בערב תשעה באב ארעה שרפה בבית בנו, והיו הכל טרודים בכבוי השרפה. לפני גמר התענית, בשעת בין השמשות, הלך אל הבאר, הסמוכה לבית המדרש, וצוה לכל אחד לשתות מים.
Here is another interesting passage, from R. Abraham Yelin, Derekh Tzadikim, p. 13b, no. 44:

                              
It states that R. Mordechai of Nes’chiz used to pray minhah when it was already dark. However, on the 17th of Tamuz he finished maariv when it was still light. It is true that this text does not mention actually eating when it was still light, but isn’t that the implication of the passage? What else could it be coming to tell us, without having to be too explicit? I can’t imagine that it means that they finished maariv early so that people could go home and be ready to eat as soon as the fast was over.
It was not only hasidic rabbis who had such a liberal perspective (and I have already referred to R. Chaim Soloveitchik). Here is a story that was told by a hasidic rabbi to the grandson of R. Baruch Bendit Gliksman.[37] (R. Baruch Bendit was a misnaged.[38]):
פעם ישבתי ביום תענית בליטומירסק ולמדתי יחד עם בן גיסי, האדמו"ר רבי חנוך העניך מאלקסנדר וחתן גיסי, רבה של לודז הג"ר יחזקאל נומברג. נכנס אלינו זקנך הג"ר בנדיט מלאסק ומיני מזונות בידו, דורש מאתנו כי נטעום מעט ונפסיק את התענית, אמר: "מובטחני כי תהיו פעם מורי הלכה בישראל, לכן עז רצוני כי תלמדו להקל בתעניתים".
Returning to Tzom Gedaliah, I found an interesting passage in R. Yitzhak Meir Morgenstern’s She’erit Yaakov on Tractate Megillah.[39] He writes:
וראיתי דיש אנשים שנהגו להקל בצום גדליה כשנוסעים בדרך, ותמהתי עליהם איה מקורם.
R. Morgenstern is not referring to Modern Orthodox people. He is referring to those in his own hasidic circle, and he tells us that among them there are some who do not fast on Tzom Gedaliah when they are traveling. He wonders what the source for this practice is and is not able to find a good justification. For the purposes of this post, however, the very fact that he acknowledges the existence of a laxity when it comes to Tzom Gedaliah is significant.
R. Raphael Aaron Ben Shimon (1848-1928), the chief rabbi of Cairo, also speak of laxity regarding the fast days other than Tisha be-Av and Yom Kippur.[40] However, unlike R. Morgenstern, he was referring to a traditional Sephardic community rather than a haredi population.
בעון פשתה המספחת להקל בתעניות הצבור חוץ מט' באב ויוה"כ
I think R. Ben Shimon’s description is also applicable to many in the Modern Orthodox world, at least in the United States. That is, while they are careful to fast on Yom Kippur and Tisha be-Av, this is not the case regarding the other fast days. But unlike what we have seen with R. Morgenstern, no one would think to ask if there is any halakhic support for this. Even those who eat on the fast days know that their behavior is not in line with halakhah.[41]




[1] I mention the source since I was surprised that the OU would post an article written in “yeshivish” rather than converting it to standard English.
[2] Otzar ha-Berit (Jerusalem, 2002), vol. 1, 5:2.
[3] She’elot u-Teshuvot Rabbi Akiva Yosef, vol. 1, no. 174.
[4] See Minhagei Rabotenu ve-Halikhoteihem (Jerusalem, 2009), p. 317, citing the book Elef Ketav, no. 671:

החת"ס זלה"ה אמר, אם היה בכוחו היה מבטל כל התעניתים זולת ת"ב ויוה"כ.

Megillah 5b states that R. Judah ha-Nasi wished to abolish the fast of Tisha be-Av but the Sages disagreed. Another version recorded ibid., is that he only wanted to abolish Tisha be-Av if it was postponed to Sunday, but the Sages disagreed.
[5] Yalkut Ohev Yisrael (Jerusalem, 1998), p. 124.
[6] R. Israel of Ruzhin, Irin Kadishin, parashat Va-Yikra (p. 19a). When the text mentions abolishing “the fasts”, I don’t think it is merely referring to individual fasts that pious people undertake, as the term “abolish” would not seem to fit in that context.
[7] Hayyei ha-Levi, vol. 6, Orah Hayyim no. 95. It is interesting that some treat unmarried women with more leniency than men, because when it comes to the fast of the 20th of Sivan, commemorating the Chmielnicki massacres, Shaarei Teshuvah, Orah Hayyim 580:1, writes:

שמעתי בימי חרפי שנכתב בפנקס הארצות שהגזרה היא לבן י"ח בזכר ולבת ט"ו בנקבה.

For some reason, when it came to the fast of the 20th of Sivan the rabbis wanted 15-year-old girls to fast, but boys were only supposed to do so from the age of 18.
[8] R. Abraham Yelin, Derekh Tzadikim (Petrokov, 1912), pp. 13b-14b.
[9] R. Abraham Pitrokovski, Piskei Teshuvah (Jerusalem, 2001), no. 88 (Hilkhot Ta’aniyot, p. 88).
[10] See R. Hussein, Tzedakah u-Mishpat (Jerusalem, 1978), p. 10.
[11] Gershom Scholem ve-Yosef Weiss: Halifat Mikhtavim 1948-1964 (Jerusalem, 2012), p. 102.
[12] Rabbi and Mrs. Samuel Sperber, mentioned in the letter, are the parents of Professor Daniel Sperber.
[13] Ha-Hasidut, trans. M. Shenfeld (Tel Aviv, 1954), p. 223. See also R. Yissachar Tamar, Alei Tamar, Yoma, p. 396, who records in the name of the Rebbe of Husiatyn a different version of what R. Israel did with the water placed before him.

לרה"ק מריזין היתה לו דלקת גדולה בפיו וביחוד על השפתיים מתוך הצימאון הגדול, והעמידו לפניו קערה עם מים קרים כדי ששפתיו יתקררו מעט ע"י האדים היוצאים ממים קרים.

[14] Sipurei Hasidim (Tel Aviv, 1957), vol. 2, p. 85.
[15] Irin Kadishin, parashat Va-Yikra (pp. 19a-b).
[16] This time for alot ha-shahar is accompanied by the following note: “On this date at this location the sun does not set far enough below the horizon to use the standard calculation. The Chabad custom is to use Chatzot for this time.”
[17] These times were given to me by R. Melchior. Chabad’s site has the fast in Oslo ending at 12:18am (one minute earlier than R. Melchior) and beginning at 1:20am (the same time as R. Melchior). There are significant differences between these times and the times that appear on the popular myzmanim.com. On the latter site it says that this year in Oslo the fast begins at 2:48 am, which is significantly later than the official community practice and the Chabad practice. Myzmanim.com states that the fast ends according to R. Tukatzinsky at 12:34am, which, we are told, is the emergence of ג' כוכבים בינונים. This is a later time than that of R. Melchior and Chabad. For Oslo, myzmanim.com does not give a time for the end of the fast according to R. Moshe Feinstein.

There are also divergences when it comes to Stockholm. As noted, the Chabad site has the fast of the 17th of Tamuz this year beginning at 12:51am and ending at 11:38pm. Myzmanim.com has the fast beginning at 2:25am and ending at 11:45pm according to R. Tukatzinsky and at 12:09am according to R. Moshe Feinstein.

Readers can correct me if I am wrong, but I do not think that people who will be in Oslo or Stockholm on the 17th of Tamuz (or any other day for that matter) are halakhically permitted to rely on what appears on myzmanim.com in opposition to the local community’s practice.
[18] Among other passages that readers will find interesting is p. 160:

I have already gedavent [prayed] and listened to the weekly Inyan of Reb Chatzkel – Yechezkel [Levenstein]. He has already spoken very often against the datsche = vacations, wanting only the weak or sick bachurim really to go rest, but I observe he has not had much success in this respect and that there will be exactly the same number leaving. On the other hand, the yeshiva had gotten into the habit of rowing on the lake – but a single Inyan sufficed to bring an end to this custom from one day to the next – which constituted in a way a chillul Hashem, because in doing it the bachurim put themselves in the same category as the town people. Yet, is it not correct that, since the Torah is different from everything that exists, a ben Torah is distinguished by his behavior from his entire entourage? In Yiddish, it’s much better. I am sure that on my arrival in Mir, I would not have been able to understand that it was base to ride a bicycle or to go rowing. It is obvious that these restrictions are only valid here in this place, but you can also see how much the städtische [city dwellers] feel respect or anger to the yeshiva-leit.

On p. 96 he writes: “Our milk is purely Jewish milk, but the butter comes from goyim and is subject to no shemira of any sort.”
[19] R. Moshe Harari, Mikraei Kodesh: Hilkhot Ta’aniyot, p. 220 n. 6.
[20] R. Harari, Mikraei Kodesh: Hilkhot Ta’aniyot, p. 221 n. 7.
[21] Aderet Shmuel (Jerusalem, 2014), p. 145.
[22] Ibid., p. 146.
[23] R. Natan Lubert, She’erit Natan (Ashdod, 2013), p. 147.
[24] R. Solomon Laniado of Baghdad found the Ben Ish Hai’s position so astounding that he claimed that there is a printing error, and the text should be corrected to say that the groom needs to fast on all days except for Ta’anit Esther. See his letter in R. Yitzhak Nissim, Yein ha-Tov, vol. 2, Even ha-Ezer no. 2. (The title of R. Nissim's book is often pronounced Yayin ha-Tov, but that is incorrect. See Song of Songs 7:10.)
[25] The Ben Ish Hai’s testimony about the practice in Baghdad is problematic, as his contemporary, R. Elisha Dangor, writes that the practice in Baghdad is that the groom does fast in the week of his wedding, with the exception of Ta’anit Esther. See Gedulot Elisha (Jerusalem, 1976), Orah Hayyim 549:5. R. Ovadiah Yosef, Halikhot Olam, vol. 2, p. 211, cites the Ben Ish Hai’s student, R. Joshua Sharbani, who says that the because the Ben Ish Hai was so busy and involved in Torah study, he is not such a reliable source for the practices of Baghdad.

שהרב בן איש חי לא היה בקי כל כך במנהגי בגדאד לרוב טרדתו ושקידתו בתורה

This is quite a surprising this to say, as the Ben Ish Hai lived in Baghdad so how could he not be aware of things? Yet R. Ovadiah Yosef finds support for R. Sharbani’s comment in a responsum of R. Hayyim Joseph David Azulai, Hayim Sha’al, vol. 2, no. 35:2. R. Azulai cites a few examples where R. Joseph Karo testifies as to what the accepted practice was, and yet we have evidence that contradicts what R. Karo states. R. Azulai explains the reason for R. Karo’s mistake:

ויתכן שלרוב קדושתו וטרדת לימודו לא דקדק וסבר שהמנהג כך ואינו כן

[26] See R. Ovadiah Yosef, Yehaveh Da’at, vol.2, no. 78.
[27] Yehaveh Da’at, vol. 3, no. 37. In Yalkut Yosef: Kitzur Shulhan Arukh 265:13 (מילה במועדי השנה), it states that a groom can only eat on the pushed-off fast day after hatzot.
[28] Ma’aseh Eliyahu (Jerusalem, 2017), no. 119.
[29] In an earlier responsum, Shevet ha-Levi, vol. 7, no. 76, he does not say to break the fast when it is over in Israel. Rather, he says that one can break the fast when one feels weak.
[30] See Birur Halakhah: Telita’ahOrah Hayyim 618.
[31] It is interesting that he quotes R. Ezekiel as saying something very similar to what I cited earlier in this post from R. Abraham Joshua Heschel of Apta:

בשחור מי יכול לאכול – והכוונה היתה לתשעה באב שהוא יום חורבן ואבילות, ומי יכול אז לאכול. ובלבן מי צריך לאכול – היינו ביוהכ"פ ומי צריך לאכול, הרי בני אדם כמלאכים.

[32] Yelin, Derekh ha-Tzadikim, pp. 13b-14a.
[33] This is how the joke was told to me. While many indeed assume that Gedaliah was killed on Rosh ha-Shanah, Maimonides believes that he was killed on the third of Tishrei. See Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Ta’aniyot 5:2.

On the assumption that he was killed on Rosh ha-Shanah (which is the dominant opinion), and the fast day was pushed off from its actual date, does this mean that every year Tzom Gedaliah has the status of a pushed-off fast day, with the various leniencies that go with it? Most say no, but there are some who say yes. R. Yair Rosenfeld has recently discussed the matter in Ha-Ma’yan 56 (Tishrei 5777), and he concludes (p. 18):

לאור זאת, יולדת במקום שמנהג הנשים לצום בד' צומות יכולה להמנע מהצום, וכן אבי הבן, ובצורך גדול אף הסנדק והמוהל, מתענים ולא משלימים. כן יש להוסיף שאף חתתן בשבעת ימי המשתה יכול להקל בצום זה כדינו בצום נדחה.

[34] Yad Efraim (Tel Aviv, 1970), no. 29 (p. 206, third numbering). This book is found on Otzar ha-Hokhmah together with many other books from R. Bilitzer. It is worth noting that most of his books on Otzar ha-Hokhmah, including six volumes of responsa, are still in manuscript. It appears that there is no money to prepare these works for publication, and they were therefore put on Otzar ha-Hokhmah in manuscript form. Fortunately, his handwriting is easy to read.
[35] The other objection of R. Bilitzer is that Tzom Gedaliah is not on account of the death of Gedaliah per se, but due to what befell the Jewish people in the Land of Israel as a consequence of his death. Even if this is correct, R. Bilitzer’s anger with the reported hasidic flaunting of Tzom Gedaliah apparently caused him to exaggerate somewhat. In his defense of fasting on Tzom Gedaliah, R. Bilitzer states that what happened to the Jews after Gedaliah’s death “was like the destruction of the Temple.”

Furthermore, it seems that the fast has more to do with Gedaliah the individual than R. Bilitzer is willing to acknowledge. I say this because some authorities have pointed to leniencies with regard to Tzom Gedaliah precisely because it is a pushed-off fast (i.e., it does not take place on the day of the event it commemorates). This shows the centrality of Gedaliah the individual and the importance of the day of his assassination to the fast. If the entire focus was on what befell the Jewish people after his death, the actual date of his death, and the resulting issue of a pushed-off fast, would not have any real significance.

I cannot locate the source at present, but Gerson Cohen, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, had no liking for Tzom Gedaliah. He wondered why a fast was declared in memory of a man he called “a Quisling.” Yet if Gedaliah is to be regarded as a Quisling, does that make Jeremiah, who told the Jewish people to accept Babylonian rule, a “Tokyo Rose”?
[36] Moshe Tzvi, “Ha-Tiferet Shlomo” me-Radomsk (Bnei Brak, 1989), p. 182.
[37] Yehuda Leib Levin, Beit Kotzk (Jerusalem, 1959), vol. 2, p. 159.
[38] See Pinhas Gliksman, Ir Lask ve-Hakhameha (Lodz, 1926), p. 43.
[39] There are actually two such volumes. I am referring to the first one that appeared (it has no date), p. 32.
[40] Nehar Mitzrayim (Jerusalem, 2007), Hilkhot Tefillin, no. 4 (p. 14).
[41] The one exception to this generalization would be the congregants and followers of R. Haim Ovadia. As we have seen in this post, R. Ovadia claims that the fast days other than Yom Kippur and Tisha be-Av are not obligatory. Thus, his congregants and followers would not regard eating on these fast days as deviant. As far as I can tell, no other liberal Orthodox rabbis have adopted R. Ovadia’s position.

Print post

You might also like

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...