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Not So Fast

By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow

The story is told of a group of friends that made a pact that after 120 years they would visit each other in the afterlife. One who was in Gehinnom met his friend who was in Gan Eden.

“What did they serve you last night for supper there in Gan Eden?”

“A tuna sandwich” was the reply.

Surprised, the friend asked, “That’s it?”

“Yeah, they don’t cook for only one person.”

In halachah we sometimes find that the rules are different for a tzibbur than for an individual. If there is a severe drought, R’l, the Jewish rabbinical court institutes a series of actions that are to be undertaken by the tzibbur. The most prominent of these is a series of three groups of communal fasts. First the community undertakes to fast on Monday, Thursday, and the following Monday. If rain still does not fall, they fast again on Monday, Thursday, and Monday. At that point if the rain still has not fallen, a series of seven fasts is decreed.

The Mishnah indicates that these 13 fasts are the maximum number that the community can be made to endure. There is a difference of opinion as to the significance of the number 13. Rebbe Ami explained the logic behind the rule simply—the rabbis felt that more than 13 fasts is just too much. We should not overly burden the community with fasts even though the need for rain is vital. Still, there are other tools that beis din can utilize to goad K’lal Yisrael into doing teshuvah. After the 13 fasts, beis din places limits on weddings, certain forms of commerce, and some construction projects. However, the 13 fasts is a hard-and-fast limit. Individuals can still undertake to fast, but it is not mandatory for the community.

Although the halachah is not in accordance with Rebbe Ami, the theory behind his understanding is still sound. The Rambam rules that if a community was fasting for rain and rain began to fall in middle of the fast, they may end their fast prematurely. The Ran says the logic behind this ruling is that we try not to overburden the community with fasts. Since this fast is no longer necessary, we interrupt it in the middle. On the other hand, if an individual was fasting for rain, and rain fell in the middle of his fast, he must continue fasting. This special dispensation to interrupt a fast does not apply to individuals, but only to a community.

Interestingly, the Rosh offers an alternative logic as to why a community should end the fast when rain begins. We would prefer that the community offer thanks right then to Hashem. Their response to the sudden onset of the rainy season should be unbridled jubilation. They would offer heartfelt thanks and effusive praise to Hashem for answering their prayers. However, their response might be somewhat tepid if they were still fasting. Of course they could thank Hashem tomorrow on a full stomach, but by then the excitement might have worn off somewhat. Better they break their fast immediately and offer their thanks right away. This way their prayers would truly be heartfelt and complete.

We can glean from the Rosh an important insight—that when inspired, one should act immediately. The inspiration dissipates quickly.

Rav Betzalel Stern suggests that perhaps there is another application of Rebbe Ami’s logic. Jews in the Diaspora celebrate two days of Shavuos, while Jews in Eretz Yisrael celebrate only one. When an individual moves to Eretz Yisrael with intent to settle there, he instantly acquires the status of an “Israeli” and is required to celebrate only one day of Shavuos. What would happen if a group of Americans were making aliyah by boat, and the boat docked in Eretz Yisrael on the second day of Shavuos? Do they finish observing the second day of yom tov like Americans, or do they immediately suspend its observance like Israelis?

Perhaps, just as the Rambam ruled that we suspend a fast day for a community, he would rule the same here. Since there was a group making aliyah, we should not burden them unnecessarily and therefore we should immediately suspend their observance of yom tov sheini. According to this logic, if it was only an individual making aliyah, he would still have to finish his observance of the second day of Shavuos. One could nevertheless argue that if the group comprised families from various locales making aliyah together, they are not halachically deemed a community. They are just individuals performing a mitzvah together and would not have the special dispensation granted a community. They would have to spend a few more hours as Americans before becoming halachic Israelis. v

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and is a rebbi at Mesivta Kesser Yisroel of Willowbrook. He can be contacted at

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Posted by on June 26, 2014. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.