Fasting Quotes: Other Jewish Sources (3/7)

Fasting Quotes: Other Jewish Sources

Fasting in post-biblical Judaism offered holiness and obedience in the absence of sacrificial ritual services and prayers associated with the Temple. It also helped to preserve the separate and distinct character of the Jewish people in the diaspora.


Book of Judith

As a widow, Judith stayed inside her home for three years and four months. She had had an upper room built for herself on the roof. She wore sackcloth next to the skin and dressed in widow’s weeds. She fasted every day of her widowhood except for the Sabbath eve, the Sabbath itself, the eve of New Moon, the feast of New Moon and the joyful festivals of the House of Israel. [Judith 8:4-6].


Book of Tobit

Prayer with fasting is good, as is almsgiving with righteousness; but better than either of them is a little with righteousness than much with wickedness. It is better to give alms than to hoard gold. For almsgiving saves one from death; it wipes out every sin. Those who practice almsgiving, kindness, and righteousness will be satiated with life; but those who commit sin and do wrong are their own worst enemies. [Tobit 12:7-10].


Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs

Ye see therefore, my children, how great things patience worketh, and prayer with fasting. And if ye therefore follow after sobriety and purity in patience and humility of heart, the Lord will dwell among you, because He loveth sobriety. And wheresoever the Most High dwelleth, even though a man fall into envy, or slavery, or slander, the Lord who dwelleth in him, for his sobriety’s sake not only delivereth him from evil, but also exalteth and glorifieth him . . . Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, XI, The Testament of Joseph Concerning Sobriety.


The Psalms of Solomon

The righteous continually searcheth his house, To remove utterly (all) iniquity (done) by him in error. He maketh atonement for (sins of) ignorance by fasting and afflicting his soul, And the Lord counteth guiltless every pious man and his house.The Psalms of Solomon, III


History of the Rechabites

About that time there was in the desert a certain man named Zosimus, who for forty years ate no bread, and drank no wine, and saw not the face of man. This man was entreating God that he might see the way of life of the blessed, and behold an angel of the Lord was sent saying to him, Zosimus, man of God, behold I am sent by the Most High, the God of all, to tell thee that thou shalt journey to the blessed, but shalt not dwell with them. But exalt not thy heart, saying, For forty years I have not eaten bread, for the word of God is more than bread, and the spirit of God is more than wine.  History of the Rechabites


The Apocalypse of Abraham 

… because you have loved to search me out, and I have named you ‘my friend.’ (The text here in fact says ‘my lover.’) But abstain from every form of food that comes forth out of the fire, and from the drinking of wine, and from anointing yourself with oil, for forty days, and then set forth for me the sacrifice which I have commanded you, in a place which I will show you on a high mountain, and there I will show you the ages which have been created and established by my word, and I will make known to you what shall come to pass in them on those who have done evil and righteousness in the generations of men.” [The Apocalypse of Abraham 3].


The Apocalypse of Elijah

Hear, O wise men of the land, concerning the deceivers who will multiply in the last times so that they will set down for themselves doctrines which do not belong to God, setting aside the Law of God, those who have made their belly their God, saying, “The fast does not exist, nor did God create it,” making themselves strangers to the covenant of God and robbing themselves of the glorious promises. Now these are not ever correctly established in the firm faith.

Therefore don’t let those people lead you astray. Remember that from the time when He created the heavens, the Lord created the fast for a benefit to men on account of the passions and desires which fight against you so that the evil will not inflame you. “But it is a pure fast which I have created,” said the Lord. The one who fasts continually will not sin although jealousy and strife are within him.

Let the pure one fast, but whenever the one who fasts is not pure he has angered the Lord and also the angels. And he has grieved his soul, gathering up wrath for himself for the day of wrath. [The Apocalypse of Elijah 13-19]. 


2 Baruch the Book of the Apocalypse of Baruch the Son of Neriah

Go therefore and sanctify thyself seven days, and eat no bread, nor drink water, nor speak to anyone. And afterwards come to that place and I will reveal Myself to you, and speak true things with you, and I will give you commandment regarding the method of the times; for they are coming and tarry not.’

And I went there and sat in the valley of Kidron in a cave of the earth, and I sanctified my soul there, and I ate no bread, yet I was not hungry, and I drank no water, yet I thirsted not, and I was there till the seventh day, as He had commanded me.

And afterwards I came to that place where He had spoken with me. And it came to pass at sunset that my soul took much thought, and I began to speak in the presence of the Mighty One . . . [2 Baruch 20:5-21:3].


Philo Judaius of Alexandria on Fasting (c. 25  B.C.E. – 45  C.E)

On the tenth day the fast takes place which they take seriously–not only those who are zealous about piety and holiness, but even those who do nothing religious the rest of the time. For all are astounded, overcome with the sacredness of it; in fact, at that time, the worse compete with the better in self-control and virtue. The reputation of the day is due to two reasons: one that it is a feast and the other that it is purification and escape from sins for which amnesty has been given by the favors of the gracious God who has assigned the same honor to repentance that he has to not committing a single Sin . . . Philo, The Special Laws, I,

But on this fast it is not lawful to take any food or any drink, in order that no bodily passion may at all disturb or hinder the pure operations of the mind; but these passions are wont to be generated by fulness and satiety, so that at this time men feast, propitiating the Father of the universe with holy prayers, by which they are accustomed to solicit pardon for their former sins, and the acquisition and enjoyment of new blessings. Philo, A Treatise on the Life of Moses.


Mishnah and Talmud on Fasting:

When R. Shesheth kept a fast, on concluding his prayer he added the following: Sovereign of the Universe, Thou knowest full well that in the time when the Temple was standing, if a man sinned he used to bring a sacrifice, and though all that was offered of it was its fat and blood, atonement was made for him therewith. Now I have kept a fast and my fat and blood have diminished. May it be Thy will to account my fat and blood which have been diminished as if I had offered them before Thee on the altar, and do Thou favour me. [Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Berakoth, Folio 17a].


Regulating Fasting for Rain

Should even these seven fast-days have passed without a favorable answer to the prayers, the people are to avoid and withdraw from engaging in any joyous occupation, and also to diminish their business; from the erection of buildings and from the planting of pleasure-gardens; from betrothals, weddings, and mutual greetings, like men who are rebuked by the Omnipotent; (pious) private individuals recommence fasting till the end of the month of Nissan. If Nissan had passed and then rain descended, it must be considered a curse, for it is written [I Samuel, xii. 17]: “Is it not wheat harvest to-day?” . . .  [Ta’anit: Regulating How to Fast for Rain.].


Regulating Fasting on the Day of Atonement

Come and hear: For Rabbah b. Samuel taught: One does not afflict children on the Day of Atonement, but one trains them a year, or two, before their attaining maturity. That will be right according to R. Johanan, but according to R. Huna and R. Nahman this presents a difficulty. — [These] Rabbis will tell you: ‘Training’ here means ‘fasting to the end of the day’. But has ‘training’ the meaning of ‘fasting to the end of the day’? Was it not taught: What is training? If he was accustomed to eat at the second hour [eight o’clock], one feeds him now at the third hour [nine o’clock]; if he was accustomed to eat at the third hour, one feeds him now at the fourth. Raba b. ‘Ulla said, There are two kinds of training. [Yoma: Regulating Fasting on the Day of Atonement]


Maimonides (Rambam 1135- 1204): Mishneh Torah on Fasting

We should fast and sound the trumpets in the [following] situations of communal distress: because of the distress that the enemies of the Jews cause the Jews, because of [the passage of] an armed [force], because of a plague, because of a wild animal [on a rampage], because of various species of locusts, because of the black blight and the yellow blight, because of falling buildings, because of an epidemic, because of [the loss of our source of] sustenance, and because of rain [or a lack of it]. [Mishneh Torah, Sefer Zemanim, Ta’aniyot, Chapter Two]

Just as the community should fast because of distress, so too, each individual should fast [when confronted by] distress. What is implied? When an individual to whom a person [feels close] is sick, lost in the desert, or imprisoned, one should fast for his sake, ask for mercy for him in prayer, and say [the passage] Anenu in all the Shemoneh Esreh prayers recited [that day]. One should not fast on the Sabbath, on festivals, on Rosh Chodesh, on Chanukah, or on Purim. Mishneh Torah, Sefer Zemanim, Ta’aniyot, Chapter One,  Halacha 9

There are days when the entire Jewish people fast because of the calamities that occurred to them then, to arouse [their] hearts and initiate [them in] the paths of repentance. This will serve as a reminder of our wicked conduct and that of our ancestors, which resembles our present conduct and therefore brought these calamities upon them and upon us. By reminding ourselves of these matters, we will repent and improve [our conduct], as [Leviticus 26:40] states: “And they will confess their sin and the sin of their ancestors.” [Mishneh Torah, Sefer Zemanim, Ta’aniyot, Chapter Five Halacha 1].

These days are the following: The Third of Tishrei. This is the day on which Gedaliah ben Achikam was slain and the ember of Israel that remained was extinguished, causing their exile to become complete. The Tenth of Tevet. This is the day Nebuchadnezzar, the wicked, the King of Babylon, camped against Jerusalem and placed the city under siege.

The Seventeenth of Tammuz. Five tragedies took place on this day: a) The Tablets were broken; b) In the First Temple, the offering of the daily sacrifices was nullified; c) [The walls of] Jerusalem were breached in [the war leading to] the destruction of the Second Temple; d) Apostmos, the wicked, burned a Torah scroll; and e) He erected an idol in the Temple. [Mishneh Torah, Sefer Zemanim, Ta’aniyot, Chapter Five Halacha 2].

On the Ninth of Av, five tragedies occurred: It was decreed that the Jews in the desert would not enter Eretz Yisrael; The First and the Second Temples were destroyed; A large city named Betar was captured. Thousands and myriads of Jews inhabited it. They were ruled by a great king whom the entire Jewish people and the leading Sages considered to be the Messianic king. The city fell to the Romans and they were all slain, causing a national catastrophe equivalent to that of the Temple’s destruction. On that day designated for retribution, the wicked Tineius Rufus plowed the site of the Temple and its surroundings, thereby fulfilling the prophecy [Micah 3:12], “Zion will be plowed like a field.”[Mishneh Torah, Sefer Zemanim, Ta’aniyot, Chapter Five Halacha 3].

And the entire Jewish people follow the custom of fasting at these times and on the Thirteenth of Adar, in commemoration of the fasts that [the people] took upon themselves in the time of Haman, as mentioned [in Esther 9:31]: “the matter of the fasts and the outcries.” [Mishneh Torah, Sefer Zemanim, Ta’aniyot, Chapter Five Halacha 5].


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