Who was Ezra haSofer?

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Thursday, December 28, we will observe the Tenth of Tebet, a fast day which remind us of three tragic events (see here ). One of those events was the passing of Ezra haSofer, which occurred on a 9th of Tebet.

 

Seventy years after the destruction of the first Bet haMiqdash, about the year 516 before the common era, many Jews returned to Erets Israel with the blessing of the Persian Emperor Cyrus (Koresh). A total of 42,360 Yehudim returned to Israel, led by Zerubabel (see Book of Ezra 2:64).

Years later, in 457 before the common era, more Jews made Aliya led by Ezra the Scribe, who was appointed by Artaxerxes, the Persian emperor then. Ezra became the spiritual leader of the Babylonian Jews who came to Yerushalayim. And he had a very difficult mission. The Jews returning from Babel, where they had been exiled for four or five generations, had forgotten the Tora and its laws, and had adopted the values and culture of Babel. Many did not even know to speak or read Hebrew.
In Jerusalem, Ezra established the Anshe Kneset haGedola, the first Jewish Parliament, composed of 120 men, sages and prophets. With them, Ezra set a number of resolutions to revive the study and fulfillment of the Tora and reeducate the Jewish people. Ezra and his court, increased the times of public reading of the Tora; he composed the text of the Amida (main prayer) because people had forgotten how to pray properly; he implemented that the Tora reading be translated into Aramaic; he adapted the names of Hebrew months and changed the letters (=fonts) of the Biblical text (from ketab ‘ibri to ketab ashuri) to facilitate the study of Tora, etc.
Ezra also had to make important decisions, such as the exclusion of Samaritans, a semi-pagan mixed population living in Israel since the days of the exile of the 10 tribes (722 bce), who intended to be considered part of the Jewish people and partake of the services in the Bet haMiqdash. Ezra also had to deal with the issue of mixed marriages of many Yehudim who came from Babylon. This last dramatic event is narrated in chapters 9 and 10 of the book of Ezra.
Thanks to the wisdom and courage of Ezra, the Jewish people was able to survive and restart again in Israel its life as the nation of God.
Ezra HaSofer was considered by our rabbis as a second Moshe Rabbenu, and the historical link between the written Tora and the oral Tora. The Tora, our rabbis explained, was forgotten in the long Babylonian captivity, and it was recovered by Ezra haSofer.
Who is exempted from fasting on the 10th of Tebet?
Minors: boys under 13 and girls under 12 years old are exempt from fasting.
Nursing women: According to the Sephardic Minhag, after giving birth women are exempted from fasting for 24 months, even if they are not actually nursing their baby. In some Sephardic communities and in all Ashkenazi communities, nursing mothers are only exempt while they are actually nursing their babies.
Pregnant women are exempt from fasting.
A person who feels ill or who experiences symptoms of flu or fever, or a person with a chronic disease, such as diabetes, should not fast.
Elders should consult with their physicians if the fast will not affect their health. If it will, they are exempted (or prohibited) from fasting.
The fast is observed tomorrow from daybreak till nightfall.  In NY from 6.11am to 4.52 pm.  (Some communities have different times. See your community’s calendar and / or see this).