Specifically, it marks the beginning of the siege around Jerusalem by the Babylonians, prior to the destruction of the first Beit HaMikdash. It thus commemorates the beginning of the Churban.
To the 10th of Tevet has been added events that are associated with the 8th of Tevet - namely, the "tragedy of the Targum Shiv'im", the first (and coerced) translation of the Torah into Greek. The day is considered as "dark" as the day of the Sin of the Golden Calf. Literal translation of the Written Torah without the inseparableOral Law, opens the Torah to misunderstanding and distortion, the effects of which have haunted us throughout the generations; And the 9th of Tevet - namely, the anniversaries of the deaths of Ezra and Nechemia, who represent for us the restoration of Torah study and practice after a long spiritual drought, and the return (albeit in disappointingly small numbers) of the Jews to Eretz Yisrael from exile.
In our time, an additional element was added to Asara b'Tevet - namely, it has been declared as Yom Kaddish K'lali - a day of saying Kaddish and remembering victims of the Holocaust whose actual dates of death will remain forever unknown to their families and all of Israel.
A major minor fast...
WRONG! It is clear in the sources of Jewish law that a healthy person - male and female, adult and child from 13/12 years of age - is REQUIRED to fast on Asara b'Tevet (and the other fasts). True, there are several "types" of individuals that are exempt from fasting. Many authorities exempt from fasting pregnant women,nursing mothers, people with various and sundry medical conditions that can worsen as a result of a fast, frail people. If a person suspects that he/she should not fast, a Rav should be consulted. But healthy people - even those weakened by fasting, but not unusually so, MUST fast. It's as simple as that. Do not be misleadby commonly held misconceptions.
In addition to the non-fasting types mentioned in the previous paragraph, there are other leniencies that apply to Asara b'Tevet, that should be accepted for what they are, and not taken as indicators to ignore the Fast. For certain reasons, the Sages allowed us to begin the fast at dawn, instead of prior to sunset the evening before. They also did not "impose" upon us the "additional" restrictions of Yom Kippur and Tish'a b'Av.
Only eating and drinking is forbidden on Asara b'Tevet; washing, use of lotions etc., wearing of leather shoes, and marital relations are not forbidden.
These leniencies notwithstanding, the Shulchan Aruch states clearly that a healthy person who will not be harmed by the fast, MUST fast on the required days.
More on Asara b'Tevet...
In case you were wondering...
Do we celebrate the successful appendectomy? I would think so. Do we forget about the pneumonia? Certainly not. Do we dwell upon the pneumonia - do we even mention the pneumonia - during the celebration for the operation? I don't think so.
In last week's Torah Tidbits, the three different battles that the Chashmona'im faced were discussed. The victories on these three fronts were alluded to in AL HANISIM with the phrases T'MEI'IM B'YAD T'HORIM, R'SHA'IM B'YADTZADIKIM, ZEIDIM B'YAD OSKEI TORATECHA. The enemy was vanquished. The Torah was defended from the assimilationist, Hellenized Jew who would have handed the Greeks their victory on a silver platter. And the Torah was defended from those who would reject the Oral Tradition and claim that the Torah was only the Written Word.
These are the successful operations and for these we thank G-d and celebrate Chanuka.
But we still have pneumonia. We still face enemies. We still have battles for Torah "against" the secular world that considers Torah outdated. And we still have battles "against" fellow Jews who redefine "religious" as a "pick-and- choose" what to observe Judaism.
We do not bring this up on Chanuka. But one week later, we have a compound Fast Day that combines events of the 8th, 9th, and 10th of Tevet, each of which relates to one of the Chanuka victories.
On the 8th of Tevet, the Torah was translated into Greek. Simply put, this represents the tearing away of the Oral Tradition from the Written Word. The world - non-Jew and some Jews - believes it has the Torah in hand, when in fact it has an incomplete, uncomprehendible part of it.
The 9th is the Yahrzeit of Ezra HaSofer (and Nechemia) who restored the Torah to the Jewish People. That is a task and challenge which continues to this day. And the 10th marks the beginning of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem.
As such, Asara B'Tevet represents Israel's continuing battles against its enemies from the outside.
The three-fold, continuing diagnosis is that we still suffer from pneumonia (and worse).
The prognosis is hopeful. With our own
efforts on all frontsand with a heavy dose of Siyata D'Shmaya, we look forward to the day
when Asara B'Tevet (and the other fasts related to the Churban) will become a festive day
in celebration of a complete recovery from what ails us. Until that time, we must
celebrate Chanuka and be thankful to HaShem for the many victories He has helped us with
and the many miracles He has performed for us. We must also realize that we still have
problems on hand. May we see much progress in our time and rejoice in the building of the
Third Beit HaMikdash, B.B.A.
Note also that all six fasts can fall on Thursday - the only day of the week with that distinction.
Although five of the six fasts can fall on Shabbat, only Yom Kippur is observed on Shabbat. The others are postponed to Sunday - you can delay a reminder of tragedy but not bring it earlier than scheduled), except for Taanit Esther, which has to be before Purim. Pulling it back from Shabbat, the logical day would be Friday. Rather than encroach on the beginning of Shabbat,Taanit Esther is pulled back to Thursday.
Which leaves us with Asara b'Tevet as the only fast that can fall on Friday in our fixed calendar. Why not pull it back to Thursday? It is only a Shabbat fast that we move. Taanit Esther was not going to be on its regular day anyway, so the Sages moved it to Thursday. Asara b'Tevet falls on Friday, and there it stays.
Some say that if 10 Tevet fell on Shabbat, it would not be postponed and we would fast on Shabbat. In our calendar, this cannot happen; the point is of academic interest only. It is based upon the wording in Yechezkeil that speaks of the Siege being on the 10th of the month B'ETZEM HAYOM HAZEH, on this specific day. This is the same terminology as is used in the Torah's description of Yom Kippur - hence the similarity.
"He who mourns Jerusalem will be privileged to see its rebuilding." The Fast of 10 Tevet is one way that we mourn Jerusalem. It must be a day of serious introspection and resolve to do our share to improve the quality of Jewish life, to spread Torah and its values among our fellow Jews. In this way, we will be doing our share in bringing about the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash, the coming of Moshiach, and the conversion of the Four Fasts into days of great joy and celebration, as G-d has promised through the prophet Zecharya. [Those who are not fasting still must "do" Asara b'Tevet - the mourning, thinking, resolving, etc.]
The first pasuk in Sh'mot which announces the arrival of Bnei Yisrael in Egypt has the same G'matriya, 3161. The two p'sukim are tied together by their themes and by their numeric values.
According to one opinion brought by Rashi, Yosef told his brothers not to rush on the way back to Yaakov. The Kotzker Rebbe says that we have to know that we are often powerless to speed up or slow down G-d's timetable.