Tuesday, January 13, 2009

// // 5 comments

Fasting

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

I received an interesting question about Shovavim fasting...

- I was discouraged from doing some Shoavim fasting. I was told it is not good for Ashkenazim to accustom themselves to fasting. Do you have any idea why?

Noting I did not write the Shovavim article, it was from Rav Tzadok of koshertorah.com. I am not an expert in Sephardi practices, the rav's suggestion in the article was to consult a sephardi rav for specific fasting details, however...

Regarding Ashkenazim and fasting, this strikes me as an odd statement as many a talmiday chachomim (Torah scholars and historical religious leaders) among the non-chassidic Ashkenazim were accustomed to fasting regularly. It's noted that we are weaker today and such practices are generally discouraged. (This may be simply be due to living in a time of plenty, for our bodies are accustomed to being treated gently and with lots of resources making it much more difficult to go without as opposed to someone who has lived a life of scarcity.)

Fasting as a regular practice to lead to piousness or get closer to Hashem is definitely discouraged among the chassidim. The Alter Rebbe in Tanya does recommend a large series of fasts (hundreds, literally) to atone for common yet serious averot (sins) in ones life - mentioning that spreading these out across the winter months when days are short over a period of years (say, 10) is a reasonable practice. But this is for attonement, a tikkun (a repair) for averot (sins) to cleanse one completely in this world. Not for increasing one's piousness (with an attendant danger to ego inflation.)

And for one who cannot fast? The Alter Rebbe writes such fasts can be redeemed with tzedakah (charity) - this is above the 10% required of every person. I have heard a story (in the name of Rav Hillel of Parich? not certain) where the rav asks, and what if one is weak and cannot fast such a large number, or one is poor and cannot redeem the fasts? Well then, he answers, don't sin! :-)

The basic answer to your question may be the average person is discouraged from taking on the stringencies of the pious. Such practices are not required, one must be very careful to take them on with proper intention, and failure in them may carry the risk of a decrease in ones religious observance.

This is not to discourage one from reaching for greater heights. Just to be aware and prepare for the journey.

5 comments:

Reb. Nati said...

Rebbe Nachman says if yoiu are by me 'at my grave for Rosh Hashana then you need not fast at all and if you are not by me then all the fasts in the world would not help you! Sichot Haran. That's why the rebbe tells us to practice being B'smimch all the time and to say Tikun Haklali daily.
What is being B'smicha kol a zman. these are roshe tevot for shunchan orch, mikva,chatsot,hisbodeuet. 2 halachas a day, imerse in a kosher mikva and break your sleep at night and pray one hour alone in the field. will keep you far from sin and you get much more out of this then all the fasts of the alter rebbe. I promise

joshwaxman said...

my take on it is that there is the ascetic trend and the non-ascetic trend in Judaism. indeed, we have the gemara which states that:

אמר שמואל כל היושב בתענית נקרא חוטא
סבר כי האי תנא דתניא ר' אלעזר הקפר ברבי אומר מה תלמוד לומר (במדבר ו) וכפר עליו מאשר חטא על הנפש וכי באיזה נפש חטא זה אלא שציער עצמו מן היין והלא דברים קל וחומר ומה זה שלא ציער עצמו אלא מן היין נקרא חוטא המצער עצמו מכל דבר ודבר על אחת כמה וכמה

I discuss this in the following post:
http://parsha.blogspot.com/2008/06/naso-sitting-in-taanis-and-critiquing.html

Of course, there are others who argue, even Among the Amoraim. And then in the time of Rishonim and Acharonim, and this is "harmonized" out of existence. See how Shulchan Aruch treats this.

But I can well see an Ashekenazic non-chassic rabbi advising against fasting and continuous afflicting of one's body.

KT,
Josh

joshwaxman said...

oops, I forgot to provide a convenient link. Here is the link I intended.

JewWishes said...

This is a thought-provoking issue.

Isaac said...

The Rebbe was vehemently against taking on additional fasts (with a rare exceptions). Look it up in Igros Kodesh. http://otzar770.com/

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