Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fast Day

Today is the fast of the 17th of Tammuz.  (It's actually the 18th of Tammuz, but yesterday was Shabbat,  a day on which fasting is prohibited (unless Yom Kippur falls out on Shabbat) so the fast was postponed until today).  It's considered one of the "minor" fasts, along with the Fast of Gedaliah, the 10th of Tevet, and the Fast of Esther (the day before Purim).  (see www.jewfaq.org/holidaye.htm)  These fasts are contrasted with the two "major" fasts, Tisha B'av (the 9th of Av) and Yom Kippur.  There are more leniencies on the minor fasts in terms of eating to avoid medical conditions, nor do these days have the other restrictions of the major fasts such as wearing leather shoes, bathing, anointing and  sex.

I always fast on Tisha B'av and Yom Kippur, but, frankly, I've never incorporated fasting on the minor fasts into my religious repertoire.  Not only that, since the services on the minor fast days are much longer than usual, as a Torah reading as well as Slichot (penitential prayers) are added, I've generally avoided going to shul on these days and said all my prayers at home.  But since I have to say kaddish now, I have no choice but to go to shul.

So I am faced with a dilemma.  I may be asked to lead prayers, and as prayer leader, I will recite, during the public repetition of the Amidah (silent prayer) the "Aneynu" blessing that is added on fast days.  This blessing asks God to "answer us on the day of our fast, for we are in great distress . . ."  But if I am not fasting, it seems hypocritical for me to be the community's representative when I personally am neither fasting nor in personal distress.  I was asked to lead prayers on the 10th of Tevet when I wasn't fasting; I felt a strange and hoped that no food was showing between my teeth, though I did feel its presence.

Today I decided to fast.  I was called upon to daven Shacharit (the morning prayer).  I felt more at ease knowing I too was fasting.  I made it all the way to the late afternoon when a splitting headache and slight nausea, probably brought on by caffeine withdrawal, moved me to break my fast.  I purposefully came late to the afternoon services so I wouldn't be called on to daven Mincha, when the Aneynu blessing is again recited.  The Gabbai did ask me to daven Ma'ariv (the evening prayer), but this service marks the transition to the new day, so I didn't have any moral qualms about it.

The lesson: the obligation to say kaddish thrusts you into the community, for better or for worse.  Mostly for better.  But sometimes your own individual practice comes into conflict with communal norms.  As a mourner, I'm not just another regular member of the community.  I have a special status.  I have to deal with it.

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