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Not a Fan of Fasting

Monday, July 15, 2013
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Dear Miriam,

With Tisha B’Av just around the corner, I’m having my yearly dilemma about whether or not to fast. I hate fasting, especially in the summer, and I’m not convinced that my religious beliefs include mourning the destruction of the Temple. What should I do?

Not a Fan of Fasting

Note: Tisha B'Av starts on Monday, July 15 at sundown.

Dear Fasting,

I find Tisha B’Av to be one of the loneliest days of the year, whether I’m fasting or not (and I, too, go back and forth about how to observe this difficult day). On Yom Kippur, the other full-day fast in the Jewish calendar, I’m typically in synagogue all day with other people who are also fasting, and it builds a camaraderie and a community around the observance. On Tisha B’Av, I rarely go to services, and even when I do, because of the sad nature of the fast, you’re not really supposed to be looking for camaraderie.

Whether you agree with the particulars behind the holiday or not, this is a day decreed through our tradition to be a fast day and a day of mourning. Around the world and throughout history, on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, Jews have observed this commemoration, not just of the destruction of the Temple, but of other terrible things that have befallen the Jewish people as well. It’s like bottling up all the potential for sadness when you think about anything bad that’s ever happened, and focusing on all of it at once. It makes for an awful day, but it frees up the rest of the year for happier thoughts.

Consider spending the day reading about Jewish history, specifically about the destruction of the Temple or not, but perhaps focused on some of the darker periods that Jews have experienced. I’ve heard of people getting together and watching Holocaust movies all day on Tisha B’Av. Since it’s not a holiday in the sense of abstaining from work, even the most religious Jews can pass the time in ways they wouldn’t on other holidays (including going to work).

Ultimately, this is a personal decision, and what you do one year isn’t binding on what you decide to do in the future. If you really find no meaning at all in this observance, then, like I have said repeatedly in this column about other Jewish traditions, it is completely your prerogative not to do it. But, if this is just a matter of discomfort, consider all the atrocities that we're supposed to be mourning in relation to one unpleasant day for yourself. More significantly, though, if you haven’t really given yourself a chance to experience something meaningful, it’s worth trying it out.

Be well,

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