The fast of Tevet is observed on the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Tevet (Asarah b’Tevet) – this usually falls in December or January of the secular year. The fast starts at dawn and ends at nightfall. If it falls on a Friday, it is not postponed like other fast days. If it falls on a Shabbat, the fast is postponed until the following day (Sunday) as we do not fast on Shabbat unless it is also Yom Kippur (the only fast day commanded in the Torah).
On the 10th day of Tevet in the year 589 B.C.E., the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar began his siege of Jerusalem. The siege of Jerusalem lasted for more than a year and a half, and only on the 17th Tammuz did his soldiers finally breach the city’s walls.
On the 9th of Av, the Temple was torched and thus began the exile of the Jewish people of Israel. The prophets of the time determined the method of mourning, which is written in Psalm 137: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and cried, as we remembered Jerusalem (Zion).”
HOW DO WE OBSERVE THE FAST OF TEVET?
On the Fast of Tevet we are encouraged to do teshuvah (repentance) by examining our actions and trying to improve our behaviour.
This date has been designated by the Rabbinate of the State of Israel as an official day of mourning for victims of the Sho’ah (Holocaust) and hence Kaddish is recited with Yizkor (the Jewish prayer of remembrance for the departed).
The Fast of Tevet is also designated as a day of mourning for people whose date of death or last resting place are not known.
This day does not carry any prohibitions against washing oneself or wearing leather shoes etc.
Shacharit (Morning Service)
Selichot (Penitential Prayers) are added, and after the cantor repeats the Amidah, the congregation adds the Anenu prayer.
The Torah is read and three people are called up. The reading describes how Moses asked God for forgiveness after the sin of the Golden Calf and God did have mercy on the Jewish people and forgave them.
Mincha (Afternoon Service)
The Torah is read again and three more people are called up. The third person who is called up is the maftir, and he reads the Haftarah (Reading from the Prophets) for the fast (Isaiah 55).