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Fasting as a Conservative Jewish Spiritual Practice The Tenth of Tevet and the Time Machine of Hunger...

12/23/2020 11:21:15 AM


Jerusalem wall

Every so often it seems that fasting as a health practice comes into vogue, complete with studies, graphs and excited personal testimonies.
But Judaism has highlighted seasonal fasts as a way of focusing our hearts and minds for the millennia. What is a fast meant to accomplish?
Judaism is a peoplehood of memory; not so much of history but rather of immediate experience. Nothing brings you back to a moment as much as our bodies. Every fast day of the four "minor" fasts is connected to a time when our very center, when Jerusalem itself was threatened. We skip eating to re-evoke those moments, to make it real, to bring us back.
And why? To spread the suffering across the centuries? I don't think so. Instead, as the Rambam (back in the 12th century) tells us, it's about the future, not the past. Not about the tragedies that were but the challenges ahead -- not the shadow of the past, but the shadows in the future.
What would have turned the tide in Jerusalem in 586 BCE?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, one of the champions of Jewish unity, albeit within the constraints of medieval Jewish law, looks at the horrific siege of Jerusalem and asks, "what spiritual opportunity did the siege present?" And the answer he finds is this: to survive a siege, or a quarantine, or any societal crisis, we must learn not to just tolerate each other but to open our hearts to each other, to learn to cherish each other, to be willing to go the extra mile to make our relationships work. The alternative is oblivion.
Conservative Judaism is the denomination that more perhaps than any of the others, embraces every Jew's experience and perspective. In a family as raucous and diverse as is the Jewish people, that is not easy. To be able to look at a far-left anti-Zionist Jewish young person decrying Israel's "occupation" and very existence as colonialism, and a peyes-adorned Satmar who won't wear his mask and consider them as a brother and sister: to struggle to understand and connect rather than judge and reject -- and to apply this vision to everything and everyone in between and even beyond -- that is the restorative that the fast of the Tenth of Tevet provides.
The fast day certainly whets the appetite: but may it also whet our appetite for justice and a better world, created one Jewish soul at a time. If we can even begin to create peace and unity in our family, think of what it can mean to the world.
The fast day begins at 6:07 AM and ends at 5:09 PM. Click for more information on the Tenth of Tevet. 

Shabbat Shalom.

Wed, July 28 2021 19 Av 5781