The Tenth of Tebet

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Today is the Tenth of Tebet. The main event we remember on this day is the onset of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebukhadnezzar, King of Babylonia. The siege of the city signaled the beginning of the battle that ultimately destroyed Yerushalayim and our first Bet haMiqdash. Hundreds of thousands of Jews died of starvation during the siege, were killed in battle or sent as captives to the Babylonian exile. The date of the Tenth of Tebet was recorded by the prophet Yehezqel. At the time of the destruction of the Bet haMiqdash Yehezqel was already exiled in Babylonia with the first group of Jews who were taken there by Nebukhadnezzar eleven years earlier.

According to Maimonides (MT, Hilkhot Ta’anit, 5:1), as every other fast day, today is a day that needs to be dedicated to Teshuba. To remember our present transgressions and mistakes , which are similar to the mistakes done by our ancestors. Those transgressions brought the destruction of our Bet haMiqdash and the distancing of the Shekhina, God’s Presence, from our midst. Shortening the distance between us and our Creator is within our power. And that renewed closeness will be bring us closer to have our Bet haMiqdash, once again, rebuilt.

LAWS OF ‘ASARA BETEBET

On the 10th of Tebet there are only two restrictions: eating and drinking. NO additional limitations apply, such as the prohibition of wearing leather shoes, working, driving, washing the body, etc. Most contemporary Rabbis (for example Rab O. Yosef z”l, or Rab E. Melamed) authorize to wash one’s mouth or brush one’s teeth in this fast day, provided you are careful to lower your head, avoiding swallowing water unintentionally.

*Minors: boys under 13 and girls under 12 years old are completely exempted from fasting.

*Nursing women: According to the Sephardic tradition after giving birth women are exempted from fasting for 24 months, even if they are not actually nursing their baby.

*Pregnant women, especially after the first 3 months, are exempted from fasting.

*A person who feels sick–for example, flu or fever– or one who has a chronic disease–for example diabetes– should not fast.

*Elders should consult with their physicians if the fast will not affect their health. If it will, they are exempted (and in some cases, prohibited) from fasting.

The fast of the Tenth of Tebet ends in NYC at 4:59pm.

YOM HAQADDISH HAKELALI

In modern Israel, the 10th of Tebet is also considered the day of the Kaddish haKelaly. According to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, on the Tenth of Tebet a remembrance-candle should be lit in the Synagogue and the Hazkara leHalale haShoah, the memorial prayer for the victims of the Holocaust, should be recited. Additionally, all those whose parents are not alive should say in ‘asara beTebet the Kaddish Yatom (Rabbanut haRashit LeIsrael, luah dinim uminhaguim 5772, pages. 55,109).

This point requires more explanation.

In 1949, and before the day of Yom HaShoah was established, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel decided that the Tenth of Tebet should be assigned as the national remembrance day for the victims of the Holocaust. They recommended traditional Jewish ways of remembering the dead, such as the study of Mishna Miqvaot, recitation of Tehilim, lighting a candle and a collective recitation of the Kaddish for the victims of the Holocaust whose names and date of death remain unknown. Fasting, the most common Jewish expression of sorrow, was already prescribed for this day.

In Israel many people felt that the horror of the Holocaust should be remembered on its own, and a special day, in which nothing else is remembered, should be dedicated to the Shoah’s victims’ memory. “For the survivors there was only one day worthy of being a memorial anniversary for the Holocaust, April 19, the beginning day of the Warsaw ghetto revolt the greatest revolt of them all, the uprisings that had held the Nazis at bay for a longer period than the great French army” (I. Greenberg). That is how the 27 of Nissan (April 19, 1943) was chosen to commemorate Yom haShoah. Yom HaShoah was inaugurated in 1953, by a law signed by the Prime Minister of Israel David ben Gurion.

Since then, and in practical terms, there are two days in which we mourn for the Holocaust: Yom haShoah, the official day, and ‘asara beTebet, in which many people would say the Kaddish haKelaly to remember the victims of the Nazi genocide.