17th of Tammuz Laws and Customs

The fast of the 17th of Tammuz, known as Shiva Assar B’Tammuz, is the start of a three week mourning period for the destruction of Jerusalem and the two Holy Temples.

The fast actually commemorates five tragic events that occurred on this date:

  1. Moses broke the tablets when he saw the Jewish people worshipping the Golden Calf.
  2. During the Babylonian siege on Jerusalem, the Jews were forced to cease offering the daily sacrifices due to the lack of cattle.
  3. Apustmus burned the holy Torah.1
  4. An idol was placed in the Holy Temple.2
  5. The walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans, in 69 CE, after a lengthy siege. (Three weeks later, after the Jews put up a valiant struggle, the Romans destroyed the second Holy Temple on the 9th of Av.)
    The Jerusalem Talmud maintains that this is also the date when the Babylonians breached the walls of Jerusalem on their way to destroying the first Temple.

Practically speaking:

  • Healthy adults – bar or bat mitzvah age and older – abstain from eating or drinking between dawn and nightfall. Click here for exact times in your location.
  • Pregnant and nursing women do not fast. Someone who is ill should consult with a rabbi. Even those exempt from fasting, such as ill people or children, shouldn’t indulge in delicacies or sweets.
  • A fast day is an auspicious day, a day when G‑d is accessible, waiting for us to repentIt is permitted to wake up early before the fast begins to grab a bite, provided that prior to going to sleep you had in mind to do so.
  • During the morning prayers we recite selichot (elegies), printed in the back of the prayerbook. The "long Avinu Malkeinu" is recited during the morning and afternoon prayers.
  • The Torah is read during the morning and afternoon prayers. The reading – the same for both morning and afternoon – is Exodus 31:11-14; 34:1-10, which discusses the aftermath of the Golden Calf incident, how Moses successfully interceded on the Israelites‘ behalf and attained forgiveness for their sin. After the afternoon Torah reading, the special fast-day Haftorah, Isaiah 55:6–56:8, is read.
  • During the amidah of the afternoon prayer, all those who are fasting add a small section, the aneinu, to the Shema Koleinu blessing.
  • If the 17th of Tammuz falls on Shabbat, the fast is postponed until Sunday. Click here for more about this Shabbat.

Abstaining from food and drink is the external element of a fast day. On a deeper level, a fast day is an auspicious day, a day when G‑d is accessible, waiting for us to repent.

The sages explain: "Every generation for which the Temple is not rebuilt, it is as though the Temple was destroyed for that generation." A fast day is not only a sad day, but an opportune day. It’s a day when we are empowered to fix the cause of that destruction, so that our long exile will be ended and we will find ourselves living in messianic times, may that be very soon.

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FOOTNOTES
1.

Historians have long debated when this occurred: some maintain that Apustmus was a general during the Roman occupation of Israel, while others contend that he lived years earlier and was an officer during the Greek reign over the Holy Land.

2.

This event is also shrouded in controversy: some say that this too was done by Apustmus, while others say that this was done by King Manasseh of Judea.

 

Fast Days
Days of Opportunity

 

The Jewish calendar contains several fast days, most of them commemorating various landmark events that revolve around the destruction of the Holy Temples. They are:

Tishrei 3—the Fast of Gedaliah.

Tishrei 10—Yom Kippur

Tevet 10—"Assarah b’Tevet"

Adar 13—the Fast of Esther

Tammuz 17—"Shivah Assar b’Tammuz"

Av 9—"Tisha b’Av"

The following rules apply for all fast days aside for Yom Kippur and Tisha b’Av—which have their own rules (see our Yom Kippur and Tisha b’Av guides).

Why are we fasting? It’s not our fault that the Temple was destroyed…Fasting is pretty simple. If you are a healthy man or woman over the age of Bar and Bat Mitzvah, just abstain from food and drink from dawn until dark. Click here to find out when the fast starts and ends at your location.

A few technical details:

  • If you are pregnant or nursing, do not fast on this day. If you’re ill, consult with a rabbi. But even if you are exempt from fasting, skip the delicacies and sweets for a day.
  • You can wake up early before the fast begins and grab a bite—as long as you had this in mind before you went to sleep.
  • Try to make it to your synagogue for the day’s prayer services. We add some special fast-day prayers and read from the Torah during both the morning and afternoon prayers. There’s also a special fast-day Haftorah following the afternoon Torah reading.
  • If the fast day falls on Shabbat, it is postponed until Sunday (or in the case of the Fast of Esther, expedited to Thursday).

Why are we fasting? It’s not our fault that the Temple was destroyed. The people at that time refused to listen to the prophets that warned them to better their ways. We are still suffering the consequences.

On this, the sages explain: "Every generation for which the Temple is not rebuilt, is as though the Temple was destroyed for that generation." If so, a fast day is not really a sad day, but an opportune day. It’s a day when we are empowered to fix the cause of that first destruction, so that our long exile will be ended and we will find ourselves living in messianic times, may that be very soon.

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