Today we commemorate the 17th of Tamuz, a fasting day.
Five tragedies happened to the Jewish people on this day.
1. The 17th of Tamuz occurs forty days after Shabu’ot. Moshe ascended Mount Sinai on Shabu’ot and remained there for forty days. The people of Israel made the golden calf on the afternoon of the 16th of Tamuz, when they thought that Moshe was not coming down. When Moshe descended from Mount Sinai and saw the Jews worshiping the golden calf, he smashed the tablets which carried the Ten Commandments.
2. Menashe –a Jewish King, the worst sovereign of the Kingdom of Yehuda– placed on that day an idol in the Holy Sanctuary of the Temple of Jerusalem, around the year 700 BCE.
3. In the time of the First Temple, in 587 BCE, the Kohanim (priests) were forced to discontinue the offering of the daily sacrifice. This sacrifice (qorban hatamid) had been offered by the Jews since the time of the exodus of Egypt. On the 17th of Tamuz of that year this sacrifice could not be offered anymore due to the shortage of animals caused by the siege of the city of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army.
4. Around the year 50 of the Common Era, Apostomus, a Roman captain, seized a Tora scroll and with abusive and mocking language burned the Tora in public. (According to Maimonides it was Apostomus, not Menashe, who besides burning the Tora placed an idol in the Holy Temple as well).
5. In the year 68 CE the walls of Jerusalem were breached after many months of siege by the Roman army. Three weeks after the breach of the wall, the Bet haMiqdash was destroyed on the 9th of Ab.
Because of these five tragedies we fast on the 17th of Tamuz. We also recite special prayers (tahanunim) which inspire us to mourn and repent for our transgressions and the transgressions of our ancestors.
We fast and elevate our prayers and supplications (tahanunim) to haShem, with introspection and repentance (teshuba).
Besides fasting, no additional restrictions apply, such as washing our body, wearing leather shoes, working, driving, etc.
Who is exempted from fasting?
Minors: boys under 13 and girls under 12 years old are completely exempted from fasting.
Nursing women: According to the Sephardic Minhag, after giving birth, a woman is exempt 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 this fast.
A person who is sick, with flu or fever or a person with a chronic chronic disease, for example, diabetes, is excused from fasting.
Elders should consult with their physicians if the fast might affect their health. If so, they are exempt (and in some cases, prohibited) from fasting.
A healthy person who is affected from a temporary headache or other discomfort is allowed to swallow a pill, like a Tylenol, Ibuprofen, or any other non-chewable pill, without water.
A person affected by a more serious illness, should take his or her medication with water or in any way the physician indicates.
All healthy people should fast in remembrance of the tragedies that fell onto the Jewish people in this day.