Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Fast of Tevet

This Friday, December 17th is the 10th day of Tevet on the Hebrew calendar.  It is one of four minor fast days in the year known as a “low fast” or a fast only during the daylight hours.  The Hebrew name for this day is Asarah BeTevet.  This is a fast in remembrance of the siege of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia and the ultimate destruction of Solomon’s Temple in 586 BCE.  We read in 2 Kings:

2 Kings 25:1-4 MKJV 1 And it happened in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came. He and all his army came against Jerusalem and pitched against it, and built a siege-mound all around it. 2 And the city was besieged until the eleventh year of king Zedekiah, 3 on the ninth of the fourth month, when famine was severe in the city, and there was no bread for the people of the land. 4 And the city was broken up, and by night all the men of war went by the way of the gate between two walls, which is by the king's garden. And the Chaldeans were against the city all round. And the king went the way toward the plain.

On the 10th day of the 10th month, rendering from the religious calendar which begins in Nissan, in the ninth year of Zedekiah's reign, which would be 588 BCE, King Nebuchadnezzar, began the siege of Jerusalem. Two and a half years later, on the 17th of Tammuz, he broke through the city walls.

When the siege finally ended three weeks later, on the 9th of Av, the end of the first Kingdoms in the land and the exile of the Jewish people to Babylon began. The Tenth of Tevet is a part of the cycle of fasts connected with these events, which includes: Shivah Asar B'Tammuz, the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B'Av, the 9th of Av.

Jeremiah 52:6-7 MKJV 6 And in the fourth month, in the ninth of the month, the famine was very grievous in the city, so that there was no bread for the people of the land. 7 And the city was broken up, and all the men of war fled and went forth out of the city by night by the way of the gate between the two walls, which was by the king's garden. (And the Chaldeans were beside the city all around.) And they went by the way of the plain.

The most specific reference to the Tenth of Tevet as a fast, along with the other fasts, appears in Zechariah where it is called the "fast of the tenth month."

Zechariah 8:19 MKJV 19 So says the LORD of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah for joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts. Therefore love truth and peace.

Here the Prophet is referencing the fast days as already establish in historical tradition and prophesying that they would be turned into joyous feast days in the future. Other references to the fast can be found in Ezekiel  24:1&2 and Jeremiah 52:4-6. 

According to tradition, the fast also commemorates other calamities that occurred throughout Jewish history on the tenth of Tevet and the two days preceding it.  On the eighth of Tevet, during the time of Hellenistic rule of Judea during the Second Temple period, Ptolemy, King of Egypt, ordered the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, a work which later became known as the Septuagint.  Seventy sages were commissioned to translate the Torah into Greek independently form each other. Ptolemy, expecting the outcome would be a multitude of different translations, and wanting to use the results against the Jews, saying that their leaders can not agree on what the Torah says, was quite surprised.  Tradition has it that all seventy sages independently made identical translations into Greek.

Rabbinical sources see this Greek translation as a tragedy, a kind of watering down of the divine nature of the Torah. They reasoned that with the translation from the original Hebrew, the Torah's legal codes & deeper layers of spiritual meaning would be lost. Many of the commandments contained in the Torah are formulated in terms of specific Hebrew words and without the original Hebrew language, the authenticity and the original deeper meaning of the commandments would be compromised. Many spiritual concepts and cultural ideas contained in the Torah are also drawn from the original Hebrew. As such, these would not be accessible by individuals studying the Torah in Greek alone.  Also Ezra the Scribe, the great leader who brought some Jews back to the land of Israel from the Babylonian exile and who ushered in the era of the Second Temple, died on the ninth of Tevet.

The Fast of Tevet, as with all other minor Jewish fast days, begins at dawn and concludes at nightfall.  In accordance with the general rules of minor fasts as set forth in the Code of Jewish Law, called Halacha, there are no additional physical constraints beyond fasting. Because it is a minor fast day, Halacha exempts from fasting those who are ill, even if their illnesses are not life threatening, and pregnant and nursing women who find fasting difficult. A Torah reading and special prayers are included in the normal observance of this and other minor fasts.

Many of the Jewish people observe this day as a remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust because their dates of death can not be determined and many prefer this day because the official Holocaust Remembrance Day occurs in the Biblical month of Nissan, when mourning was traditionally prohibited.

However you choose to remember this day, keep in mind and pray for the Jewish people, who have suffered greatly throughout history.  Pray for the day when, as prophesied by Zechariah, these minor fast days will be turned into joyous feast days.  Zachariah goes on in chapter 8 speaking of the time when the city of Jerusalem is fully restored and Messiah reigns in judgment and righteousness:

Zechariah 8:20-23 MKJV 20 So says the LORD of hosts: There yet shall be peoples and inhabitants of many cities; 21 and the residents of one shall go to another, saying, Let us go at once to seek favor of the face of the LORD, and to seek the LORD of hosts; I will go also. 22 And many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to seek the favor of the face of the LORD. 23 So says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men, out of all languages of the nations, shall take hold, and will seize the skirt of a man, a Jew, saying, We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.

 שלום ברוך
Shalom and be blessed
Dan and Brenda Cathcart

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