Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Fast of Behab

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

There exists a somewhat intriguing and lesser-known custom to fast three individual days following Pesach and Sukkot. The days chosen to observe this fast are a Monday, Thursday, and again the following Monday. The fast is not observed immediately following Pesach and Sukkot, but rather, it is pushed off until the arrival of the months of Iyar and Cheshvan, respectively.[1] The first letters of the Hebrew designations for Monday, Thursday, and Monday make up the word "Behab" from where this fast takes its name.

The reason that this fast is delayed until the month following the holidays is because it is generally forbidden to fast anytime in Nissan and fasting is to be avoided in Tishrei, as well.[2] Some delay the Behab series of Cheshvan until after the 17th of the month in order to allow for the fast to be observed on as short of a day as possible.[3]Mondays and Thursdays were chosen as the days on which to fast as they are days which have traditionally been associated with both judgment and favor. This is owing primarily to Monday being the day that Moshe ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah and later descending on a Thursday.[4]

Click here to read moreThis fast is among those that begin at dawn and conclude at nightfall. Some individuals only observe the fast until midday.[5] It seems that this fast is only found among Ashkenazi communities as Sefardic communities never accepted it upon themselves.[6] Even amongst Ashkenazim this fast is not widely observed and legitimately so. It is recognized that our generation is physically weaker than in times gone by, and as such, fasting is that much more difficult.[7] As the Fast of Behab is only a custom and not halachically required, one should not fast if it means compromising one's daily productivity over the fasts.[8] Those who don't fast should nevertheless curb their gastronomic pleasures on the Behab days.[9] Some have the custom to refrain from eating meat on the Behab fast days.[10]

There are a number of reasons why the Behab fast days were established. The primary reason for them is that they serve to atone for any inappropriate behavior one may have engaged in over the course of the Yom Tov.[11] Similarly, it serves to atone for any inappropriate mingling with the opposite sex that may have transpired.[12] It is also cited as a fast which atones for any work which is forbidden over Chol Ha'moed that one may have done.[13] Some authorities suggest that fasting Behab is intended to strengthen our body in preparation for the changing seasons that occur after Pesach and Sukkot.[14]

Additionally, the Behab fast is said to play a role in beseeching God to bless the crops (appropriate following Pesach) and the rains (following Sukkot).[15] Fasting Behab also atones for the severe sin of chillul Hashem one may have caused.[16] Overeating over the Yamim Tovim is deemed so unbecoming that one must use the Behab days to request atonement for having done so.[17] The Behab following Pesach is also said to atone for having possibly eaten chametz over Pesach.[18] So too, it represents the true Ta'anit Esther as the original fast of Esther was a three day fast.[19] Finally, the Behab days serve as a time of recollection, prayer, and even protest that God redeem us from the Exile.[20]

Those who intend to participate in the fast must formally accept the fast upon themselves at the Mincha prior to the fast. Alternatively, many congregations recite a "Misheberach" in the synagogue on the Shabbat before the fast. Answering "amen" at that time with the intention to fast is deemed sufficient to be included in the fast and one need not so again at Mincha.[21] One who normally fasts Behab but finds himself at a Brit or other similar seudat mitzva is permitted to partake in the festive meal.[22]

In the event that one of the Behab days falls out on Pesach Sheini, the fast officially takes place nonetheless, though some postpone it. Others fast only until midday in such a situation.[23] In a place where there is a minyan of individuals who are fasting, the day is treated just like any other public fast day, complete with the required insertions in the prayers and the appropriate Torah readings.[24] Many recite selichot prayers on the Behab days at some point during the Shacharit service.[25] There is no Behab fast following Shavuot as it is only a brief one-day holiday in which there is little time for sin to warrant a fast day,[26] though there have been individuals in the past who fasted Behab following Shavuot as well.[27]

Next Week: "Lag Ba'omer". Send me your lesser-known and obscure sources as well as anecdotes for inclusion! rabbiari@hotmail.com


[1] O.C. 492:1
[2] Tur O.C. 492, Magen Avraham 492:2, Shulchan Aruch Harav 492:2
[3] Nitei Gavriel Pesach III 43:4
[4] Tur, Beit Yosef O.C. 134, Rema O.C. 134:1, Midrash Rabba Shoftim 5:5. See also Midrash Tanchuma Bereishit 19:24 cited in Nitei Gavriel
[5] Cited in Nitei Gavriel Pesach III 42 note 1
[6] Kaf Hachaim 492:8
[7] Aruch Hashulchan 492:2
[8] Cited in Nitei Gavriel Pesach III 42 note 3. It seems that the Admorei Chabad would fast Behab, though they encouraged others not to do so.
[9] Or Zarua Tisha B'av 416
[10] Nitei Gavriel 43:13
[11] Tur 492, Mishna Berura 492:1, based on Iyov 1:5
[12] Tosfot;Kiddushin 81a
[13] Eliyahu Rabba 492:3
[14] Levush 492:1 cited in Nitei Gavriel
[15] Sefer Chassidim 227, Shach Y.D. 220:31, cited in Nitei Gavriel
[16] Tur O.C. 429
[17] Kol Bo
[18] Minhagim Maharam Mirotenberg
[19] Minhagei Yisrael (Sperber) vol. 1 chapter 26. It is likely that Esther's three day fast was not three consecutive days either but rather somewhat like Behab.
[20] Machzor Vitri, Seder Pesach 24
[21] Magen Avraham 492:3
[22] Shulchan Aruch Harav 492:5
[23] Nitei Gavriel 43:11
[24] O.C. 566:2
[25] O.C. 566:4
[26] Beit Yosef 429
[27] Tamim De'im 177, Kol Bo Taanit 61

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