Text Based Learning

 
The Fast of 10 Tevet (Asarah B'Tevet)
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Tuesday 22nd December 2015

The Fast of 10 Tevet (Asarah B’Tevet) is unique in that it is the only fast day that can occur on a Friday. The Rambam (Maimonides d. 1204) writes that the reason we have fasts on days that calamities occurred is to give us the opportunity to reflect upon the causes of those tragedies and to encourage us to repent. In this way we will, hopefully, improve our conduct. 

This raises a question about the Fast of Asarah B'Tevet. It commemorates the day that the siege of Jerusalem began during the time of the First Temple. Yet the exile that followed this came to an end when the Second Temple was built (515 BCE). The exile in which we find ourselves today and many of the tragedies that have befallen our people since are rooted in the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE), which has no connection to 10 Tevet. So how are we still connected to the events that occurred on that day?
 
In his Selichah (prayer for forgiveness) recited on 10 Tevet, Yosef ben Shmuel lists the tragedies that befell our people in the month of Tevet. "For these three events a fast was instituted: (on 8 Tevet) the Grecian king Talmai (Ptolemy Philadelphus) forced the Torah to be translated into Greek; (on 9 Tevet) Ezra the Scribe, the giver of goodly words, was torn away; (on 10 Tevet) the siege of Jerusalem began”. What is the connection between these events?
 
The translation of the Written Torah into Greek caused irreparable damage. Without an understanding of Hebrew, it is impossible to appreciate the nuances intended by the written word. Someone who can only approach the Hebrew text through a translation can only have a superficial understanding of what the text is saying. Moreover, a translation is merely one person’s interpretation. Inevitably, the true meaning of the words becomes corrupted.
 
The death of Ezra took away one of the greatest Jews ever to have lived. After the destruction of the First Temple, it was Ezra who virtually saved Judaism from extinction. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 21b) states that had Moshe not brought the Torah to the people of Israel, Ezra would have done so. His death was deeply felt by all the Jews of his time.
 
Therefore the three events that the Fast of 10 Tevet commemorates are connected – they all relate to a decline in Torah study. It is only in the atmosphere of the Holy Land that we can study Torah at its optimum; this cannot be experienced outside of the Land of Israel. When Ezra died, we moved one step further away from the original understanding of our Holy writings. The translation of the Hebrew into Greek created misunderstandings that last to this day.
 
For lovers of Torah, 10 Tevet remains as relevant today as it was when it was when first introduced by the prophets.
By Rabbi Geoffrey Shisler, former rabbi of New West End Synagogue