Selected Halachos Relating to Parshas Balak-Fast of Tammuz
By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt
The following is a discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week.
For final rulings, consult your Rav.
One from Yaakov will rule and destroy the remnant of the city (24:19)
..Israel will dominate Edom and destroy its mostprominent city, Rome (Rashi)
THE 17th DAY Of TAMMUZ
The three-week period known as Bein ha-Metzarim, the time of
year when we mourn the destruction of the two Batei Mikdash,
begins with a fast day on the 17th day of Tammuz, and ends with
a fast day, on the ninth day of Av. Let us review the laws of
the fast day known as Shivah Assar b'Tamuz - the 17th Day of
The fast begins 72 minutes before sunrise (alos amud
ha-shachar)(2) and ends 50 minutes after sunset (tzeis
ha-kochavim). Sunrise and sunset times are calculated by various
government agencies and are readily available to the general
Food and drink may be consumed any time during the night of the
17th(3) - but only if one remains awake all night(4). Once a
person retires for the evening, the fast begins, because people
do not normally eat until breakfast the following morning -
which is well past alos amud ha-shachar. Retiring the evening
before, therefore, is tantamount to starting the fast.
Unless one explicitly states(5) before going to sleep that he
plans to wake up early to eat before the fast begins, he may not
eat in the morning upon awakening, even before alos amud
ha-shachar. For him, the fast has already begun(6).
One who normally drinks coffee, juice, etc., in the morning upon
arising, does not need to stipulate that he will drink this
morning as well. One who normally does not drink anything in the
morning should stipulate before retiring that he is planning to
get up in the morning to drink. B'dieved, if he failed to do
so, he may drink nevertheless(7).
"Going to sleep" means deep sleep, whether in a bed or not.
Napping or dozing does not mean that the individual has finished
eating and begun the fast(8).
Although, as stated, it is permitted to eat before alos amud
ha-shachar [if one intended to do so the evening before the
fast], one who eats then must contend with another halachic
issue - the strict prohibition against eating before davening
Shacharis(9). The rules are as follows:
According to the Zohar(10), one who wakes up at any time during
the night [after midnight] may not eat before davening - even
though the time of davening is several hours off. Although there
are special individuals who abide by the Zohar(11), the basic
halachah is not as stated in the Zohar and the prohibition does
not begin until the earliest time for davening, which is alos
As stated, it is permitted to eat until alos amud ha-shachar.
However, one who did not begin to eat until he was within half
an hour of alos amud ha-shachar must do one of the following(13):
Limit his food intake: Eat fruit (any amount)(14), eat any
shehakol type of food but without being kovei'a seudah (eating a
regular, scheduled meal)(15), or eat less than 2.2 fl. oz. of
bread, cake, cereal, etc.(16) All drinks, except intoxicating
beverages, are permitted in any amount(17).
Eat any kind and any amount of food, but appoint another person
to remind him to recite Kerias Shema and Shemoneh Esrei(18).
Once alos amud ha-shachar arrives, it is questionable if it is
permitted to go back to sleep before davening. If he does go
back to sleep, he should appoint another person to wake him up
for davening(19). A reliable alarm clock may also be sufficient.
Although it is permitted to bathe on a fast day, it has become
customary not to take a hot shower or bath(20). It is also
proper for adults to refrain from swimming(21), unless it is
needed for a medical condition or to cool off on a hot day.
It is permitted to take a haircut on a fast day. A ba'al
nefesh, though, should refrain from doing so(22).
The poskim differ as to whether it is permitted to rinse one's
mouth with water on the 17th of Tammuz(23). Some permit rinsing
the front part of the mouth, taking care that no water enters
the throat area(24), while other poskim allow this only when in
distress (tza'ar)(25). According to the second view, then, one
may not schedule a fast-day visit to a dentist [which will
require him to rinse his mouth] unless he is in pain(26).
Medications prescribed by a doctor may be taken on the 17th of
Tammuz. One who has difficulty swallowing pills without water
may drink the amount of water required to swallow them. There is
no need to ruin the taste of the water before drinking it(27).
When suffering from a severe headache, etc., aspirin or
Tylenol, etc., may be taken. The poskim, however, do not permit
taking those medications with water, unless the water is first
made to have a bad taste(28).
DAVENING ON A FAST DAY:
During the reading of the Torah on a fast day, the custom is
that certain verses are read aloud by the congregation. The
individual who is called up for that aliyah should not read the
verses aloud with the congregation. Instead, he should wait
until the reader says them aloud and read along with him(29).
One who mistakenly ate on a fast day must resume and complete
the fast(30), and he may recite aneinu at Minchah(31). One who
is not fasting altogether should not say aneinu(32). A minor who
is not fasting does need to say aneinu [for the purpose of
One who is davening Shemoneh Esrei together with the sheliach
tzibur should not say aneinu as a separate blessing like the
sheliach tzibur does; he should say it as it is said in private
recitation, in Shema koleinu(34).
At the Minchah service, Avinu malkeinu is recited, even when
one is davening without a minyan(35).
1. Note that different fast days have slightly different
halachos. Here we are discussing the 17th of Tammuz only.
2. Some calendars list alos amud ha-shachar as 50 minutes before
sunrise. There is no halachic basis for this calculation.
3. A ba'al nefesh should begin the fast before nightfall of the
17th; Sha'ar ha-Tziyun 550:9. See also Sha'ar ha-Tziyun 565:8.
4. Some authorities maintain that it is improper to eat more than
one normally does on the night before the fast, since that
defeats the purpose of fasting (Eliyahu Rabbah 563:1). This
stringency is quoted by some poskim but omitted by the Mishnah
Berurah and many others (see Be'er Heitev 568:22; Aishel Avraham
Tanina, ibid.; Elef ha-Magen 602:6; Kaf ha-Chayim 563:11; Igros
Moshe O.C. 3:88; b'Tzeil ha-Chochmah 2:48).
5. It is preferable to do so verbally, but it is valid as long as
one had the condition in mind.
6. O.C. 564:1. One who did not know this halachah and ate in the
morning without having made the stipulation the night before,
may still recite aneinu (Shevet ha-Kehasi 1:180).
7. Mishnah Berurah 564:6 and Aruch ha-Shulchan 564:2 based on
Rama, ibid. See, however, Mateh Efrayim 206:6, who is more
8. Mishnah Berurah 564:3.
9. O.C. 89:3. According to the Minchas Chinuch (#248), this may
be a Biblical prohibition.
10. Quoted by the Magen Avraham 89:14 and by all the latter
11. Aruch ha-Shulchan 89:26.
12. Consensus of all the poskim; see Mishnah Berurah 89:28; Aruch
ha-Shulchan 89:26; Yalkut Yosef, pg. 147.
13. Women are exempt from the following rules (Harav S.Z.
Auerbach, written responsum published in Lev Avraham, vol. 2,
14. Based on Mishnah Berurah 232:34 and 286:9.
15. Based on Mishnah Berurah 639:15.
16. Mishnah Berurah 89:27.
17. Based on Mishnah Berurah 232:35.
18. Based on Mishnah Berurah 235:18.
19. See Siddur ha-Gra, pg. 88, quoting Harav Y.L. Diskin and
Binyan Olam 1. See Siyach Halachah, pg. 149.
20. Sha'ar ha-Tziyun 550:8; Aruch ha-Shulchan 550:3.
21. Be'er Moshe 3:77; Harav M. Feinstein (oral ruling quoted in
Mo'adei Yeshurun, pg. 108). Minors, however, may swim; Nitei
Gavriel, pg. 34 quoting Puppa Rav. See Hebrew Notes, pg.
565-569, for an elaboration.
22. Tzitz Eliezer 7:49-12. See Hebrew Notes, pg. 565-569, for a
clarification of this issue.
23. O.C. 567:3.
24. Aruch ha-Shulchan 567:3 This seems to be the view of Be'er
Heitev 567:5 and Da'as Torah 567:3 as well. See also Magen
Avraham, who allows rinsing the mouth as long as less than 3.3
fl. oz. of water are used at a time.
25. Mishnah Berurah 567:11 following the view of the Chayei Adam.
Kaf ha-Chayim 567:13-14 also rules stringently.
26. Nishmas Avraham O.C., pg. 290.
27. Harav S.Z. Auerbach (quoted in Nishmas Avraham, vol. 5, pg.
46). This is permitted on Tishah b'Av as well, ibid.; Harav M.
Stern (Debreciner Rav, written responsum in Nitei Gavriel, Bein
ha-Metzarim, pg. 30).
28. See Nishmas Avraham O.C., pg. 282, concerning Tishah b'Av.
29. Mishnah Berurah 566:3.
30. Ibid. 549:3.
31. Ibid. 568:3. See Shevet ha-Levi 5:60.
32. Beiur Halachah 565:1.
33. Shevet ha-Levi 8:131.
34. Ibid. 565:1.
35. Sha'arei Teshuvah O.C. 584:2 quoting Shevus Yaakov and Kitzur
Shalah; Harav M. Feinstein (oral ruling quoted in Mo'adei
Yeshurun, pg. 112). See, however, Da'as Torah 584:1 who states
that some do not recite Avinu malkeinu when praying without a
This is issue has been graciously sponsored in loving memory of Herbert Harris, M.D. (Chaim ben David, Tammuz 19, 5754)
whose "maasim tovim" and integrity remain our source of inspiration and strength by Dr. and Mrs. Michael Harris and Family
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