Special Jewish Day — July 9
“Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a Festival or a New Moon [Rosh Chodesh] or a Shabbat day.” Colossians 2:16
THE FAST OF THE FOURTH MONTH
In the 17th day of the Jewish month of Tammuz, Jews the world over fast and lament to commemorate the many calamities that have befallen our people on this ominous day. The purpose of such fasts is “to awaken hearts towards repentance through recalling our forefathers' misdeeds which led, in some cases, to calamities.”
Going all the way back to Biblical times, Moses descended Mount Sinai on this day and, upon seeing the golden calf broke the first set of Tablets carrying the Ten Commandments (Exodus 32:19). The priests in the First Temple stopped offering the daily sacrifice on this day due to the shortage of sheep during the siege and the next year (586 BCE), the walls of Jerusalem were breached after many months of siege by Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian forces.
In 2 Kings 21:7 we find that King Menashe, one of the worst of the Jewish kings, had an idol placed in the Holy Sanctuary of the Temple, according to tradition on this date. The Talmud, in Masechet Taanit 28b, says that in the time of the Roman persecution, Apostomos, captain of the occupation forces, did the same, and publicly burned the Torah - both acts considered open blasphemy and desecration. These were followed by Titus and Rome breaching the walls of Jerusalem in 70 CE and Pope Gregory IX ordering the confiscation of all manuscripts of the Talmud in 1239.
In later years this day continued to be a dark one for Jews. In 1391, more than 4,000 Jews were killed in Toledo and Jaen, Spain and in 1559 the Jewish Quarter of Prague was burned and looted. The Kovno ghetto was liquidated on this day in 1944 and in 1970 Libya ordered the confiscation of Jewish property. The Mishna in Ta'anit 4:8 associates the 17th of Tammuz as the “Fast of the Fourth Month” mentioned by the prophet Zechariah 8:19. According to this Mishna, the 17th of Tammuz will be transformed in the messianic era in a day that “shall be joy to the House of Judah” full of “gladness and cheerful feasts”.
The fast of the 17th of Tammuz is observed from the break of dawn until night, one of four Jewish fasts to be observed in this manner - 3 Tishrei, 10 Tevet, 13 Adar and 17 of Tammuz. Expecting or nursing mothers and those who are ill are expected to observe the fast but with lenience. Minors that are old enough to understand, though exempt from fasting, should also be fed only simple foods as a manner of education. Unlike the two Jewish fast days Yom Kippur and Tisha B'Av, washing and wearing leather are permitted on this day. Special prayers (vayechal and anenu) are added to the morning and afternoon prayers. Ashkenazim add the latter only in the afternoon service (mincha).
This day is the beginning of the Three Weeks, also called "bein haMetzarim" - "between the straights" Lamentations 1:3 - an annual period of mourning over the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem on the 9th of Av or Tisha b'Av.