WHAT IS ASARA B'TEVET?
The tenth day of the month of Tevet is observed as a fast day. It is known as Asara B'Tevet (the Tenth of Tevet).
The Fast of Asara B'Tevet, falls on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2006.
Asara B'Tevet, marks the beginning of the siege of Yerushalayim(Jerusalem), in 588 BCE, during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Bavel (Babylon), that resulted in the destruction of the First Bait Hamikdash (Temple), and ultimately the Babylonian exile.
FROM THE PROPHETS
"And in the ninth year of his reign, [Tzidkiyahu (Zedekiah)], on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, moved against Yerushalayim with his whole army. He besieged it, and they built towers all around it....The city continued in a state of siege until the 11th year of King Tzidkiyahu... On the ninth day (of Tamuz) the famine was intense in the city, the people had no bread,... [and]... then [the wall of] the city was breached..." - (Melachim (Kings) II, 25:1-4).
"And in the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, the word of Hashem came to me, saying... ‘Son of man, record this date...this exact day - the king of Bavel has laid siege on Yerushalayim on this very day’...." (Yechezkel (Ezekiel) 24:1-2)
Asara B'Tevet is first mentioned as a fast day in the Book of Zecharia (Zachariah).
"The fast of the tenth month..." (Zecharia 8:19)
As the tenth month counting from Nissan (the first Hebrew month) is Tevet, the fast of the "tenth month" is the Fast of Asara B'Tevet.
Back in 588 BCE, Jews were already living in Bavel. Among these exiled Judeans were many false prophets who taught that the Bait Hamikdash in Yerushalayim would never be destroyed and the rest of Judea would not ever be exiled from the land of Eretz Yisroel. Meanwhile, the true prophets of Hashem urged the Jewish people to repent and return to the ways of Hashem.
Yechezkel, was part of the first group of Judeans sent into exile by the Babylonians. He was the first Jewish prophet in Bavel.Like the prophet Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah), who lived in Yerushalayim, Yechezkel felt that the destruction of Yerushalayim and King Solomon's Bait Hamikdash was just punishment for the sins of the Judeans.
Both Prophets warned the Jews of the impending destruction. But the Jewish people clung to the hope of the false prophets. On the tenth day of Tevet, the wicked Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Bavel, closed in on Yerushalayim and laid siege outside of the walls of the holy city.
While Yirmiyahu would witness the slow, merciless strangling of Yerushalayim's inhabitants, the false prophets would no doubt continue to paint a rosy picture. And the Jews of Bavel would sit by without a prayer for their brethren in Yerushalayim. For once and for all, Hashem wanted to discredit the false Jewish prophets of Bavel. It would take weeks for the news of the siege to reach the Jewish community in Bavel.
So on the Tenth of Tevet, as Nebuchadnezzar's armies surrounded the Holy City, Hashem appeared to the prophet Yechezkel and commanded him to write down the details of the siege as it occurred: "Son of man, record this date...this exact day - the king of Bavel has laid siege on Yerushalayim on this very day...." Now there would be a miraculous "real-time" account of this terrible event.
Asara B'Tevet marks the first event in a chain, which resulted in the eventual destruction of Yerushalayim and the First Bait Hamikdash, and the exile of the Jewish people.
Today, Asara B'Tevet has an added meaning. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel, in 1948, named Asara B'Tevet as Yom ha-Kaddish ha-Klali, the general Memorial Day for those Jews who died during the Holocaust whose day of death (Yahrzeit) is unknown, and for those Holocaust victims for whom there were no living survivors to recite the Kaddish. On this date, Kaddish is recited for these souls.
(There is also a Holocaust Memorial Day (for all the Holocaust victims) that is the 27th of Nisan (April).
WHAT ELSE HAPPENED ON ASARA B'TEVET?
- The prophet Yirmiyahu bought a field and prophesied:
"Houses and fields and vineyards shall yet again be bought in this land." (587 BCE).
- The death of the prophets Zecharia, the son of Berechiah, and Malachi, the last of the prophets of Israel.
- The capture of Yerushalayim in 37 BCE by king Herod, which ushered in his long reign.
- The Decree for the Elimination of Jews from German Economic Life took effect in 1939.
- The Nazi District Commander of Warsaw decreed that no Jew was to greet a German in public, in 1939.
Asara B'Tevet is the only Fast day that can fall on a Friday. When that happens, the Fast is not moved to Thursday or Sunday, since it is mentioned in the Book of Yechezkel as "..this exact day...this very day ."
All the general regulations and customs associated with public fast days are observed, including the recitation of special selichot on the particular theme of the day.
- The fast of Asara B'Tevet only starts from the break of dawn and ends at nightfall. (Consult a reliable Jewish calendar for the times in your area.) One may eat breakfast if one arises before sunrise for the specific purpose of doing so.
- One who is ill need not fast at all. Pregnant and nursing mothers can observe the fast with lenience. One should consult with a Rabbi whether they are permitted to fast.
- Children below the age of bar or bat mitzva - 13 for boys and 12 for girls, do not fast. (In some communities, it is customary for children to begin fasting a short time before they becomebar/bat mitzva.)
- Those permitted to eat should still refrain from eating meat, luxurious food and drink.
- Special additions to the prayers, (Selichot and Aneinu), and Torah readings (the Passages of Vayechal - Shmot 32: 11-14 and 34: 1-10), are added during the day.
Our sages teach us that "Whoever mourns over Yerushalayim is deserving to witness her joy." (Talmud Taanit 30b). As it is written in Isaiah (Chapter 66, verse 10), "rejoice greatly with her, all who mourn her." The Fast of Asara B'Tevet is one way that we mourn Yerushalayim.
May we merit seeing this fast day turned into a day of joy, as prophesied by Zecharia.