Parashat Va-Yigash 5767/ December 30, 2006
the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
Why the Tenth of Tevet?*
Dr. Jeffrey Woolf
Department of Talmud
As we know, while the
Jews were still in exile in Babylonia, four dates were set in the Jewish
calendar to commemorate the fall of
In the fourth year of King Darius, on the fourth day of the ninth month, Kislev, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah – when Bethel-sharezer and Regem-melech and his men sent to entreat the favor of the Lord, [and] to address this inquiry to the priests of the House of the Lord and to the prophets: “Shall I weep and practice abstinence in the fifth month, as I have been doing all these years?”
Thereupon the word of the Lord of Hosts came to me: Say to all the people of the land and to the priests: When you fasted and lamented in the fifth and seventh months all these seventy years, did you fast for my benefit?
According to the Sages,  this passage refers to four days during the months mentioned by Zechariah (see below) that had been set aside for fasting and prayer due to the troubles that had befallen the people on those days, as reported in Tosefta Sukkah, Lieberman edition, ch. 6, halakhah 10 (p.189):
Rabbi expounded:  Lo, the prophet says: Thus said the Lord of Hosts: The fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth month, the fast of the seventh month, and the fast of the tenth month ...(Zech. 8:19) The fast of the fourth month is the seventeenth of Tammuz, on which day the city walls were breached, ... the fast of the fifth month is the ninth of Ab, on which day the Temple was burned, ... the fast of the seventh month is the third of Tishri, on which day Gedaliah son of Ahikam was killed by Ishmael son of Nethanya, teaching us that the Omnipresent views the death of the righteous just as severely as the destruction of the Temple ... the fast of the tenth month is the tenth of Tevet, on which day the king of Babylonia laid hands on Jerusalem, as it is said, “In the ninth year, on the tenth day of the tenth month, the word of the Lord came to me: O mortal, record this date...” (Ezek. 24:1-2).
Three of these four fast days have a theme in common. To begin with, they commemorate tragic events whose results were immediate and calamitous: breaching the walls on the seventeenth of Tammuz marked the inevitable fall of the entire city of Jerusalem;  the First and Second Temple were destroyed on the ninth of Ab; on the Fast of Gedaliah, “Gedaliah son of Ahikam was killed and the last remaining ember of Israel was extinguished, sealing their fate that they be exiled.”  Secondly, these dates had the good fortune of being links in larger segments of the calendar – the seventeenth of Tammuz and the ninth of Ab belong to the three weeks known as Bein ha-Metzarim,” between the straits”  and the fast of Gedaliah was incorporated into the ten days of repentance.  Therefore these days became more prominent in the public consciousness.
The Odd Man Out
The situation is somewhat different for the fast of the
tenth of Tevet. It is
isolated on the calendar, not part pf any context that might strengthen
awareness of the date and its importance.
 At first
glance, its content also appears different from the other fasts, since it marks
neither the end of a process nor an event with immediate impact.
The tenth of Tevet marks the date
on which the siege of
Indeed, the Jews everywhere were deeply shaken to hear the
 and this finds clear
expression in the words of the prophet Ezekiel.
Thus the exiled prophet on the
In the ninth year, on the tenth day
of the tenth month, the word of the Lord came to me:
O mortal, record this date, this exact
day; for this very day the king of
The prophet’s trembling
reverberates through his words. Thrice “this day” is repeated, as if to stress
the intense significance of what befell
A Sense of Security
The answer, I believe, is to be found in the feeling of the
residents of Judea that
The word which came to Jeremiah from
the Lord: Stand at the gate of the
House of the Lord, and there proclaim this word:
Hear the word of the Lord, all you of
Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord!
Thus said the Lord of Hosts, the God of
Israel: Mend your ways and your
actions, and I will let you dwell in this place.
Don’t put your trust in illusions and
Jeremiah was warning and
speaking out against the apparently widespread belief among the people that the
Will you steal and murder and commit adultery and swear falsely, and sacrifice to Baal, and follow other gods whom you have not experienced, and then come and stand before Me in this House which bears My name and say, “We are safe”? – [Safe] to do all these abhorrent things! Do you consider this House, which bears My name, to be a den of thieves? As for Me, I have been watching – declares the Lord.
Just go to My place at Shiloh, where
I had established My name formerly and see what I did to it because of the wickedness
of My people
A Bitter Lesson
The reason for Ezekiel’s
shock, it seems, is to be found herein.
Clearly he knew what was going to happen, for he himself had a vision of
the catastrophe for which the people were headed.
But when the day actually arrived, he
found it difficult to assimilate what was happening and therefore the Holy One,
blessed be He, had to tell him emphatically, time and again, that this was
indeed the reality. Little wonder,
therefore, that the rest of the people were even more deeply traumatized when
In view of Jeremiah’s words, cited above, Maimonides’ remarks are even more poignant: 
There are days on which all of Israel fast and practice abstinence on account of the troubles that befell them on those days, in order to stir the heart to repentance, that this may remind us of our evil ways and the ways of our ancestors which were like our own ways now, so much so that it caused them and us the same troubles. For in remembering these things we will return to the good path as it is written (Lev. 26:40), “and they shall confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, in that they trespassed against Me, yea, were hostile to Me.”
* In loving memory of my mother, Peshe bat Yosef, who passed away on the ninth of Tevet, 5751 (1990).
 See the discussion in J. Tabori, Moadei Yisrael be-Tekufat ha-Mishnah ve-ha-Talmud, Jerusalem 2000, p. 350 ff.
 According to Lieberman, Tosefta Ki-fshutah, Sotah-Kiddushin, p. 674, lines 187-189, read “Rabbi Akiva expounded.”
 According to Jeremiah, the city walls were actually breached by the Babylonians on the ninth of Tammuz and not on the seventeenth. On the custom to fast on the seventeenth of the month, the day on which the Romans entered the city prior to the destruction of the Second Temple, cf. Jerusalem Talmud, Ta’anit 4.5 (p.68c); Ritba, Rosh ha-Shanah 18b, s.v. “girsat ha-sefarim;” Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayyim 549.2.
Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Fastdays 5.2.
Regarding the Rambam’s original
explanation as to why the fast was declared, see Isidore Twersky, Introduction
to the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah),
 Based on
the verse, “
 Cf. Y.
D. Gilat, “Ta’anit be-Shabbat,” Tarbiz, 52 (1983), 1-15 (=Perakim
Acknowledgment of the somewhat shaky standing of the tenth of Tevet can
be found in the fact that Rabbi Herzog suggested that this particular day be
chosen as the day commemorating the Holocuast and general national mourning
because he wished in a certain way to buttress the status of the day.
See Irving Greenberg, The Jewish
Way: Living the Holidays,
 It is evident from the Lord’s response (“when you fasted and lamented in the fifth and seventh months all these seventy years, did you fast for my benefit?”) that initially the memorial days were set on the people’s initiative and only later received ratification.
 Compare Tosefta Sotah (loc. sit.), halakhah 11.
 Presumably they were relying on the miracle that G-d wrought when Sennacherib was repulsed from the city walls in the time of Hezekiah (I Kings 19).
not to imply any comparison, that there were similar reactions in the western
 It is
interesting to note that at this stage
 Laws of Fastdays, loc. sit., halakhah 1.