By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Although the month of Teives begins with the last days of Chanukah, it otherwise has no holidays other than fast days. On the 10th of Teives, Nevuchadnetzar, the evil king of Bavel began the siege against Yerushalayim during the time of the first Beis HaMikdash. This siege continued for three years until the walls were finally breached on the ninth day of Tamuz. This day was later changed to be commemorated on the 17th of Tammuz, when the walls were breached during the time of the second Beis HaMikdash.
The truth is that there are also two other fast days in Teives, but they are are only observed by the evry meticulous. On the 8th of Teives Talmai the King had the Torah translated into Greek. It was a day that Chazal describe as painful as the day of the Chait Ha’Egel. On the 8th of Teives we mourn the loss of Ezra and Nechemia who brought Klal Yisroel back from galus Bavel and helped rebuild a nation.
But it is the entire community who fasts on Asarah B’Teives.
All fasts other than Yom Kippur and Tishah B’Av begin at alos hashachar (dawn). If one had in mind that one was going to rise before dawn to eat, one may do so. However, dawn is generally very early in the summer months so sometimes this is not so practical. In regard to rising before dawn, there is a difference between men and women. Men may only eat more than a k’bayah of mezonos if they began more than 30 minutes before dawn. Otherwise, they may only eat less than a k’bayah (2.2 fluid ounces of the food) (MB 89:27). Women have no such restriction, according to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l (Note in Ishei Yisrael 13:71).
WHO SHOULD FAST?
All healthy adults should fast, including women (SA OC 550:1). A girl who is 12 years or older must fast, as must a boy who is 13 years of age or older. The minhag of some women to avoid fasting during the three fasts is incorrect and should be discontinued, as it is against Shulchan Aruch.
The Mishnah Berurah (550:5) rules that children who have reached the age of chinuch for mourning should only eat simple foods so that they can participate in the mourning. A sick person should not fast (MB 550:4, 5) even if he is not a choleh sh’yesh bo sakanah. In other words, as long as he or she is noticeably sick, there is no need to fast. Nonetheless, that person should not engage in extravagant eating but should only eat moderately.
A pregnant or nursing woman does not have to fast (OC SA 554:5) on the three fasts; only on the fourth, Tishah B’Av. Although the Rema writes that it is the custom for a pregnant woman who has no difficulties fasting to fast, it seems from the statistical data available in Israel that they, too, should opt for the leniency of the Shulchan Aruch and not fast.
If one accidentally ate or drank on the fast day, one must continue to fast for the rest of the day (SA OC 568:1). If one made a berachah on something and remembered after the berachah was recited that it is a fast day, that person should taste a little bit so that he will not have made a berachah l’vatalah.
Showering is permitted on the three fast days because Klal Yisrael did not accept it upon themselves to avoid this.
The Mishnah Berurah (550:6), however, writes that a baal nefesh should be stringent and avoid showering in hot water during a fast day.
Thus, showering in non-hot water would be completely permitted. It is also completely permitted to wash one’s face, hands and feet in hot water.
ADDITIONS IN TEFILLAH
In Shacharis one recites Avinu Malkeinu and the Selichos for that fast day. In Minchah, one adds the special “Aneinu” tefillah and Avinu Malkeinu again. If Aneinu was not inserted, the Shemoneh Esreh is not repeated. If someone is not fasting, the Aneinu is not recited.
If someone is not davening with a minyan, the 13 Attributes of Selichos (“Hashem Hashem”) are not said (see MB 565:13).
During the last blessing of the Minchah Shemoneh Esreh the Sim Shalom paragraph is recited instead of the Shalom Rav paragraph.