The Fasts of the Fifth Month

By Hakham Meir Yosef Rekhavi

On the 7th and 10th of the Fifth Month (Av) we fast to commemorate the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians, as it is written:

"And in the Fifth Month on the seventh day of the month, which is the nineteenth year of king Nevukhadhnessar [Nebuchadnezzar] king of Bavel [Babylon], came Nevuzaradhan [Nebuzaradan], captain of the guard, a servant of the king of Bavel (to) Yerushalem. And he burnt the house of YHWH and the king’s house and all the houses of Yerushalem, and every great house he burnt with fire. And all the army of the Kasdim [Chaldeans], who were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls around Yerushalem." (2 Kings 25:8-10)

"And in the Fifth Month on the tenth day of the month, which was the nineteenth year of king Nevukhadhressar [Nebuchadrezzar] king of Bavel, came Nevuzaradhan, captain of the guard, who served the king of Bavel, to Yerushalem. And he burnt the house of YHWH and the king’s house and all the houses of Yerushalem and every great house he burnt with fire. And all the army of the Kasdim, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down all the surrounding walls of Yerushalem." (Jer. 52:12-14)

Why is it that there are two dates for the destruction of the Temple? The Karaite Sages say that this is because the Babylonians started the destruction of the Temple on the 7th and completed its destruction on the 10th.

So when will the Gregorian dates for these fasts fall for the year 2001? The New Moon was sighted on the night of the 21st July, meaning that the first day of the Fifth Month was on the 22nd July. Therefore the day of the Fast of the 7th will fall on 28th July and the day of the Fast of the 10th will fall on 31st July.

Now, the Fast of the 7th for this year will fall on a Shabbath, therefore this begs the question is one allowed to fast on the Shabbath? Amongst the Karaites there are two opinions regarding this matter. One opinion states that it is forbidden to fast on a Shabbath and the holders of this opinion will defer the fast to the following day, while there are those who say that it is permitted to fast on the Shabbath if these dates happened to fall on the Shabbath.

Work is permitted on a fast day because these fast days are not ordained by the Tora, but are a custom from the time of the prophets. It is also a custom on these fast days to read the Book of Lamentations, which was written by the prophet Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) as a dirge over the destruction of Yerushalem and the Temple.

The word fast signifies total abstention from food and drink during a certain period of time, as it is written, "and fast you for me and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day" (Esth. 4:16). Even rinsing one's mouth with water is forbidden on a fast day. We can learn this by comparing eating any food on a fast day to eating forbidden foods on a regular day. No particle what so ever of forbidden food or drink may enter one's mouth, as it is written, "neither came there abhorred flesh into my mouth" (Ezek. 4:14). Further support is lent by the fact that when Daniel was overcome with grief and withdrew from all pleasures he said of himself, "neither came flesh nor wine in my mouth" (Dan. 10:3).

Now we must ask the question at what time of the day do we commence the fast? I personally go by the view of the Mourners of Zion, an ancient Karaite order that produced some of the greatest Karaite scholars of all time and was dedicated to the mourning of the destruction of the Temple, who would eat and drink on the night of the fast so long as they were wakeful, but if they fell asleep even for the shortest while they would not thereafter partake of anything whatsoever. If they would stay awake all through the night of a fast they would cease eating and drinking before the beginning of the third watch of the night i.e. 2 a.m.

Come the Messianic Era these fast along with the fasts of the Fourth, Seventh, and Tenth Months will become joyous occasions, "Thus says YHWH of Hosts, the fast of the Fourth, the fast of the Fifth, the fast of the Seventh, and the Fast of the Tenth [months] shall be for the House of Yuhudha times of joy, and celebration and good appointed times; and you shall love truth and peace." (Zech. 8:19)

May YHWH bring the redemption of his people Yisrael and his holy city Yerushalem with in our lifetime. May we be witness to the rebuilding of the Temple on YHWH's holy mountain.