By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
- In New York City, the Tzom Gedaliah fast begins at 5:16 AM dawn degrees or at 5:26 AM dawn fixed minutes in NYC (All fasts other than Yom Kippur and Tishah B’Av begin at alos hashachar – dawn).
- According to Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, one who finds fasting difficult may eat at – 7:33 PM One who does not find fasting difficult should wait until the time for מוצאי שבת at – 7:40 PM in NYC.
- Tzom Gedaliah is a fast day that commemorates a tragic time in our people’s history, one that the Gemorah (RH 18b) equates with the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash itself – a jarring thought. After the destruction of the first Bais HaMikdosh, the Babylonians left a group of Jews in Eretz Yisrael. Gedaliah, the governor of that group and the leader of Klal Yisroel at the time, refused to take protective measures against Yishmael, when he was warned by Yochanan Ben Korayach of Yishmael Ben Nesanya’s malevolent intent (Yirmiyahu 40:16). The consequences were quite grave indeed. Gedaliah and all his men were brutally murdered (Yirmiyahu 41:2).Gedaliah was actually murdered on Rosh HaShana, but it was set aside to the day after Rosh haShana because of the Yom Tov.
- Gedaliah Ben Achikam was one of the Gedolei HaDor of his generation. It is a perhaps little known fact, but he was also a Navi. Indeed the Gemorah (Rosh HaShana 18b) explains that Hashem Himself (Zechariah 8:19) equates the death of this great Tzaddik with the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash! Rarely if ever do we find such testimony as to the stature of any individual. Hashem himself is his character witness.
- If one had in mind that one was going to rise before dawn to eat, one may do so.
- In regard to rising before dawn, there is a difference between men and women. Men may only eat more than a k’bayah of mezonos if they began more than 30 minutes before dawn. Otherwise, they may only eat less than a k’bayah (2.2 fluid ounces of the food) (MB 89:27). Women have no such restriction, according to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l (Note in Ishei Yisrael 13:71).
WHO SHOULD FAST?
- All healthy adults should fast, including women (SA OC 550:1). A girl who is 12 years or older must fast, as must a boy who is 13 years of age or older. The minhag of some women to avoid fasting during the three fasts is incorrect and should be discontinued, as it is against Shulchan Aruch.
- The Mishnah Berurah (550:5) rules that children who have reached the age of chinuch for mourning should only eat simple foods so that they can participate in the mourning.
- A sick person should not fast (MB 550:4, 5) even if he is not a choleh sh’yesh bo sakanah. In other words, as long as he or she is noticeably sick, there is no need to fast. Nonetheless, that person should not engage in extravagant eating but should only eat moderately.
PREGNANT OR NURSING
- A pregnant or nursing woman does not have to fast (OC SA 554:5) on the three fasts; only on the fourth, Tishah B’Av. Although the Rema writes that it is the custom for a pregnant woman who has no difficulties fasting to fast, it seems from the statistical data available in Israel that they, too, should opt for the leniency of the Shulchan Aruch and not fast.
ACCIDENTAL EATING OR DRINKING
- Generally speaking, one should not brush their teeth on a fast day. However, if someone is in much tza’ar — discomfort in the matter — then one may be lenient (M.B. 567:11). Care should be taken to face one’s mouth downward so as not to accidentally swallow. The same guidelines should be followed regarding mouthwash.
- If one accidentally ate or drank on the fast day, one must continue to fast for the rest of the day (SA OC 568:1). If one made a berachah on something and remembered after the berachah was recited that it is a fast day, that person should taste a little bit so that he will not have made a berachah l’vatalah.
- Showering is permitted on the three fast days because Klal Yisrael did not accept it upon themselves to avoid this.
- The Mishnah Berurah (550:6), however, writes that a baal nefesh should be stringent and avoid showering in hot water during a fast day.
- Thus, showering in non-hot water would be completely permitted. It is also completely permitted to wash one’s face, hands and feet in hot water.
ADDITIONS IN TEFILLAH
- In Shacharis one recites Avinu Malkeinu and the Selichos for that fast day. In Minchah, one adds the special “Aneinu” tefillah and Avinu Malkeinu again. If Aneinu was not inserted, the Shemoneh Esreh is not repeated. If someone is not fasting, the Aneinu is not recited.
- If someone is not davening with a minyan, the 13 Attributes of Selichos (“Hashem Hashem”) are not said (see MB 565:13).
- During the last blessing of the Minchah Shemoneh Esreh the Sim Shalom paragraph is recited instead of the Shalom Rav paragraph.
MORE BACKGROUND INFORMATION
- The words of the Panim Meiros on the Yerushalmi in Horios (3:5) are quite shocking. He writes that Gedaliah caused his own death. He was, himself to blame, not only for his death but for those of thousands of others. When people erroneously forbid information from being disseminated on account of thinking that it is Lashon Harah and that it is absolutely forbidden to pass on the information, people cannot take protective measures. At times, this too can be quite devastating. The future of Klal Yisroel was in the hands of this great Tzaddik and Gadol. His decisions were of paramount importance. Notwithstanding his greatness and piety and the fact that he was a prophet of Hashem, Chazal tell us that he made a crucial error in halacha and in its application.
- The Gemorah tells us (Niddah 61a) that Gedaliah Ben Achikam misused the halachic concept of Lashon HaRah and applied it erroneously. It was a tragic error that resulted not only in his death, the scattering of the nation, but also in the loss of Klal Yisroel’s independence as a nation. Indeed, the repercussions of his error are still felt to this day.
- The results of Gedaliah’s inaction were so grave that the Mesilas Yesharim (chapter twenty) notes that the Gemorah (Niddah 61a) considers it as if Gedaliah himself had killed all of his people! To this day, there are many well-meaning people who misapply the notion of Lashon HaRah in ways that can cause Klal Yisroel to err and err again. At times, the sin of incorrectly “sounding the Lashon Horah warning” and ignoring the information is so grave that one who does so is considered the actual perpetrator of the repercussions that have transpired on account of the silence, whether it be theft, molestation or even murder.
At the same time, there are situations where it is forbidden for people to believe the information, even though they may act upon it to protect themselves. There are also times when the information should not disseminated. No matter what, however, the decision should be made in consultation with Talmidei Chachomim who are attuned both to the need to protect others and to the law of Lashon Harah.
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