Today marks the public fast day of the Tenth of Tevet. Let us therefore discuss some of the significance of this day.
On the tenth day of the month of Tevet, the King of Babylon surrounded the city of Jerusalem with the intention to destroy it, as the verse in Yechezkel (Chapter 24) states: “The word of Hashem came unto me on the tenth month (Tevet) of the ninth year on the tenth day of the month saying, ‘Son of man, write for yourself the name of this day, the essence of this very day, for on the essence of this day did the King of Babylon besiege Jerusalem.’”
We therefore fast on the Tenth of Tevet in order to humble our hearts into repenting fully and to beseech Hashem to pity us and redeem us completely. The Rambam writes: “The entire Jewish nation fasts on days which tragedy has befallen Israel in order to awaken their hearts and open the pathways of repentance for them. This in turn will serve as a memorial of our grievous actions and the actions of our forefathers which are similar to our current evil behavior and this eventually caused suffering to befall them and us. When we recall these things, it will cause us to return to the proper path, as the verse states, ‘And they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers.’”
Everyone is obligated to fast on the Tenth of Tevet and no one may exclude himself. However, children, meaning boys under the age of thirteen and girls under the age of twelve, are completely exempt from this fast and they are not even obligated to fast for several hours. Even children who are intelligent enough to mourn over the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash are exempt from these fasts as long as they have not yet reached the age of Bar/ Bat Mitzvah. Even if they would like to act stringently and fast, their parents should object to them doing so.
Pregnant and nursing women are exempt from the fast of the Tenth of Tevet and they may not act stringently and fast. The definition of “pregnant” regarding this law is when the woman’s pregnancy is noticeable, meaning that at least three months have elapsed from the beginning of her pregnancy. However, if the pregnant woman suffers from pain and vomiting, she is exempt from the fast even in the beginning stages of her pregnancy, especially if forty days from the onset of the pregnancy have already elapsed.
Pregnant and nursing women are also exempt from the fasts of the Seventeenth of Tamuz and the Fast of Gedalya (their obligation to fast on Tisha Be’av has already been explained in a special Halacha).
Regarding the exemption of a nursing woman from the fasts mentioned above, according to the letter of the law, any woman who has given birth within twenty-four months, during which time she is especially weak, and has not yet returned to her original strength is exempt from fasting. Nevertheless, if such a woman knows that she has the strength to fast easily, it is correct that that she act stringently and fast. However, this all depends on how the woman feels.