Jewish fasting is an important ritual of religious significance and sacrifice. This act of religious life is such a tremendous and deeply rooted practice that is called for in the Bible, both in the Old Testament and New Testament.

When Does Jewish Fasting Occur?

There are different times when Jewish fasting is dictated to all Jews. Those include:

Full Fasts

Full days of jewish fasting only happen twice a year. These are very serious days and revolve around mourning and repentance. With these two days, you fast from sundown to sundown the next day.

These days include Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish year. This fast is actually required according to Leviticus 23:26-32:

The Lord said to Moses, “The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves,[a] and present a food offering to the Lord.  Do not do any work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the Lord your God. Those who do not deny themselves on that day must be cut off from their people.  I will destroy from among their people anyone who does any work on that day. You shall do no work at all. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. It is a day of sabbath rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your sabbath.”

Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the month of Av, which is arguably the saddest day on the Hebrew calendar. This day is historically and traditionally a day of immense sadness, including destruction of the Temples.

Minor Fasts

Minor fasts are also part of the fasting spectrum, and account for six fasts of the year. The difference between these fasts are the following fasts don’t require the fast to extend for 24 hours. Instead, it is a fast from sun up to sun down on the same day. Some choose to also not get haircuts or participate in any sort of entertainment.

Fast of Gedalia- The commemoration of the death of Gedaliah, ending Jewish autonomy in Judah after First Temple.

Tenth of Tevet- The commemoration of the defeat by King Nebachednezzer

Fast of Esther- The commemoration of the fasts spoken of in the book of Esther around the celebration of Purim.

Seventeenth of Tammuz- The commemoration of the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem. It is also said to be the day of the so-called “Five Calamities”. The include; Moses breaking the tablets of the Ten Commandments, the tamid offering ceasing, the burning of a scroll by a Roman leader, and the day an idol was erected within the Temple.

Customary Fasts

In addition to the six main fasts of the year there are additional customary days of Jewish fasting. These fasts These include the Fast of the Firstborn, Yom Kippur Katan, BaHab, Shovavim Tat, Khmelnytsky massacres, the Fast of Samuel, and  the Fast of Moses.

Additionally, there are some personal fasts as well. Some fast for repentance or for intense prayer. There is also a tradition in some Jewish sects for the bride and groom to fast before the wedding and not eat until after the chuppah in the “yichud”, which is a private meal of the bride and groom during the reception, which is the first time they will have ever been alone together.

Jewish Fasting Rules

Fasting in Judaism is not for the faint of heart. While you hear some more modern fasts being choosing something to sustain from, fasting in Judaism is abstaining from everything. Even water not just to drink, but you also can’t brush your teeth with water. You also can not bathe.

Who Participates in Jewish Fasting

There are different sects of Jewish faith, just as there are christian. They have different standards of observance and fast at different times. For example, an ultra-orthodox will be more likely to follow all of the fasts, including the customary. Then there is the other extreme where there are many people who typically aren’t religiously observant. In 2019, a poll was conducted regarding fasting for Yom Kippur. 60.5% of Jewish Israelis planned to fast on Yom Kippur, while 27.5% did not, 5% planned on only drinking liquids and 7% had not decided.

Exceptions for Jewish Fasting

While practicing jews are certainly encouraged to fast, there are some exemptions. Children are not required to participate in Jewish Fasting. They typically do not start to fast until after their age of Mitzvah. The other exception is if you are too ill to fast. In fact it is by some considered to be a sin if you do fast in an unwell state. One Rabbi when asked of his leniency in fasting replied, “Not that I am lenient when it comes to Yom Kippur, but I am strict when it comes to saving a life.”

We hope you learned something about the importance of fasting in Jewish culture! Next year we are hoping to see you very soon in Israel! If you are interested in touring Israel contact one of our friendly and helpful tour operators HERE.