It is essential to the sustenance of Jewish tradition that we recognize the minor fasts often going unnoticed in mainstream Jewish life. The minor fasts identify times in Jewish history when G-d’s messages went unheard and calamities – from bad to worse - befell our people.
Throughout our history, Jews have continuously recognized how one event leads to or is connected to another. Kristallnacht, for example, is said to have been the instigating event for the onset of the Holocaust. The blockade that Nebuchadrezzar, the Babylon ruler, led against ancient Jersalem in 588 BCE led to the destruction of the First Temple.
We continue to study and learn from the Torah and other Jewish books because the ancient messages remain prevalent to us today. The minor fasts are a time of sorrow for our history and an opportunity to repair what went wrong in the past.
It is also common in Jewish tradition to memorialize moments in our history in order to stay connected with them in our present. Jews know that our past has much to do with our future and – more than that – it has everything to do with our faith.
There are four minor fasts (five including the fast of the firstborn before Passover).
On the tenth of Tevet, the tenth month in the Jewish calendar, the beginning of the Babylonian revolt began under the rule of Nebuchadrezzar. This siege led to the annihilation of city walls a few years later on the 9th of Tammuz and the destruction of the Temple a few weeks after that on the 9th of Av.
If you place yourself in history, you can imagine how devastating the destruction of the Temple was. The Temple was the center of Jewish life. Still today, the Western Wall – the Kotel – of the ancient Temple still stands. The Wall represents the spot closest to the Holiest of Holies – the place where G-d dwells. The Kotel, in the Old City of Jerusalem, remains crowded with Jews from all denominations praying at the place where our prayers can be heard the loudest.
The Kotel remains a structure of importance for all Jews, yet few of us regard the destruction of the Temple that was once within its walls as little more than a piece of history. On the Tenth of Tevet, we recall our Holy Temple and its importance in Jewish life. We examine the messages we received from G-d in our past and open our ears to G-d’s messages in the present.
Minor fast days begin at dawn (the moment of the sun rising on the horizon) and close at nightfall (immediately after sunset). The laws regarding the fast are found in the Shulcan Aruch (The Code of Jewish Law), which is a written manual of Halacha, or Jewish law.
Unlike other minor fasts, if this one falls on Shabbat, it is still observed. Many observe the Tenth of Tevet as a memorial day for the Jews who perished in the Holocaust.