Esther, Fast of

views updated


ESTHER, FAST OF (Heb. תַּעֲנִית אֶסְתֵּר, Ta'anit Esther), the day before *Purim on which it is customary to fast (unless that day falls on the Sabbath; see below). The She'iltot of R. Aḥa of Shabḥa (eighth century; ed. by S.K. Mirsky, 3 (1964), 222, no. 69) has the earliest record of the custom of fasting on the 13th of Adar. It quotes the declaration of R. Samuel b. Isaac (Meg. 2a), "The 13th day of Adar is the time for public gathering," and refers to the words of Esther (9:18) "The other Jews in the king's provinces gathered together and stood up for themselves on the 13th day of the month of Adar"; explaining that the purpose of the gathering was for public prayer and fasting (cf. *Asher b. Jehiel on Meg. 2a, who quotes R. Tam in a similar vein). Maimonides accepts the custom of public fasting on this day finding his scriptural authority in the words "Regarding the fasting and the crying" (Esth. 9:31). Comparing it with other public fasts he declares, "Whereas the other fasts are postponed to the following day if they would otherwise fall on the Sabbath the Fast of Esther is anticipated to the Thursday, since fasting here must precede the celebration" (Maim., Yad, Ta'anit 5:5). An earlier tradition of fasting in connection with Purim is preserved in the Talmud (Sof. 14:4), which specifically excludes fasting on the 13th of Adar, "because of Nicanor and his men." This is in accordance with the prohibition of Megillat Ta'anit against fasting on those days on which the Maccabean victories over *Nicanor and their other enemies were celebrated. Elsewhere tractate Soferim asserts: "Our Rabbis in the West [i.e., Ereẓ Israel] are accustomed to fast at intervals after Purim [i.e., on the three subsequent days: Monday, Thursday, and Monday] in commemoration of the three days fasted by Esther and Mordecai and those who joined them" (Sof. 21:1). Although *Jacob b. Asher's Tur (oḤ 686) refers to this ancient custom, there is no historical indication of its preservation. It was probably falling into desuetude at the very time that the tractate Soferim was being edited, as the contemporaneous composition of the She'iltot indicates. In his gloss on the reference to the fast in the Shulḥan Arukh (oḤ 686:2), Isserles considers the Fast of Esther as less obligatory than other statutory public fasts. He allows concessions to nursing mothers and pregnant women, and even to those with an eye-ache. He advocates, nevertheless, its continued observance. Special seliḥot are recited in addition to those of a regular fast-day, and the fast-day portion of the Torah is read (Ex. 32:11–14; 34:1–10). The day is especially observed by Persian Jews. The afternoon Tahanun is omitted in anticipation of Purim joy.


Eisenstein, Dinim, 440–1; Schwarz, in: Festschrift… Simonsen (1923), 188–205; N.S. Doniach, Purim or the Feast of Esther (1933), 65–67; Hilevitz, in: Sinai, 64 (1969), 215–42; Pearl, Guide to the Minor Festivals and Fasts (1963), 73–76.

[Isaac Newman]