Sisterhood Blog

Jews Fasting for Non-Jews

By Rebecca Honig Friedman

  • Print
  • Share Share

I do not like to fast. I mean, I get nervous if there’s no granola bar or other ready source of sustenance on my person at all times. Seriously.

When I do fast, success is more a matter of psychological than physical will power, less a matter of denying the urge to satiate my hunger than resigning myself to the fact that food is simply not an option, that hunger does not exist.

It’s a psychological feat I undertake only when religious obligation dictates it, so I find myself wondering if Ruth Messinger’s call on the Jewish community to Fast For Life in Darfur, is in keeping with Jewish tradition of the “public” fast.

The four fasts commonly observed by Orthodox Jews are Yom Kippur (in which we fast to purify ourselves and as a form of atonement), Tisha BA’v, The Fast of Esther (in which we commemorate Queen Esther’s and the Persian Jewish community’s 3 days of fasting in preparation for her tete-a-tete with Achashverosh in which she was to ask him to save her people), and Tzom Gedalia (another fast of mourning to commemorate the assassination of a Jewish Babylonian governor and the subsequent woes this tragedy led to for the Jewish people).

But is there a history of a fast like the one Messinger is undertaking, designed to raise awareness about an issue and to empathize with another community in need?

I asked my rabbi, Joshua Yuter of the Stanton Street Shul, who answered via email:

There are probably loads of Medieval fasts of which I’m unaware, however Messinger’s appeal appears to me to be unique for the following reasons:

1) The beneficiaries are non-Jews. I don’t know of any Jewish historical fast day, even temporary ones, which are for the well-being of non-Jews.

2) The religious efficacy of fast days is associated with repentance - that the Jews are being threatened due to a sin and fasting is part of the teshuva process. My understanding of Messinger is that it’s closer to an “awareness”/hunger strike type of fast than the traditional Jewish fast.

Rabbi Yuter urged me to consult the “Encyclopedia Judaica” for more examples of fast days that might “give a better idea of precedent,” but since I don’t have an “Encyclopedia Judaica” handy, I’ll leave the interested reader to do further research on the subject, or to offer dissenting points of view.

Ultimately, whether or not we decide to join the Fast For Life should probably have little if anything to do with whether it’s a typical Jewish fast or not, but, rather, with the effect we think it will have on raising awareness of the plight of Darfurians and on our own relationship to the suffering of others. But it’s worth thinking about what it means to fast as a Jewish community and whether or not the expansion of that tradition is appropriate.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.


Comments
Bruce Epstein Thu. Jun 18, 2009

"The four fasts commonly observed by Orthodox Jews are Yom Kippur..., Tisha BA’v, The Fast of Esther..., and Tzom Gedalia..." Um, wrong. There are six public fast days. Four are assciated with the cestruction of the Temple (Tisha B'Av, Tzom Gedalia, Asarah B'Tevet, and Shivah Asar B'Tamuz), and the other two are Yom Kippur and the Fast of Esther.

Next time, a little research would be appropriate.

Holly Mon. Jun 22, 2009

I wondered what happened to the other two fast days. Some Conservative Jews and many Conservative rabbis fast on these days as well.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.