When do we observe the Fast of Esther?
The Fast of Esther, called Ta’anit Esther in Hebrew, is observed before Purim, usually on the 13th of the Hebrew month of Adar. If the 13th Adar is a Shabbat, then we do not fast because the celebration of Shabbat takes precedence. Instead, we fast on the Thursday (the 11th Adar). The fast starts at dawn and ends at nightfall.
We read in the Megillah (4:16) how Queen Esther begged King Achashverosh to save her Jewish people from the evil decree of Haman, who wished to see them all killed. Before she went to the king to plead for their lives, Esther asked the local Jews to fast for three days, hoping this would guarantee her success. The annual Fast of Esther commemorates this fast.
How do we observe the Fast of Esther?
Since this fast only begins at the break of dawn, one may eat breakfast if he/she rises before sunrise. Sick people do not have to fast, and pregnant or nursing women are allowed to sip water to prevent dehydration. Those exempt from fasting should not eat ‘rich’ or indulgent foods or drinks.
SHACHARIT (MORNING SERVICE)
Selichot and Avinu Malkeinu are added to the Torah reading for the fast day. The cantor adds the Anenu in his repetition of the Amidah.
MINCHA (AFTERNOON SERVICE)
The cantor again adds the Anenu in his repetition of the Amidah, and this time the congregants join him. They also donate three coins as a rememberance of the half-shekel that was given during Temple times. Some say these coins are given to remind us of Esther’s request that the Jews fast for three days before she went to the King.