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The Five Pillars of Judaism – Fasting


And onwards to the fourth pillar. As we can see from Amani’s walkthrough of the Pillars of Islam, the fourth pillar is fasting, Sawm in Arabic, being a duty upon the Muslim during the month of Ramadan. The Muslim fast is, as is seen, a fast which last a whole month, or maybe rather 29 to 30 days, since the Muslim calendar is based on the moon rather than the sun. The difference is that the months are slightly shorter, also leaving the year shorter than the solar calendar, which is what the West is following. Instead of a year of 365 days, the year is only 356 days, making the Ramadan, and fast, move eleven days a year.

The Jewish calendar is also a lunar calendar, that is, it also follows the moon, but rather than just letting the month move through the solar year, the Jewish calendar once in every second or third year, add an extra month, so the Jewish months will more or less always lie in the same seasons of the year. The reason for the difference between the two calendars, the Muslim and the Jewish, is that Judaism has a great focus on agriculture, making it necessary to keep the various festivals within the seasons, which isn’t the case in Islam (and here we have a difference in Judaism and Islam, though this doesn’t mean that agriculture is without importance in Islam, it just doesn’t put the same great emphasis on agriculture as Judaism does).

Back to the fast. Before I continue I need to point out that fast in Islam is not a constant fast, that is, the fast of Ramadan is “only” from sunrise till sunset, which can be hard enough, especially when it is every day for a month. Furthermore, the things being prohibited are eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual relations. That said I would rather encourage you to check out Amani’s post, since she – as always – explains it much better and in much greater detail than I do.

There are two Hebrew terms for fast, the one being the most used today is “Tzum,” being related to the Arabic Sawm, while the other, which normally is translated as “afflict,” is ‘Unah, meaning “torture,” or ‘Inah, “to torture.” Both words are found in the Hebrew Bible, in overlapping meanings, though with ‘Inah being somewhat more grave in tone than Tzum. That is, where Tzum merely reflects fasting, ‘Inah reflects pain and torture, which also includes fasting. I don’t remember well, so I have to check it out, but as far as I remember the ‘Unah is the fasting lasting from sunset to sunset, while the Tzum is only lasting from sunrise to sunset, having the ‘Unah becoming a torture in the end, while the Tzum is “merely” a shorter time abstaining from pleasures.

As said, the Hebrew word normally used for fast is tzum and is typically observed in context of regretting or boding for sin done, either personal or communal, mourning or in order to receive an answer on troubling questions, such as a weird dream or just general direction, becoming enlightened. There are five fasts in Judaism, the most important and extensive one being the one of Yom Kippur, followed in importance by the fast of Tisha B’Av (the ninth of the month of Av), and then the Fast of Gedalyah, ‘Asara B’Tevet, and Tzum Tammuz. There are other minor fasts, but they are not always followed by the same level of observance as the greater fasts.

Fasts in Judaism always only last one day, but then – in difference from Islam – are absolute. The big fasts, such as the one of Yom Kippur, is observed from before sunset the first day until after sunset the next, that is, at least 25 hours. And it is a “total” fast, which means that no eating or drinking is allowed, as well as smoking, sexual relations, showering, sleeping comfortable, and other things making the time of the fast pleasurable. Most fasts are only lasting from sunrise to sunset though, being as short as five hours, depending on where in the world and what time of year one is fasting. And of course fasts should always be observed with prayers, and – preferable – charity.

I will take the advantage of already having mentioned them to go through the mentioned days of fast, starting with Yom Kippur:

Yom Kippur is the most holy and important day in Judaism, a day that calls for and enjoys observance even from secular people, who normally don’t spend much time thinking about their religion. Synagogues are completely full this day a year, streets being emptied for any traffic normally filling them (at least at places where there is greater Jewish communities). Yom Kippur is mentioned in WaYiqra (Leviticus) 16 and 23:27-32, and especially 16:29-31 and 23:27-32 is important here, since that mention that the people has to “afflict” themselves. The word used here is ‘Initem, reflecting the graveness and seriousness of the day.

The fast of Yom Kippur does not stand alone. It is a day of serious contemplation on one’s sin and asking for forgiveness for them, but this doesn’t only goes for the day itself, the Jew needs to be prepared for this day, a preparation which in fact starts already in the beginning of the previous month, being a time asking friends and other people for forgiveness for all the wrongdoings one may have done. Also charity should be given easily in this period, showing trust in God, and a will to put one’s ego aside. That done and prepared to Yom Kippur itself, the Jew will experience a day not only of intense fasting and abstaining from any pleasure, but also a day of prayer. The day is begun the evening before, with prayers for acceptance of release of all one’s promises given to God, which one didn’t keep to perfection, as well as the normal, though much extended, evening prayer, Ma’ariv. The next day there four more prayers, lasting – depending on the prayer leader/s – all day. The first, as is always the case, Shaharit, the morning prayer, followed by the Mussaf, the additional prayer, then Minhah, the afternoon prayer, and finally the Neilah, which is the prayer for forgiveness and being inscribed in the book of life. Most places there is a break between the Mussaf and the Minhah, but many places either skipping them or making them very short. The day ends with the closing of the ark, the room storing the Torah-scrolls, and after that people are praying the evening prayer for the new day, as well as a Kiddush for the passing from a holy time to a secular time.

When the Temple was still standing there was an extensive sacrificial ceremony, which is being reflected in the prayers, the prayers taking the place of the sacrifices after the destruction (and most like already before in the Diaspora), where two goats were taken for the ritual, the one being sacrificed and its blood put on the other goat, which then was send out in the wilderness, symbolizing the sins of Israel being send away. Since that only could be performed in the Temple, there is today done no such ritual (maybe the Samarians have a like ritual, I’m not sure, but it could be interesting to find out).

The next fast I wanted to explain is the one of Tisha B’Av, but since I already wrote a post, some time ago, I’d rather direct you there.

So skipping the fast of Tisha B’Av I’m hurrying onwards to the Fast of Gedalyah, being observed the day after Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish new year, lasting from sunrise till after sunset. Gedalyah was the governor of Yehudah during the Babylonian reign. Though most Jews were taken captive and brought to Babylon, some still remained, and for these Gedalyah acted as a governor. The Ammonite king wasn’t very satisfied with Gedalyah being governor of Yehudah, so he convinced the Jew Yishma’el ben Netanyah, who was a descendant of King David, to bring some men and kill Gedalyah. Gedalyah, who was warned about Yishma’el ben Netanyah’s plans he refused to believe it, being overtaken and killed by Yishma’el and his men in the city of Mitzpa. The accounts can be read shortly in 2 Kings 25:25-26.

The fast is observed with some additional prayers as well as a Torah-reading.

The fourth fast is the fast of ‘Asarah b’Tevet, the tenth of Tevet, traditionally being related to the Babylonian king’s, Nebuchadnezer II, siege of Jerusalem, which eventually lead to the destruction of the first Temple, which is mentioned in 2 Kings 25:1-4. It is an easy fast, being observed from sunrise till after sunset, including additional prayers and Torah-reading.

The fifth and last is the fast of Shiv’ah ‘Asar b’Tammuz, the seventeenth of Tammuz, which introduces a period until Tisha B’Av, which is considered a period of mourning because of the Romans breaching the walls of Jerusalem, which eventually lead to the destruction of the second Temple. In the three weeks between the two days it is prohibited to shave, having the hair cut, listening to music, marrying and perform other acts of joys, in commemoration of the Roman slaughter of Jews in these three weeks.

It is also considered an easy fast, going from sunrise till after sunset, adding some additional prayers and Torah-reading. This one I also have written a post about, which you can read here.

I have only given few details, covering the most general, all of the fasts having quite many details, which I think is needed to study in order to get a good understanding of the fast in Judaism, but I wanted to keep it somewhat brief introduction to fast in Judaism. Fasts, it has to be said, don’t have to be observed communal, but can also be taken volunteering privately.

The Five Pillars of Judaism – Charity


Okay, I’m way overdue with this one. My last post on the five pillars of Judaism, where I promised to follow Amani’s explanations of the Five Pillars of Islam, was posted on the first of April, more than a month ago. And even though I wanted to let Amani post before me, I certainly cannot blame her for my great delay. I’m terribly sorry for that.

Anyway, the last pillar was prayer, in Hebrew Tefillah. The next pillar, the third one, is alms-giving or, in Arabic, Zakât. Amani has already written a wonderful post on Zakât, which I really want to encourage you to check out. In general Amani is a writer, who knows what she is writing about, a great source for those, who want to have an easy introduction into Islamic themes, so please, take a little time and check her posts out.

Back to Judaism. As in Islam we also have a pillar focused on charity or alms-giving. The interesting thing though, is that we use the Hebrew term ‘Tzedaqah,’ a term which is also found in Arabic, namely ‘Sadaqah,’ but where Zakât is obligatory, Sadaqah is voluntary but still recommended.

The interesting thing is that when we look up the term in the TaNaCh, the Jewish Bible, the word always is used as ‘righteousness,’ as something being either correct or corrected. The root, TZaDaQ, implies being right or doing the right thing, showing justice and integrity. That is also the idea in Tzedaqah, being more of a Mitzwah, that is, a commandment, than a volunteering act. When one gives Tzedaqah, he does what is correct of him, what is expected of him. As said, the term tzedaqah, and its other form, Tzedeq, appear in the Bible in context of doing the right thing. For example we see in WaYiqra (Leviticus) 19:36 that the word tzedeq is used four times, about applying just or correct weights, balances, ephah, and hin (measures used in business transactions). But the Bible itself doesn’t coin the term to charity.

Only later, during the rabbinic times, did the idea of Tzedaqah become connected with charity, mostly with the Biblical commandment of not reaping the corners of the fields, in order that some may be left for the poor, as it is stated in WaYiqra (Leviticus) 19:9. In context of that verse we see a discussion in the Mishnah, tractate Peah 5:6, it being said that “one who prevents the poor to gather, or allows one but not another, or helps one of them, is deemed to be a robber of the poor.” The same was reflected in a discussion between R. Papa and R. Idi ben Abin, Z”L, about the same matter, where the latter reacted to the former’s reciting of things belonging to the Levites. What is reflected in these examples, is that giving the poor what is due for them is Tzedaqah, righteousness, and in that way Tzedaqah came to reflect charity, a charity that the poor actually have the right for, more than it is a deed of goodwill from the giver.

In later times other rabbis expanded on the rules, evolving an ethical system, which both should relieve the poor receiving the Tzedaqah for embarrassment, as well as securing that the giver gave out of love for Heaven. This we can see, among other examples in RaMBaM’s (Maimonides), Z”L, Mishneh Torah, his Halachich work, in the Hilchot Matanot ‘Aniyim, where he lists eight principles in the giving of Tzedaqah:

The first way of helping is by giving either a loan, making the needy a business partner, give him a job or help him find a job, all leading to the case that the needy no more will have to rely on others. This is the most praiseworthy form of Tzedaqah, since the needy will retain pride and be dependent on himself, and maybe even ending in a situation where he himself can help others.

The second way of helping is to give the money to a middleman, who is knowledgeable enough to know what to do with the money, helping others without the giver knowing who. This will make sure that neither the giver, nor the receiver, is aware that they were part of the action, should they meet each other. The receiver will be spared the humility to the giver, and the giver won’t risk feeling inclined to be arrogant towards the receiver. They will meet on equal terms.

The third way is to tell a middleman to give the Tzedaqah to a specific person. The person himself still doesn’t know who did it, but the giver does know who received.

The fourth way is to give to an unknown person publicly and directly. Though they don’t know each other, they both know who gave and received, and the receiver won’t be spared the feeling of humility.

The fifth way is to give before being asked. Though that will spare the needy the humility having to ask, it will still reveal an attitude with the giver, seeing the receiver as being below himself.

The sixth way is to give after being asked, and give what is needed.

The seventh way is to give with an open attitude, but not give enough.

The eighth way is to give with a sad attitude, not being happy about giving. The most likely way of understanding this, according to what is explained, is that one gives because the receiver is in need and in a bad state, not because one rejoice in fulfilling a positive commandment, imitating the three Patriarchs, Avraham Avinu, Yitzhaq Avinu, and Ya’aqov Avinu, A”S, who gave gladly and always had their homes open for visitors.

Today the most normal thing is to either give through an organization or to put money in a so-called Tzedaqah-box. These boxes can be found, if not in any Jewish shop, then at least by far the most Jewish shops. Some places they are even put various places, such as by bus-stops, so nobody at all will know who the giver is, so far he or she chooses to wait until the stops are abandoned.

Giving Tzedaqah is certainly considered a great Mitzwah, and it is encouraged to give Tzedaqah, when one has to atone for one’s sins, before praying for forgiveness. And it is not only through money, but comes in many ways, giving clothes or food. In fact, during Pessah one should open one’s house to poor people, and make sure to give them plenty of food, as well as one should give two abundant meals the day before Purim. Before oneself takes joy of the joyous seasons, one should make sure that the poor of the land also can find joy.

The Five Pillars of Judaism



Amani over at “americanmuslimconvert” are writing on the five pillars of Islam, introducing us for the first of them, the Shahâdah, the confirmation of believe in Allah and His messenger, Muhammad, being expressed in the statement “Lâ ilâha ilâllâh, w’Muhammadan Rasûlullah” – “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah!”

I found it interesting, and I’m thinking that I’m going to follow his posts on the subject, but doing it with a twist, which I hope he can forgive me for. I am going to read and reflect on his posts, but at the same time I will try to find a Jewish answer to the pillars, that is, find how and where the same things are being expressed in Judaism, if at all. I think that it could be pretty interesting to see how my studies of Islam can be reflected in my studies of my own religion, and as such learn about them both, as well as doing a comparative study at the same time as well.


Anyway, the first pillar of Islam is, as stated already, the Shahâdah, the declaration of faith, and the most obvious answer in Judaism is the Shma’ or Qriat Shma’, which is so called by the first name in the declaration, which goes “Shma’ Yisrael, A-onay Eloqenu, A-onay Ehad!”[1] It is found in Devarim (Deuteronomy) 6:4, introducing the first part of the actual Shma’, which consists of three parts, found in Devarim 6:4-9, commanding the Jew to love God of all his heart, his soul, and his heart, as well as keep the commandments in mind, teach them to his children, always talk and ponder on them, whether sitting at home or walking on the street, when he lays down in the evening and gets up in the morning, that he shall bind them as signs on his arm and between his eyes, write them on his doorposts and the city gates (the visitor in Jerusalem will see that there are cylinders at the entrances to the old city, those are what we call ‘Mezuzot,’ the words of the Torah, fulfilling this commandment).

The second part, which can be found in Devarim 11:13-21, talks about the rewards and consequences of keeping or not keeping the commandments, which is solely connected to the Land of Israel, making sure of good seasons and good times, so far as the Jews stays observant, or bad times, or even being expelled from the land, as far as they don’t.

The third and last part, found in BaMidbar (Numbers) 15:37-41, commands the Jews to wear the Tzitzit, the fringes, which is a sign for reminding the Jews about the commandments, as well as commanding the Jews to remember the exodus from Egypt.


The first part of the Shahâdah is called “Tawhîd,” the Unity of Allah, and that is found expressed in the first part of the Shma’ as well, in stating that God is One (Ehad). We see this expressed other places as well, for example in Exodus 20:3, “You shall have no other gods before me,” so I would say that Muslims and Jews at least share the first part of the Shahâdah. The second part though is more tricky. On two levels even. First off, Jews don’t recognize Muhammad as their prophet. Most Jews probably don’t even acknowledge him as a prophet, while some would say that he most likely could have been a prophet, though only sent to the Arabs, not to the Jews, acknowledging the praiseworthy mission of spreading the Tawhîd. But it isn’t only in regard to the “lack” of acceptance of Muhammad, there isn’t an equal for Moshe Rabenu, A”S, to be found in the Torah, at least not expressed in statements like with the unity of God. There are many incidents though where his prophethood is stated and emphasized, making it rather clear that his prophethood is to be accepted. Only later does it become part of a list of clear doctrines to be accepted as part of Jewish faith, namely in Maimonides thirteen principles of faith, all being introduced with the statement “I believe with perfect faith that…” It is the seventh declaration, after declaring that all the words of the prophets were true, stating that the prophecy of Moshe Rabenu, A”S, is true and that he is the “father” of the prophets, meaning the greatest of all the prophets, both those before and after.

So in conclusion I would believe that it’s possible to say that Muslims and Jews share some foundational similar expressions on God’s Unity, as well as reverence for those they consider the greatest prophet respectively, though there are some difference, the Jews not have a single expression, as is the case with the Muslims. On the other hand the Jews have a – I would dare to say – much longer and more detailed expression of faith than that of the Muslims.

[1] Please forgive me for not spelling these two expressions of His Name, but I am, after all, still a religious Jew, respecting my God. I am sure that if you really do need to see the two expressions spelled out, then there are lots of places to see that, just make a search on “Shma.”