Thursday, October 06, 2005

Why do Jews fast?

I did something today which may seem strange to most people. Yes, I fasted, but that isn't so strange to those on the "inside." What I mean is that while I did fast all the Orthodox Jews that I spoke to today looked on in approval, but when they offered a ride to Mincha and then later Maariv, they couldn't understand and looked in contempt at my lack of enthusiasm. Why would one fast and not daven?

"Hey, Orthoprax, did you daven Mincha yet?"


"Well, we're going to Landau's now. Want a ride?"

"No thanks. I'm good."

"Are you sure? You really should daven. It was just Rosh Hashanah."

"No thanks, really I'm good."

[Squinty-eye look] "Hmmm...suit yourself, but you really should daven."


Thanks for the tip, right? ;-)


Anyway, I got the same basic conversation for Maariv and then the guys came back for the bagels we had bought to break our fasts. So my friend (I'll call him Abe) comes and sits at the table next to me and says "There's really no point in fasting if you're not going to daven."

I say calmly, "Oh, is that right? I thought we fast in order to remind us of what happened on this day in history." Then I added, "Why did you fast today, Abe?"

"Oh, Gedaliah was killed," he responds.

"Who was Gedaliah? Who killed him? Why was he killed?"

"Um, he was the king of Israel, killed by the Babylonians..."

"No, Abe. Wrong."

"Eh, [he gets up to wash] it's more important that a person fasts and davens than to know the reason why."

I respond, getting a little upset, "Knowing why is the _only_ reason why we fast. That's the whole point."

I look around the table at all the frum college students sitting eating bagels and I ask, "Does anyone here know why we fasted today?"

I get little scraps of the story. "Gedaliah was killed by a Jew...he was a governor, not a king..." but nobody seems to have a real grasp of the story. So I start telling it, but as soon as I get into the roles of personalities like the King of Ammon, people are already uninterested. Typical.

Why do Jews fast today, indeed?


alex said...

In the machzor, there are little words written above the words in the unetaneh tokef prayer:

Remove the Evil of the Decree!

Above "repentance" is the word tzom.

Thus, "Knowing why is the _only_ reason why we fast. That's the whole point." -- is only partly true. It is a crucial factor, but not the only one.

Anonymous said...

you fast so you don't feel like a goy

Mis-nagid said...

You're the last person I would have expected to be schocked by how little most Orthodox Jews know about anything other than lists of everyday dos and don'ts. Most frum people don't even know what the word frum means.

Enigma4U said...

Anonymous said: "you fast so you don't feel like a goy"

Um, Anonymous, actually there were plenty Muslims fasting on Thursday, as it is the month of Ramadan.

Orthoprax said...


Ok, fair enough. Though it is the only reason why I fasted that day.


I was hardly shocked. This is just commentary. What was new that day was that I actually called people on their ignorance. Most times I let it slide.


Yeah, it was funny actually. It really confused a Catholic friend of mine.

Prince Imrahil said...

Tzom Gedalia is actually a remarkable day and quite cryptic.
The key to understanding the event and its connection to Rosh Hashana and Teshuva is the verse that describes Gedalya as the one that killed all those folk, not Yishmael! The Talmud explores the issue.

It is related to Lashon Harah (not gossip! - the language of evil) the personalization of information and the way our minds interpret and construct reality (which is the core of Teshuva).

David said...

>>I respond, getting a little upset, "Knowing why is the _only_ reason why we fast. That's the whole point."

No, the point is to do teshuvah. The tragedy of Gedaliah's assasination is supposed to encourage us to reflect on our personal faults and shortcommings. It's obviously better if one is familiar with the historical event being commemorated. If one doesn't though, but still davens and reflects, he still accomplishes the primary function of the fast.

Orthoprax said...


One can deconstruct any holiday and rebuild it anew, but the primary reason (I take back "only") we have for any of these days which reflects on an historical event is to remember that event.


You can do teshuvah anytime, especially during the 10 days. You don't need a special event to commemorate for that.

Of course we are to learn and reflect on what that event means to us, but if you don't know what that event was then the day and your fast was meaningless.

JC Masterpiece said...

Wow, having debated with you on JA's and my sites i never would have taken you as being such a deep thinker. I may have to make this one of my regular stops... If you don't mind a gentile among your ranks that is...

Orthoprax said...


"Wow, having debated with you on JA's and my sites i never would have taken you as being such a deep thinker."

I'm not sure if this is supposed to be a compliment or not, but in any case as I see it, many of the things you guys discuss are topics which, while fascinating in a nostalgic sense, are topics which I have covered long ago.

"If you don't mind a gentile among your ranks that is..."

I don't mind, but I suppose you may have some issues with the lingo.