Elie's Expositions

A bereaved father blogging for catharsis... and for distraction. Accordingly, you'll see a diverse set of topics and posts here, from the affecting to the analytical to the absurd. Something for everyone, but all, at the core, meeting a personal need.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Post Fast Test

I intended this post for yesterday, when the fast day of Asarah B'Teves was observed, but a combination of a renewed deluge at the office (those nice, quiet workdays during the "Holiday Season" are over!), and feeling generally lousy all yesterday afternoon and evening, got in the way. So this may be a day late, but at least I got a chance to us a nicely alliterative title!

Asarah B'Teves - the 10th of the Hebrew Month of Teves - is one of a series of four fast days that relate to the events surrounding the destruction of the First Temple, the others being Tisha B'Av, Shiva'asar B'Tammuz, and Tzom Gedaliah. It is also probably the least clearly understood of those fast days, in that the very event(s) it commemorates are much less well-known, and not even universally agreed (see Gemara Rosh Hashanah 18b). Yet in certain ways, Asarah B'Teves has a unique status, not only relative to the other Rabbinic fasts but amongst Jewish holidays as a whole. Here are a few questions to test your knowledge of the day's distinctiveness:

1) On what days of the week can Asarah B'Teves occur?

2) How does it differ in this regard from:
a) All other fast days?
b) (Nearly) all other Jewish holidays?

3) How is Asarah B'Teves also unique with regard to the secular calendar?

Post your responses in the comments - I'll cover any unanswered ones on Friday.


At 1/7/09, 9:00 PM, Blogger trn said...

Well, we know it can fall on a Tuesday!

At 1/8/09, 7:36 AM, Blogger trn said...

Asarah B'Tevet falls between the early middle of December and the early middle of January. There are often Gregorian years that contain either no or two occurrences of the daytime fast.

At 1/8/09, 10:19 AM, Blogger Elie said...

TRN, you answered question 3 correctly. In fact, 2008 was an example of the former - no Asarah B'Teves occurrences - and 2009 will be an example of the latter - two occurrences!

Questions 1 and 2a-2b basically have a single, detailed response. I'll tackle it tomorrow if nobody does so before.

At 1/8/09, 3:15 PM, Blogger Soccer Dad said...

One way it differs is that it can fall on a Friday and if it does, unlike Taanis Esther it isn't pushed back.

I believe that because the Navi says b'etzem hayom haze, it would supersede Shabbos, so the calendar's been arranged so that it won't fall out on Shabbos.

At 1/9/09, 1:45 AM, Anonymous Bruce Epstein said...

1. Every day except Monday and Shabbat.

2. a. The other fast days can only fall on 4 days of the week. None of them can fall on Friday. Any (except for Yom Kippur) that fall on Shabbat are postponed or, for the fast of the firstborn and the fast of Esther, "preponed" to Thursday.

2.b. The holidays can only fall on 4 days of the week. The only holidays that can fall on Friday are Shavuot (this year) and the 7th day of Pesach.

3. As was pointed out, there was no Asarah B'Tevet in 2008, but it occurs twice in 2009. In 2011 there is also no Asarah B'Tevet.

At 1/11/09, 11:10 AM, Blogger Elie said...

Between TRN, Soccer Dad, and Bruce, my questions were all addressed - nice job! Just to add a bit more context for #s 1 and 2:

As Bruce mentions, the Jewish calendar is fixed so that nearly all the holidays can only fall on four different days of the week. The three days which are avoided ensure that Hoshanah Rabbah never falls on Shabbos, and that Yom Kippur never falls on Sunday or Friday. There are other incidental restrictions that come out of this as well - see below.

This strict 4-day restriction works for all holidays from Purim through Simchas Torah, in that order. In between those days, there are several variables in the calendar which provide additional degrees of freedom. Specifically, Marcheshvan and Kislev can each have either 29 or 30 days, and an extra, 30 day month of Adar is added 7 out of every 19 years.

The third of these factors is specifically what what complicates the possible weekdates on which Asarah B'Teves can fall. In non-leap years, Asarah B'Teves comes exactly 63 days before Purim, and thus can occur on the same days of the week as Purim: Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday or (more rarely) Friday. However, in a leap year, there's an extra 30-day month (Adar Rishon) in between Purim and Asarah B'Teves, which means that Asarah B'Teves will occur two weekdays earlier than Purim in those years - namely, on Friday, Sunday, Tuesday or Wednesday. Taking the union of these two sets of options, we find the conclusion stated by Bruce above: Asarah B'Teves can fall on five different weekdays, all but Monday and Shabbos.

It emerges that Asarah B'Teves is the only fast that can ever fall on Friday - the four-weekday calendar restriction discussed above, incidentally happens to keep all of the others from doing so. Even Asarah B'Teves coming on Friday is not that common - the last time it did was in 2001, and next will be in December 2010.

Conversely, all of the other annual fasts (not counting the fast of the firstborn on Erev Pesach, which is not widely observed in any case) *can* fall on Shabbos, and are then pushed ahead or back, as Bruce indicates. There's a conjecture/drash, mentioned by Soccer Dad, that if Asarah B'Teves could fall on Shabbos we would keep it on that day. Since this contradicts the general rule for the minor fasts, it is doubtful whether it is in fact halachik. May we all live to see the restoration of the Beis Din so we can find out for sure!

At 1/11/09, 11:29 AM, Blogger Elie said...

Conversely, all of the other annual fasts (not counting the fast of the firstborn on Erev Pesach, which is not widely observed in any case) *can* fall on Shabbos,

Sorry, wasn't thinking right when I wrote that! The fast of the firstborn also can fall on Shabbos, namely when Pesach is on Sunday, as it was this past year! In such cases, it is pushed back to Thursday, like Taanis Esther is when Purim falls on Sunday.

At 1/12/09, 1:10 AM, Anonymous Bruce Epstein said...


Thanks for the explanation. Now I understand the reason for the five days. Interestingly, Hebcal.com shows Asarah Btevet in 2010 as being pushed forward to Thursday!

At 1/12/09, 9:13 AM, Blogger Elie said...

Do you mean, it will be pushed forward from Wednesday the 10th of Teves to Thursday the 11th? Never heard of that before - are you sure hebcal is right?

At 1/13/09, 1:44 AM, Anonymous Bruce Epstein said...

No, I mean pushed from Friday the 10th of Tevet to Thursday the 9th! I wrote Hebcal a note about this.

At 1/13/09, 8:15 AM, Blogger trn said...

You know, I'm fairly good with calculating things, but the Hebrew calendar stuff I cannot seem to tackle.

I was wary of wading too far into this edition given the mess I made last time.

Most of the constants and variables described in the expanded answer I did actually consider, but I couldn't come to any conclusion.

One complication, it seems, was that I was counting forwards from Rosh Hashanah instead of backwards from Purim.

Thanks for all these explanations about the Hebrew calendar, Elie!

At 1/13/09, 8:42 AM, Blogger Elie said...

No, I mean pushed from Friday the 10th of Tevet to Thursday the 9th! I wrote Hebcal a note about this.

You're right, that has to be a mistake then. In fact, other sources indicated that 2010 is the next time it is observed on Friday, after a nine year gap.

Now I have a question for any gabbayim (or other folks with good memories) in the audience: When Asarah B'Teves is Friday, is the laining and haftarah done at mincha as on other fast days? If so, do shuls usually have an early afternoon mincha that week?

At 1/13/09, 9:02 AM, Blogger trn said...

One complication, it seems, was that I was counting forwards from Rosh Hashanah instead of backwards from Purim.

Wow, "forwards" definitely looks incorrect.

I had originally written "forward" but then "backwards" later in the sentence.

Should I have changed the latter to "backward" instead? That somehow also looks a little wrong. Should I have left it as I had had it originally? Is the mismatch correct?


At 1/13/09, 9:12 AM, Blogger Elie said...

TRN, I think you were right the first time! That is, the day of the week (DOW) for the Purim *before* a given Rosh Hashanah is deterministic, but not the Purim *after* that Rosh Hashanah, because of the variables I listed a few comments up. By the same token, the rule of thumb ("OHT BOSH") for figuring out what DOW various holidays fall based on each day of Pesach, applies to the *following* occurrence of each such holiday, *except* for Purim where it applies to the *previous* Purim!

At 1/13/09, 9:56 AM, Blogger trn said...

I'm not sure I follow all of your comment, Elie.

My follow-up comment was about my poor grammar and may have confused things further.

At 1/15/09, 2:29 AM, Anonymous Bruce Epstein said...

Eli, in answer to your latest question:

On any fast day at mincha we read the Torah and haftorah for the fast day. Therefore, when Asarah BTevet is erev Shabbat we should start mincha earlier (say, at candle lighting time instead of 10 minutes after candle lighting). However, while we add Aneinu in the Shmoneh Esreh, there is no Tachanun or Avinu Malkeinu (like when the Fast of Esther is erev Purim). Some shuls may have an early mincha (we have one every Friday).


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