Asara b’Teves in the Time of Corona Virus
By Rabbi Yaakov Shulman
Menahel, Igud Harabbanim Beis Din
We are confronted this year with two highly unusual circumstances: A once-in-a-century pandemic and a once-in-about-20-years occurrence of the Tenth of Teves falling out on Friday. The first, the Corona pandemic, has lasted now for about ten months and seems to be continuing into an indeterminate future; the second, Asara b’Teves, will be lasting one day, from dawn Friday morning until full darkness Friday night.
The fast of Asara b’Teves commemorates the start of Nevuchadnezzer’s siege of Yerushalaim. This lasted two and a half years, leading ultimately to the breaching of the city’s walls and the Churban of the Beis Hamikdash itself. Because we consider the start of a tragedy to be worst of all (אתחלתא דפורענותא עדיפא – “the start of a calamity is worse” – Talmud, Taanis 29a), the placement of the siege carries a heavy burden of commemoration. Namely, to the extent that the Avudraham (Spain, 1400’s) writes that even if Asara b’Teves were to occur on Shabbos, we would still fast, because of the severity of the tragedy. This surpasses even Tish’a b’Av, which when occurring on Shabbos is postponed until the next day.
The Avudraham’s opinion is contested by many Poskim and commentators, including Rashi (Talmud, Megillah 5a), and in point of fact, under our Hebrew calendar system, Asara b’Teves can never fall out on Shabbos, so the point remains moot. Even so, a touch of his opinion does remain in our practice, i.e., with regard to fasting into Friday night: Asara b’Teves, coincides very occasionally with Erev Shabbos, as it does this year. We would think that it ends at sundown, when Shabbos begins; however, this is not the case. The fast continues until צאת הכוכבים – the appearance of three stars, which for end-of-fast purposes we define as 45 minutes after sunset.
Thus, we cannot make an “early Shabbos” this week, nor make Kiddush until 5:19 pm (New York time). When coming home from shul, you can sing Sholom Aleichem and prepare for the Seudah prior to that time, but cannot start the Kiddush until the end-of-fast time of 5:19.
Asara b’Teves: Schedule of the Day (NYC times)
Fast begins 6:06 am
Earliest Tefilin 6:06
Bracha on Tefilin 6:22
Mincha 4:00 pm
Shabbos Licht 4:16
Fast ends 5:19 pm
We have scheduled Mincha much earlier than on a regular Erev Shabbos because we need time for leining ויחל and reading the Haftorah. We will be inserting עננו into the Shemoneh Esrei, both in the individual Amidah and in the Chazan’s repetition. אבינו מלכנו is not recited at Mincha, nor תחנון, since it is Erev Shabbos; the timing should allow us to begin קבלת שבת prior to Shki’ah.
The Halachos regarding fasting take into account this year the possible presence of the Corona virus and its weakening effect on the body.
- Anyone who is symptomatic should not fast, even if not confirmed to be infected.
- Anyone who tested positive on the viral test (showing current infection) should not fast, even if not symptomatic.
- Anyone with fever above 101 degrees Fahrenheit should not fast.
- People in quarantine should fast, unless they suspect that they are symptomatic.
- Any Choleh – sick person – who feels very weak should not fast.
- Anyone experiencing signs of dehydration, including nausea, dizziness, or extreme dryness of mouth, should drink immediately and not fast.
Siege and Redemption
During this year of the Corona pandemic, we have experienced a kind of siege, perhaps somewhat akin to the siege of Yerushalaim. We have remained isolated and confined, surrounded by walls of restrictions – don’t travel, don’t congregate, don’t even leave your home. We have experienced some of the anxiety felt by Yerushalaim’s citizens at the time of their siege: A dangerous enemy lurking outside the walls, perilous, lethal, and threatening.
Perhaps the analogy holds in an additional way as well, in the path toward redemption. As the Jews of the Babylonian exile returned to the land of Israel, they inquired of the prophet Zecharia, “Shall I cry and fast [on the commemorative fast days] as I have done these [seventy] years?” (Zech. 7:3) He answered them:
So says Hashem, “I will return unto Zion, and I will dwell within Yerushalaim; and Yerushalaim shall be called the City of Truth” (8:3) … So says Hashem, “Once again will elderly men and elderly women sit in the streets of Yerushalaim, each one holding his cane in his hand from advanced age. And the streets of the city shall fill with young boys and young girls, playing in its streets (8:4-5) … So says Hashem, “The fast of the fourth [month], and the fast of the fifth [month], and the fast of the seventh [month], and the fast of the tenth [month] will become for the house of Yehudah a rejoicing and a happiness and [turn into] festivals; [provided that] they love truth and peace.” (8:19)
Zecharia, when prophesying redemption, pointed to the path the people must take before they stop their fasting and weeping: Love truth and peace! If you behave peacefully and with equanimity toward your fellow Jew, and if you love truth and abhor falsehood in all its forms, then you will merit redemption.
Rabosai, we too are locked within the siege of the Corona virus. We, too, have experienced the “tenth month” of our confinement, from late February through late December. Like the residents of the great city of Yerushalaim, we too ask – how will this end? And the prophet’s response is relevant to us: האמת והשלום אהבו – Your task is to love peace with one another, to help each other through this crisis, and to love Truth.
We live in an era where Truth has disappeared from the public sphere, where falsehood, deception and outright fabrication dominates public discourse, whether in politics, media, even medicine and science. It thus falls upon us, Am Yisrael, to uphold Truth, to insist on speaking truthfully, to keep our word, to deal financially with integrity, to run far away from any “shtick” in business matters. Zecharia placed the redemption from exile squarely in the hands of the Jewish people; their actions would determine it. We, as well, in the time of Corona, have the capacity to redeem ourselves and convert the “tenth month” into a time of rejoicing and happiness.
We pray that we all remain healthy, and that we merit to see the redemption of Tzion and the consoling of Yerushalaim, amein.
With best wishes for an easy fast, and for a good Shabbos,
Rabbi Yaakov Shulman