Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post
Asking most Jews about fast days will produce mentions of Yom Kippur, and perhaps Tisha Be’av as well. Not so many know about 17 Tammuz (July 6 this year), which traditionally marks the anniversary of many Jewish calamities. An easy-to-find register of those historical horrors, at http://www.us-israel.org lists Moses breaking the tablets upon seeing the Golden Calf, and the breaching of Jerusalem’s walls by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians, and later by the Romans. The day also marks the killing of 4,000 Jews in Toledo, Spain in 1391, the burning of the Jewish Quarter of Prague in 1559, and the liquidation of the Kovno Ghetto in 1944.
Unlike Yom Kippur or Tisha Be’av, 17 Tammuz is observed only from the dawn until dusk – not for 25 hours. But long or short, one way to make it easy over the fast is with a good read. You might try Aliza Bulow’s “Connecting Through Fasting” at http://www.aish.com which is interesting, if a bit heavy on the spiritual. Other sources are Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov’s discussion on fasting in general at http://www.ou.org and a discussion by Rabbi Gidon Rothstein of the Riverdale Jewish Center at http://www.rjconline.org
While the fasts on the Jewish calendar may seem burdensome, at least they are spread out over the year: We have nothing to complain about compared to the Muslims’ Ramadan period, described at http://islam-usa.com in Dr. Shahid Athar’s “The spiritual and health benefits of Ramadan fasting.” Muslims must avoid food and water (and sex and vulgar talk) for one month from dawn to dusk. Athar points out that Ramadan fasts are to achieve nearness to God, and notes 50 studies presented at the first International Congress on Health and Ramadan held in Casablanca in 1994.
Think the Muslims have it tough? Dick Gregory, a 60s comedian-social-activist-vegetarian, protested the Vietnam War by subsisting only on fruit juice for two years. Gregory, by the way, is still at it: http://www.mjjsource.com Michael Jackson’s website, reports that Gregory this year fasted 40 days in support of the controversial popstar. And Gandhi (the Indian mahatma, not the Israeli politician) combined fasting with his famous civil disobedience against the British in the 1940s; his philosophy is outlined at http://www.gandhiinstitute.org The Christianity Today website http://www.ctlibrary.com offers a concise look at pros and cons of fasting (“body heals itself from ailments” vs. “no permanent physical benefits of fasting”). Another article at http://nv.essortment.com has some common-sense advice, warnings to diabetics and distinguishes between water fasting and juice fasting.
Observant Jews don’t have the luxury of those much-easier fasts. But then, we never have to fast for days at a time.