10th of Tevet: Stories, rules, history of the Jewish winter fast - explainer

Here is a rundown of what you need to know about the history, rules and start and end times of Judaism's winter fast day.

‘THE DESTRUCTION of the Temple of Jerusalem,’ Francesco Hayez, 1867 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
‘THE DESTRUCTION of the Temple of Jerusalem,’ Francesco Hayez, 1867
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The 10th of Tevet (Asara b'Tevet in Hebrew) falls on January 3 this year and is one of the two fast days which commemorate significant dates in Jewish history related to the destruction of the Temple.

The holiday is celebrated annually on, as the name implies, the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Tevet, which typically falls in the winter for those in the Northern Hemisphere. It also always follows the eight-day-long holiday of Hanukkah, though it is in no way related.

Here is a rundown of what you need to know about Judaism's winter fast day.

What is the history behind the fast?

This fast day of the 10th of Tevet, like many other fast days in Judaism, is to commemorate the first day of the siege that the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, in the time of the First Holy Temple, began around the walls of Jerusalem, which we now know as the Old City walls.

The siege lasted for three years until the Babylonians were able to breach the walls and then destroy the First Temple. As described in the Book of Jeremiah 52:4 in the Bible, taking place during the reign of King Zedkiyahu, "And in the ninth year of his reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, King Nebuchadrezzar moved against Jerusalem with his whole army. They besieged it and built towers against it all around."

"And in the ninth year of his reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, King Nebuchadrezzar moved against Jerusalem with his whole army. They besieged it and built towers against it all around."

Jeremiah 52:4

 The siege of Jerusalem. (credit: CREATIVE COMMONS) The siege of Jerusalem. (credit: CREATIVE COMMONS)

However, the fast is also meant to commemorate two other events that happened in other years during the preceding days.

On the eighth day of Tevet, during the Second Temple period, Egypt's Hellenistic King Ptolemy forced 70 sages to translate the Bible into Greek, which became known as the Septuagint.

Although the Talmud talks about the Septuagint being blessed with a miracle – the 70 sages all being separated and coming up with the same translations in the end – the overall view of the rabbis at that time were negative, according to Aish.com.

The Talmud and many others say that the translation is seen as a bad thing. The Tractate Sefer Torah has even compared it to the Golden Calf, saying, "Seventy Elders wrote the Torah for King Ptolemy in Greek, and that day was as ominous for Israel as the day on which the Golden Calf was made."

"Seventy Elders wrote the Torah for King Ptolemy in Greek, and that day was as ominous for Israel as the day on which the Golden Calf was made."

Tractate Sefer Torah

In more recent history, in 1951, the 10th of Tevet was also marked as a Yom HaKaddish haKlali (General Kaddish Day) in Israel to commemorate the six million Jews that died in the Holocaust. "The Mourner's Kaddish is recited on this day for people whose date or place of death during the Holocaust is still unknown," Sefaria wrote.

What are the rules of the fast?

The 10th of Tevet is considered to be one of the minor fast days. As such, it follows similar rules.

Like most fast days, the fast is from dawn till dusk, beginning early in the morning and ending as night rolls in. In fact, for those living in the Northern Hemisphere, it is also the shortest fast day of the year, due to the days being shorter in winter.

The day sees the use of traditional prayer additions for fast days, such as the prayer "Aneinu" during "Shmona Esrei" in the Shacharit (morning) and Mincha (afternoon) prayers. The "Avinu Malkeinu" prayer is also recited by the congregation, and "Tachanun" is omitted.

Slichot is also recited during Shacharit.

The Torah reading in both Shacharit and Mincha is from the Book of Exodus and the haftarah (read only at Mincha) is from the Book of Isaiah.

Other traditional mourning practices are also observed on this day, such as lighting memorial candles. The prayer of mourning, "El Malei Rachamim," is also said following Torah reading in Shacharit.

As a minor fast, the 10th of Tevet does not have the additional restrictions of the full fasts of Yom Kippur and Tisha Be'av, and some of the rules may be seen as more lenient. For example, pregnant and nursing women, even when not sick, are not required to fast, as noted in the Shulchan Arukh. 

However, there is an aspect about it that makes it unique, in that, unlike all other minor fast days, the 10th of Tevet is the only one that will still be observed on a Friday. 

This itself is a very rare occurrence, though it last happened in 2020 and will happen again in 2023.

When does the fast begin and end?

These are the times according to MyZmanim.

Jerusalem

Begins: 5:22 a.m.

Ends: 5:17 p.m.

Tel Aviv

Begins: 5:24 a.m.

Ends: 5:18 p.m.

Haifa

Begins: 5:24 a.m.

Ends: 5:16 p.m.

Beersheba

Begins: 5:22 a.m.

Ends: 5:20 p.m.

Eilat

Begins: 5:19 a.m.

Ends: 5:23 p.m.

New York

Begins: 5:52 a.m.

Ends: 5:19 p.m.

Los Angeles

Begins: 5:39 a.m.

Ends: 5:30 p.m.

Chicago

Begins: 5:48 a.m.

Ends: 5:11 p.m.

Aaron Reich and Noa Rosen contributed to this article.