The Slowest Fast Day
Tish’a B’av, in my opinion, is the slowest fast day of the year.
This coming Monday night, 4th August, commences the fast of Tish’a B’av. It commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem and the subsequent exile of the Jews from the Land of Israel. It also commemorates other tragedies which occurred on the same day, including the Roman massacre of over 100,000 Jews at Betar in 132 CE.
What make this fast day unique is that it feels like the slowest fast day of all the six annual fasts. Twenty-five hours without food and water during the hottest season of the year. If that isn’t enough, you sit on the floor all morning, reciting Kinos which are written in rather difficult poetic language and you can’t occupy yourself with anything half-resembling an enjoyable activity. Not even learning Torah topics unless they relate to Tish’a B’av, the Holocaust, mourning practices or similar topics.)
It’s hot, depressing and time doesn’t seem to pass. This year with the war and all the troubles we are undergoing in the Holy Land, it will probably make the day much heavier than usual. That seems to be Tish’a B’Av in a nutshell. At least on Yom Kippur you are in Shul praying and singing, which is an uplifting experience.
East to West Flights on a Fast
And that brings me to a critical point – what do you do with the fast if you need to fly from east to west? Like Tel Aviv to New York or New York to L.A. or even to Hawaii.
Flying east to west means the the clock is moving backwards and you end off with extra hours of thirsty, head-achy discomfort while watching many of the people on the plane having a good time (after 25 hours without a morsel, even a lukewarm cup of instant coffee or a glass of cool water feels like a good time…).
Tel Aviv to NY adds seven hours. To LA makes it an extra 10 hours of fasting. Till Hawaii is a total of 13 extra hours of agony. How then does one deal with the issue of time zones when flying on an empty stomach?
Of course my warmest recommendation is to avoid at all costs flying during a fast. Stay where you are and finish it all in 25 hours. The flight and altitude during the flight dehydrates you more than on the ground and it is a very uncomfortable experience even without the extra hours. But lets say you really have no choice and you absolutely must fly during the fast. What then?
First of all the status of Tish’a B’av seems to be more strict than other fast days (like 17 Tamuz, Tsom Gedalia and 10 Teves), which are a Minhag according to some opinions. According to many Rabbi’s, Tisha B’av is a Rabbinical obligation nearly as severe as Yom Kippur (which is biblical). Therefor it would mean that one must be stricter with it even to the extent of lengthening the fast because of the east-west flight.
Nevertheless there are at least 3 opinions concerning extending a fast beyond the 25 hour day (I write 25 and not 24 because we need to take in account that the fast commences at sundown and ends at nightfall which is more then 24 hours in total).
Rav Moshe Feinstein
Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe Oruch Chaim Vol. 3 Ch. 96) states that one should keep fasting till nightfall according to the location you are in at the moment. That means if you fly Tel Aviv – Hawaii you’ll be without a drop for nearly 38 hours.
There is an unusual opinion of the Nachal Eshkol (commentary to Sefer Ha’Eshkol on the laws of Tish’a B’av) that in the city of Stockholm, Sweden they fasted no later than 21:30 since no Jewish community existed farther north than Stockholm when the fast-days were established. This might apply also to westbound travelers.
Rav Shmuel Vozner
According to Rav Shmuel Halevi Vozner (Shevet Halevi Vol. 7 Ch. 76) the minimum obligation of a fast is until sundown (and not till nightfall). Therefor it will be acceptable under the circumstances to break your fast at sundown wherever you happen to be at the time.
Rav Vozner adds that once a person passes the normal time for fasting and begins to weaken, their status changes into that of a Choleh She’en Bo Sakana (a mildly ill person). The longer the fast extends the more risky it becomes to one’s health. Once a person feels very bad, they are allowed to break their fast and eat or drink the minimum required for their health. As to the opinion of the Nachal Eshkol, Rav Vozner expresses his reservations about it and even doubts its validity in Halacha.
Bottom line, and taking in account the severity of Tish’a B’av, one should try their best to fast until nightfall at the location you are at the moment. If you start feeling a bit ill, you can break your fast at sundown. If you feel very ill, then you are considered a Choleh (ill person) and can eat and drink the minimum needing to balance your health.
As I wrote before, avoid flying on Tish’a B’av at all costs but if the Mashiach comes by Monday eve, we’ll all be able to eat a first class meal…