The 17th of Tammuz


Today is the 17th of Tammuz, a “minor fast day” within the Jewish community.


It marks the first breech of the walls of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE, leading to the violent siege of the city, and its eventual destruction. Today also begins the three week period leading up to Tisha B’Av, the day both Temples were destroyed along with many other tragic events within Jewish history.

The 17th of Tammuz is commemorated with a half-day fast (from sun-up to sundown). However, there are no other prohibitions.

The next “Three Weeks” are a period of mourning. Many observant Jews will refrain from participating in celebrations, especially weddings. And there are many Jews who will also refrain from shaving, cutting their hair, and will observe other mourning customs.

An interesting note regarding the Minor Fast Days is that there is some debate within halakhah as to the observance of these days. An equal argument can be made both for and against fasting on this day (17th of Tammuz). Interestingly, according to many halachic authorities, either choice is actually following “the letter of the law” since there are differing opinions.

The central issue is whether or not we are living in a time where “there is no persecution but not yet peace.” This discussion is exemplified from the following Talmudic text:

“Rav Papa replied: What it means is this: When there is peace they [the minor fast days] shall be for joy and gladness; if there is persecution, they shall be fast days; if there is no persecution but not yet peace, then those who desire may fast and those who desire need not fast.” (b. Rosh HaShanah 18b)

By “persecution (sh’mad)” the Sages understand this to mean “universal persecution of the Jewish people.” And “not yet peace” refers to the ultimate peace that will come in the Messianic Age. So, many authorities believe we are currently in this in-between stage – there is not universal persecution of the Jewish people and not yet complete peace on earth. As such, Rav Papa’s position seems to be a valid possibility. As such, halachic figures, like Rabbi David Golinkin and others, have ruled that minor fast days (like today) may be rendered optional.

However, all authorities are in agreement that this machlochet (halachic disagreement) does NOT extend to major fast days, like Tisha B’Av or Yom Kippur. These major fast days are still obligated upon all Jews, unless they are exempt for medical reasons (and as always, minor children are always exempt).

Whether one chooses to fast today or not, what is important is to keep in mind the tragic history of our people. Although there has been an increase in anti-Semitism in recent years, we are still not “universally persecuted.” Many of us live in complete freedom without having to worry on a daily basis about pogroms, being lynched, or barred from a local country club. But we are also not yet living in complete peace.

As such, on days like today, we must still identify with the sufferings of our past, while at the same time long for the days of Mashiach.

May that day come speedily and soon!

About Rabbi Joshua

I'm a Rabbi, writer, thinker, mountain biker, father and husband ... not necessarily in that order. According to my wife, however, I'm just a big nerd. I have degrees in dead languages and ancient stuff. I have studied in various Jewish institutions, including an Orthodox yeshiva in Europe. I get in trouble for making friends with perfect strangers, and for standing on chairs to sing during Shabbos dinner. In addition to being the Senior Rabbi of Beth Emunah Messianic Synagogue in Agoura Hills, CA, I write regularly for several publications and speak widely in congregations and conferences. My wife is a Southern-fried Jewish Beltway bandit and a smokin' hot human rights attorney... and please don’t take offense if I dump Tabasco sauce on your cooking.
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2 Responses to The 17th of Tammuz

  1. Gene Shlomovich says:

    Great post, Josh. Some, even among Jews in the "Messianic movement" feel, doubtless influenced by Christian theology, that there's no need for us, Jewish followers of Messiah, to mourn the things that our mainstream traditional Jewish brethren mourn. Why lament the destruction of some "done away with" physical Temple and cry about galut, they say, when we are, the Body of Messiah, are now the "New Temple." Why afflict ourselves along with our fellow Jews, when we should rejoice. May such unscriptural and callous thinking be far from us.

  2. rik says:

    Amen Gene, All of the scripture referances to the New Temple i.e./or the Temple not made by hands are in the singular/personal. That other thing about the Body of Messiah, comes from replacement theoloy not the authority of The Word. What a terrable thing to, with a doctrin, minimize the ausome realization that the dwelling place of Ruach HaKodesh was transfered from the Tabernacle/Temple to within the person of each beliver in Messiah. WoW! By a personal decree of Mashiach each one of us can become a habitat of The Ruach, Himself. With that how important is it for us not to overlook the seamingly small things. If we each bear the stewardship of the habitation of G-Ds Spirit, shouldn't we be deeply be conserned with the ishues concerning Israrl. G-ds first chosen people. Then as Jews. Daa? Do we realy need to check with the old Sages to see if it's ok?

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