Fasting on the Wedding Day

Now that Shavuos is past, we
enter the heaviest wedding season of the Jewish calendar. I decided to discuss
this usually not-well-understood topic.

Question #1: Our wedding is going
to be after nightfall. Do we fast until the wedding, or may we break the fast
when it gets dark?

Question #2: Yocheved asks: I
usually do not fast well, and I am concerned how I will feel at my wedding if I
fast that day. What do I do?

Question #3: Sheryl’s
dilemma: “What will I explain to my non-observant parents when they
exclaim at my pre-chupah reception – ‘What! You can’t eat anything at
your own wedding?’”

Sheryl comes from a very
assimilated background. Let her explain:

“In my extended family, my
parents were considered the religious ones, since they were the only ones who
married Jewish. Furthermore, my Dad was the only one who fasted on Yom
Kippur
, albeit with a little cheating on the side. So, when my family
members heard that I had become Orthodox, they were shocked at many of my new
practices, despite my efforts to keep things as low-key as possible. None of
them had a clue what it means to really keep kosher or Shabbos. Now that
I’m getting married, many of them are curious to attend my wedding, and I would
like to make the experience a Kiddush Hashem for them. Therefore, I
intend to explain our mitzvos and customs to them in the best possible
light.”

Sheryl’s goals are indeed
noble. How will she explain the reason we fast on one’s wedding day to someone
who knows little about Yiddishkeit? The prospect seems almost ominous.

Why do we fast?

Although early authorities
cite at least six different reasons for this custom, most halachic authorities
discuss only two of them (e.g., Levush, Even Ha’ezer 60:1; Magen
Avraham
and Elyah Rabbah, introduction to 573; Beis Shmuel
61:6; Chachmas Adam 129:2; Aruch Hashulchan, Even Ha’ezer 61:21):

Reason #1: To avoid
inebriation

Some explain that the
practice is to ensure that the chosson and kallah are fully sober
when they participate in the wedding ceremony. By not eating and drinking, they
will certainly drink nothing intoxicating prior to the ceremony. Some
commentaries provide an interesting twist to this explanation. They explain
that the concern is that if one of the marrying parties drinks anything
intoxicating on the wedding day, they may subsequently claim that they were
inebriated and that, therefore, the marriage is invalid (Levush, Even
Ha’ezer
60:1)! As someone once said, love is not only blind, but also
sometimes intoxicating.

Reason
#2: To achieve atonement

Since
a chosson is forgiven for all his sins, he should fast as atonement (Yevamos
63b; Yerushalmi, Bikkurim 3:3).

One
allusion to this atonement is found in the Torah. In the very last verse of parshas
Tolados,
the Torah records that one of the additional wives Eisav married
was Machalas, the daughter of Yishmael. The Yerushalmi points out that
although her name was actually Basmas and not Machalas, the Torah calls her
Machalas, to indicate that even someone as sinful as Eisav is forgiven on his
wedding day (Shu”t Divrei Yatziv #259).

Who fasts?

I am sure you are already
asking why I said that the chosson fasts on hiswedding day, and
omitted the kallah. This leads us directly to our next question:

Are there any halachic
differences between the two reasons given for the fast? Indeed, there are
several. One issue that might be affected is whether only the chosson
fasts or also the kallah. The authorities dispute whether the wedding day
atones for both parties or only for the chosson. Indeed, Talmudic
sources mention only the chosson in this connection, and some later
authorities contend that the wedding is indeed an atonement day only for the chosson
and not for the kallah. Following this approach, some authorities
conclude that only the bridegroom fasts and not the bride (Ben Ish Chai, 1:
Shoftim: 13). Others contend that despite the fact that the Gemara
mentions only atonement for the chosson’s sins, since the kallah
is a direct cause of his atonement, she also receives forgiveness on this day (Aishel
Avraham Butchach
573).

However, if the reason for
the fast is to guarantee the sobriety of the parties, the kallah, too,
should fast, even if the day is not a day of atonement. Of course, it won’t be
easy for Sheryl to explain all this to her family at the reception prior to her
wedding. I will soon mention other reasons that she can provide them.

On
the other hand, many authorities rule that the wedding day atones for both kallah
and chosson, the same as Yom Kippur (Magen Avraham, introduction
to 573; Elyah Rabbah 573:2; Beis Shmuel, 61:6). Following this
approach, the kallah should fast also, even if we are not concerned
about her becoming inebriated at her wedding (Rama, Even Ha’ezer 61:1).
This, too, is why both chosson and kallah say viduy after
mincha
on the day of their wedding (Pischei Teshuvah, Even Ha’ezer 61:9).
In addition, the couple should pray for a happy marriage that is blessed with
children who bring great credit to themselves and to Hashem (Aruch
Hashulchan, Even Ha’ezer
61:21).

Sheryl
can certainly tell her family this reason for the sanctity of the day, and say
that this is why she will be fasting. This will also provide her with the
occasion to explain that a Torah marriage involves holiness, sanctity, and
opportunity for spiritual growth, all ideas that will impress her family.

How long must one fast?

There are other halachic differences
that result from the two reasons quoted above.If one fasts to ensure
that the couple remains sober, then they should not break their fast until the
wedding ceremony, even if it does not take place until after dark. Accordingly,
if the ceremony takes place on a winter night, they should logically continue
their fast, even if this means that it extends into a second halachic
day (Shu”t Mahari Bruno #93; Aruch Hashulchan 61:21). On the
other hand, if the fast is for atonement, then, once they have completed the
day, they can break the fast. A third opinion holds that when the ceremony is
at night, their fast does not begin until sunset that day – since prior
to sunset is still the day before their wedding (Aishel Avraham
Butchach
573). To the best of my knowledge, this last approach is not
followed.

How do we rule?

The Chachmas Adam (129:2)
concludes that since the fast is only a custom, one need not be stricter than
the requirements of halacha for established fast days. Therefore, one
may end the fast at dark and does not have to wait until the ceremony. However,
one should be careful not to drink anything intoxicating until sipping the wine
at the chupah (Pischei Teshuvah, Even Ha’ezer 61:9). The Aruch
Hashulchan
disagrees, but I believe accepted practice follows the Chachmas
Adam
.

What about the opposite
situation — when the ceremony takes place before nightfall? According to the
rationale that the fast is atonement, some contend that one should fast the
entire day, even if the ceremony took place in the afternoon (Bach, Orach
Chayim
562 at end; Beis Shmuel 61:6). This means that after the
wedding ceremony is complete, the chosson and kallah continue to
fast until nightfall, even through the chupah and the yichud room!
However, accepted practice is for the couple to end their fast at the ceremony,
even when it takes place before nightfall.

Do Sefardim fast?

Most sources citing the
custom of fasting on one’s wedding day are Ashkenazic. Whether or not
Sefardim
fast on this day is dependent on local custom. The popular Hebrew halachic
anthology, Hanisu’in Kehilchasam, mentions many Sefardic
communities that followed the custom of fasting on the wedding day, at least
for the chosson, including the communities of Algeria, Baghdad, the
Crimea, Salonika and parts of Turkey (pg. 198, note 56). On the other hand, the
prevalent custom in Constantinople (Istanbul), Egypt, and Eretz Yisroel
was not to fast on the day of the wedding (see Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 470:2;
Shu”t Yabia Omer 3: Even Ha’ezer: 9). It is interesting to note that
some explain that the custom in Egypt was not to fast because the weddings were
always conducted in the morning. They explain that when the wedding is held
late in the day, we are concerned that the chosson and kallah may
drink something intoxicating, but when the wedding is in the morning, there is
no such concern (Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 470:2). One could thereby
argue that when the Sefardim marry in the evening, they should follow Ashkenazic
practice and fast.

Nevertheless, the common
practice among Sefardim in Eretz Yisrael today is not to fast.
Rav Ovadyah Yosef rules that Sefardim who moved to Eretz Yisrael
should not fast on the day of the wedding, even if they come from communities
where the custom was to fast. Although he respects this custom of the Ashkenazim
to fast, he contends that since this is a day of celebration, those who do not
have the practice are not permitted to fast.

Like receiving the Torah

What are the other reasons
mentioned for the fast?

One early source states that
the reason for the fast is that the wedding ceremony commemorates the giving of
the Torah at Har Sinai. Indeed, many of our wedding customs, such as the
carrying of candles or torches by those accompanying the chosson and kallah,
commemorate our receiving the Torah. Continuing this analogy, one early source
mentions that just as the Jews fasted prior to receiving the Torah, so too a chosson
fasts the day of his wedding (Tashbeitz [Koton]#465).
What I find interesting about this reason is that I am unaware of any Medrash
that mentions the Jews fasting on the day they received the Torah. Obviously,
the Tashbeitz was aware of such a Medrash.Perhaps this is
why the later halachic authorities do not discuss this opinion or any halachic
ramifications that result from it.

This is a beautiful reason to
observe the fast, although I suspect that Sheryl’s family might not appreciate
it.

To avoid rift

Here is another, very
meaningful reason mentioned for the fast, although it is largely ignored by the
later authorities: The Gemara (Shabbos 130a) states, “No kesubah
is signed without an argument.” Unfortunately, it is common that differing
opinions about wedding arrangements or setting up the newly- married couple
cause friction between the families making the wedding. Since this problem is
common, the couple should strive their utmost to avoid any conflict at all, and
they should also pray and fast that the wedding pass with no disputes (Shu”t
Mahari Bruno
#93). Somehow, Sheryl did not think that her parents would
appreciate this reason for her fast, and I tend to agree with her.

The king gets judged daily

Others explain that the
origin for the custom is because the chosson is compared to a king, and
we are taught by the Talmud Yerushalmi that a king is judged daily (Sanhedrin
2:3). Thus, the chosson fasts because he is being judged on his
wedding day (Shu”t Mahari Bruno #93). Although we may not fully
understand what this means, it is certainly a reason to do teshuvah and
fast.

To appreciate the mitzvah

The above-mentioned anthology
Hanisu’in Kehilchasam mentions yet another reason, which he attributes
to the Rokei’ach. Great tzadikim were in such eager anticipation
of performing rare mitzvos that they could not eat on the day they had an
opportunity to perform one. Similarly, the chosson and kallah
look forward to performing their mitzvah with such excitement that they cannot
even eat!

Do they say Aneinu?

Do the chosson and kallah
say Aneinu in their prayers, even if they will end their fast before the
day ends?

The Rama (562:2) rules
that the chosson recites Aneinu in his prayers, even if he is not
going to complete the fast, such as when the wedding ceremony takes place
during the daytime. In this latter situation, where he will not be completing
the fast, many recommend that he omit the three words in Aneinu, BeYom
Tzom Taaneiseinu
, on this day of our fast, since for him it is not a
full day of fasting (Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach).

Accepting the fast

Usually, someone intending to
have a voluntary fast must state at the end of mincha on the day before
that he intends to fast the next day. Do the chosson and kallah accept
the fast during mincha on the day before?

The halachic
authorities recommend that the chosson and kallah make this
declaration during mincha the day before the wedding, and recommend
specifying that one intends to fast only until the time of the ceremony.
Nevertheless, even if one did not declare the day to be a fast, and even if one
did not mention the stipulation, one may assume that they should fast and they
are required to fast only until the ceremony (Mishnah Berurah 562: 12).
If the ceremony is before nightfall, the chosson and kallah
should daven mincha before the wedding ceremony so that they can recite Aneinu,
since once they break their fast, this prayer is inappropriate (Mishnah
Berurah
562:12). By the way, if they forgot to say Aneinu, they do
not repeat Shemoneh Esrei.

Are there days when they
do not fast?

Indeed, a chosson and kallah
must refrain from fasting on the many days when fasting is prohibited. This
includes weddings taking place on Chanukah or Rosh Chodesh. The Magen
Avraham
(573:1) adds that they should not fast even on minor holidays, such
as Isru Chag, Tu Bishvat and the Fifteenth of Av.

But maybe they will get
intoxicated?

I understand that they are
not allowed to fast—but if the reason for the fast is that they should not
become inebriated, how will this be prevented? To avoid this danger, they must
be careful not to drink any intoxicating beverages before the ceremony (Pri
Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav
573:1). Observing this precaution is a
fulfillment of the custom to fast.

What about Lag BeOmer?

Technically speaking, there
is no halachic problem with fasting on Lag BeOmer or during the
month of Nisan, even though the custom is not to. Since halacha permits
fasting on these days, the custom is for a chosson and kallah to
fast. This applies also during the month of Tishrei or the first part of Sivan,
even on days when we do not say Tachanun (Magen Avraham 573:1,
2). The Elyah Rabbah (573:3) records a practice that chasanim and
kallahs not fast on days when we do not say Tachanun (quoting Nachalas
Shivah
). The Elyah Rabbah rallies many proofs from earlier
authorities that this is not the halacha, but concludes that one who
chooses to be lenient and not fast on these days will not lose by his lenient
practice (hameikil lo hifsid).

What about a second
marriage?

Does someone marrying for a
second time fast on his wedding day?

According to the rationale that
the fast is out of concern that someone might become intoxicated, there is no
difference between a first or second marriage, and one is required to fast.
Similarly, according to the reason that this is a day of atonement, they should
also fast, since the day of a second marriage also atones. This is obvious from
the Biblical source that teaches us that this day atones. When Eisav married
Basmas/Machalas he was already married to two other women, yet the Torah
teaches that the day atoned for him. Thus, we see that even a subsequent
marriage atones, and someone marrying for second or third time should fast on
the day.

What if they are not
feeling well?

At this point we can address
the second question raised above: Yocheved asks, “I usually do not fast well,
and I am concerned how I will feel at my wedding if I fast that day. What do I
do?”

We should be aware that on
the least stringent of the required fasts, Taanis Esther, even someone
suffering from a relatively minor ailment is not required to fast. The custom
to fast the day of the wedding is certainly less of an obligation than fasting
on Taanis Esther and, therefore, if either the chosson or the kallah
suffers from a minor ailment or could get weak or dizzy from the fast, they
should not fast (Aruch Hashulchan, Even Ha’ezer 61:21). Of course,
specific questions should be addressed to one’s rav.

Conclusion

The Ashkenazic
practice of fasting on the day of one’s wedding is within the category of
custom, minhag, and therefore, as we have seen, includes many
leniencies. Indeed, when these reasons apply, there is no reason to fast
unnecessarily. Thus, if one is a Sefardi, not feeling well, or marrying
on a day when Tachanun is not recited, one has a solid basis not to
fast. However, when none of these reasons applies, one must follow the accepted
minhag. The Gemara teaches that customs accepted by the Jewish
people come under the category of al titosh toras imecha, do not
forsake the laws of your mother
, and that one is obligated to observe them.

May the fasts of our chasanim
and kallahs contribute towards the increase of much shalom and
kapparah and the creation of many happy marriages in Klal Yisroel.




Fasting and Feasting on a Yahrtzeit

yahrtzeit candle

In honor of Aharon HaKohen’s yahrtzeit:

Question #1: “My father’s yahrtzeit falls during the week of sheva brachos for my grandson. May I attend the sheva brachos?”

Question #2: “My yahrtzeit falls on Shabbos this year. Do I fast on Friday or Sunday instead?”

Question #3: “I usually fast on my father’s yahrtzeit, but someone is honoring me with sandaka’us on that day. Do I fast, and do I need to be matir neder in the event that it is permitted to eat?

Answer:

We are all aware that one commemorates a yahrtzeit by kindling a 24-hour candle, by visiting the gravesite (if possible), and that men recite kaddish and lead the services in shul. The questions asked above center on observances that were at one time very common on a yahrtzeit, but have fallen into disuse. Specifically, they refer to the practices of commemorating a yahrtzeit by fasting from morning until nightfall and by refraining from attending or celebrating weddings and similar semachos.

Although fasting on a yahrtzeit is not a required practice, it was apparently widely accepted, as we see from the way the rishonim and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 568:1, 7) refer to it. The words of the Rama are: It is a mitzvah to fast on the day that his father or mother died (Yoreh Deah 376:5; 402:12), meaning that although not technically required, it is a strongly recommended practice.

Celebrations on a Yahrtzeit

The Rama also cites a ruling prohibiting eating at a celebration on the evening of one’s yahrtzeit (Darkei Moshe, Yoreh Deah 391:3, quoting Maharyo; and in his notes to Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah, at the end of Chapter 391 and at the end of Chapter 402). The assumption is that the Rama specifically forbids celebrating on the eve of the yahrtzeit, because the commemorator was presumably fasting on the day of the yahrtzeit itself.

The Levush (Yoreh Deah 391) disagrees that there is a prohibition to eat at a simcha on a yahrtzeit, noting that he never saw such a custom. The Shach retorts that since this is a relatively infrequent occurrence, the fact that the Levush never saw this practice does not demonstrate that such a prohibition does not exist.

Other authorities quote, in the name of the Ari, that the prohibition against eating at a wedding applies only on the first yahrtzeit, not in future years. However, both the Shach (Yoreh Deah 391:8 and 395:3) and the Taz (Yoreh Deah 395:3) agree with the Rama’s view that this prohibition exists at future yahrtzeits, as well.

What types of celebrations are prohibited?

The prohibition includes weddings, sheva brachos and other celebrations where music usually accompanies the occasion; but, one is permitted to participate in a seudah celebrating a bris milah, pidyon haben or siyum mesechta (Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 391:8, quoting Shu”t Makom Shemuel #80; see also Elyah Rabbah 288:18). However, the Chachmas Adam (171:11) prohibits eating at a bris milah seudah, although he permits eating at a siyum.

What type of participation is prohibited?

The Rama discusses this proscription in three different places, and in all three places he records simply that it is forbidden to eat at the celebration, and not that there is a prohibition to attend, if one does not eat. This is different from the laws that a mourner must observe, which forbid him from attending a simcha. Thus, it appears that the reason for these yahrtzeit observances is not because there is a requirement to mourn, but for other reasons, which I will explain shortly.

It is interesting to note that the Rama prohibits eating at a simcha on the yahrtzeit, whereas his description of the daytime fast implies that, although it is a recommended observance, it is not required. The presumable explanation for the difference is that everyone is physically able to refrain from a celebration; therefore, this custom was accepted by Klal Yisroel. Fasting, which depends on an individual’s health and stamina, was never accepted as a requirement, only a recommendation.

How strict is this fast?

From several authorities, we see that fasting on a yahrtzeit was viewed very seriously. For example, the Taz (Orach Chayim 568:5) treats the fast on a yahrtzeit more strictly than the fasts that were universally observed on Behab, (Monday, Thursday and Monday following Rosh Chodesh Marcheshvan and Rosh Chodesh Iyar). The Hagahos Maimoniyos and the Rama rule that one who attends a bris seudah on Behab is not required to fast, even though they are assuming that the entire community is, otherwise, fasting. The Taz rules that someone making a bris on the day that he has yahrtzeit does not fast, but that someone attending this bris who has a yahrtzeit on that day should fast. Thus, he treats the fast on a yahrtzeit stricter than that of Behab.

The Pri Megadim (Orach Chayim, Mishbetzos Zahav 444:9) notes that, based on the comments of the Taz, the fast observed on a yahrtzeit is stricter than that which the firstborn observe on Erev Pesach, which we customarily set aside after attending a siyum, bris or other seudas mitzvah. He contends that someone who is fasting because he is observing a yahrtzeit, should not break his fast to join a siyum, bris or other seudas mitzvah.

Furthermore, the Pri Megadim (Mishbetzos Zahav 568:5) rules that the yahrtzeit fastis stricter than the fast of Tisha B’av nidcheh, when the Ninth of Av falls on Shabbos and is postponed to Sunday. In the event of a bris, the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 559:9) rule that the parents of the baby, the mohel, and the sandak daven Mincha as early as one can, make havdalah and then eat in honor of the fact that this day is a Yom Tov for them. However, the Pri Megadim rules that only the father has this leniency when observing a yahrtzeit, but someone honored with being sandek or mohel on a day that he is observing a yahrtzeit is required to observe the fast that he would usually keep. The Pri Megadim suggests that if he is the only mohel in town, he can consider this his personal Yom Tov, also, and eat, although he is inconclusive about it. He does not explain what difference it makes whether there are other mohalim in town.

Accept the day before

Several distinctions result from the fact that fasting on a yahrtzeit is recommended but not required. Whenever someone decides to keep a fast that halachah does not require, he must accept the fast during Mincha of the day before. This “acceptance” is usually done at the conclusion of the Elokai Netzor,reciting a text that is printed in many siddurim. Since fasting on a yahrtzeit is not required, the individual must accept it from the day before.

However, someone who usually fasts on his parent’s yahrtzeit is required to fast that day anyway, unless he specified on the first year that he does not intend to fast every year (Chachmas Adam 171:11). Such a person is required to fast whether or not he remembered to accept the fast at Mincha the day before. Should he decide one year that he does not want to fast, he must perform hataras nedarim to release himself from the custom he has accepted. We will soon discuss what he should do if the yahrtzeit falls on Shabbos.

The authorities dispute whether someone who took ill on the yahrtzeit requires hataras nedarim. The Mishnah Berurah (581:19) notes that the Magen Avraham (581:12) does not require hatarah, explaining that we can assume that he never accepted fasting on yahrtzeits under these circumstances. However, the Shach (Yoreh Deah, 214:2) rules that he is required to perform hataras nedarim. The Chachmas Adam (171:11) concludes that he should do hataras nedarim in this situation.

Why fast on a yahrtzeit?

The earliest source that I discovered who records this custom is the Sefer Chassidim (#231, 232), who notes that, throughout Jewish history, people have fasted in memory of the passing of a great individual. Thus, we find that Dovid Hamelech fasted upon hearing that Shaul had died, and also when he heard of Avner’s assassination (Shemuel II, 1, 12; 3:35). Similarly, the Yerushalmi (Moed Katan 3:7) reports that Rabbi Avahu fasted on the day that he saw a talmid chacham die, and that when Rabbi Yonah heard of the passing of the son of Rabbi Eliezer, he fasted the rest of the day. The Shulchan Aruch records this practice in Yoreh Deah 378:4.

Although these sources reflect fasting on the day of the death only, the Sefer Chassidim cites Scriptural basis that there is halachic reason to be sad when the date of a sad event recurs in a future year.

What is the reason for fasting on a yahrtzeit?

The Sefer Chassidim presents two reasons for fasting on a parent’s yahrtzeit:

(1) As a sign of respect. A similar idea is quoted by other authorities: fasting on the yahrtzeit provides atonement (kapparah)for the parent (Shu”t Mahari Mintz #9 at end; Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim 161).

(2) A person’s soul is linked to that of his parents, and, therefore, the son himself suffers on the day of the yahrtzeit. Later authorities explain that on the yahrtzeit day, the child’s mazel is not good, and he should fast to protect himself (Shu”t Mahari Mintz #9 at end; Shu”t Maharshal #9; Levush, Yoreh Deah 402:12; Shach, Yoreh Deah 402:10).

Some later authorities understand that these reasons are not complementary, but conflicting reasons for the fast, and that there are resultant differences in halachah (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim 161). For example, if the reason is to protect oneself because one’s mazel is not good, it is dependent on the person’s concern. One who is unconcerned does not need to fast (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim 161).

Fasting on the yahrtzeit of one’s rebbe muvhak

Here is another situation in which the decision as to whether to fast or not is dependent upon the reason for the fast. The Mishnah Berurah (568:46), quoting the Shelah Hakadosh, says that one should fast also on the yahrtzeit of one’s rebbe muvhak, the person from whom he learned most of the Torah that he knows. The Shelah explains that one fasts this day because he owes more honor to his rebbe muvhak than to his parent, as is mentioned in several places in halachah. However, this reason requires one to fast only if we assume that fasting on a yahrtzeit is because of honor or as a kapparah for the departed. If the observance is to protect the one fasting, the requirement to show respect to one’s teacher should not affect his mazel, and there is no reason for a disciple to fast on the yahrtzeit of his rebbe (Elyah Rabbah, Orach Chayim 288:18 and 568:15).

Why not feast?

Although I did not find any authorities who explain why it is prohibited to eat at a celebration on a yahrtzeit, it would seem that the basis for this prohibition is the same as the reasons for fasting: either it is considered disrespectful to one’s parent to be celebrating on such a day, or that since one’s mazel is not good on this day, one should refrain from celebration.

Reciting Aneinu

Someone who fasts on his yahrtzeit should recite Aneinu in his private Shemoneh Esrei, but not in the repetition of Shemoneh Esrei, unless coincidentally there is a minyan of people fasting.

When does one not fast?

Notwithstanding the importance attached to the fast on a yahrtzeit, there are many days that halachah prohibits fasting, because this desecrates the sanctity of the day. For example, the Levush says that one should not fast on any day that we do not recite tachanun. As we will soon see, there is a dispute among authorities whether one should fast in this instance on the day or two before or after the yahrtzeit (assuming that this is a day when it is permitted to fast), or whether since one is not fasting on the yahrtzeit itself, there is no reason to fast at all.

What happens if the yahrtzeit falls on Shabbos?

If the yahrtzeit falls on Shabbos, the Maharik ruled that one should fast on a different day instead. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 568:9) follows this approach and rules that one should fast on Sunday; and if the yahrtzeit falls on Rosh Chodesh, that one should fast on the second of the month. When the second of the month falls on Shabbos, some authorities contend that one should fast on Sunday, the third of the month (Kaf Hachayim 568:93, 96, quoting Shelah and Elyah Rabbah 568:15).

Others follow the approach of the Maharik, but disagree with the Shulchan Aruch’s decision to postpone the fast, contending instead that the fast should be before the yahrtzeit. They contend that the fast should be on Erev Shabbos or Erev Rosh Chodesh (Kaf Hachayim 568:94, quoting Kavod Chachamim and Penei Aharon).

On the other hand, other authorities (Shu”t Maharshal #9) dispute the Maharik’s conclusion, ruling that when a yahrtzeit falls on a day that one cannot fast, the custom is not to fast at all. The Rama follows this ruling. Some Sefardic poskim also follow this ruling, unlike the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch (Kaf Hachayim 568:94, quoting Leket Hakemach).

The authorities dispute whether one whose yahrtzeit falls either on Rosh Chodesh Nisan or on Rosh Chodesh Av should fast on those days, even though they are days when we recite Musaf and do not say tachanun (Kaf Hachayim 568:97). The reason that these two days are exceptions is because they are mentioned as days when it is permitted to fast. The Chachmas Adam (171:11), however, rules that the accepted custom is to refrain from fasting on any Rosh Chodesh, and that is the prevalent custom among Ashkenazim.

If the yahrtzeit falls on Friday, the Maharshal rules that, on the first yahrtzeit, he should not complete the day’s fast, whereas if he already fasted in a previous year, he must complete the fast.

Those who do not fast

In the last centuries, we find many sources that do not encourage fasting when it might causesomeone to study Torah with less diligence. Instead, one should dedicate all his strength to the study of Torah on the yahrtzeit. For this reason, Rabbi Akiva Eiger, in his tzava’ah, instructed his descendants to study Torah assiduously on his yahrtzeit and not fast, and this is recorded to have been the practice of the Chasam Sofer, the Kesav Sofer, the Chazon Ish and the Steipler. Rabbi Akiva Eiger instructed his descendants not to sleep at all on his yahrtzeit, but to study Torah through the night.

I have seen it recorded that the Chasam Sofer made a siyum when observing a yahrtzeit, but served a milchig meal, so that it not appear that he was celebrating on the day. This also accomplished the seudas mitzvah’s preempting the requirement to fast, and fulfilled chesed by providing a meal to the poor.

In most Chassidic circles, a practice developed of performing chesed on a yahrtzeit –specifically to make sure that the poor people in town had a proper meal on the day of the yahrtzeit. The brachos recited thereby created a tikun for the departed soul, and therefore, this practice became called tikun. This developed into a custom of serving schnapps and mezonos on the yahrtzeit.

With time, some had concerns about this practice, particularly the kashrus of the foods and beverages served. Rav Avraham Meir Israel, a rosh yeshiva in Yeshivas Chasan Sofer in Brooklyn, wrote to Dayan Yitzchak Weiss, saying that he would like to stop the custom of tikun that had developed, primarily because of concern that the whiskey was often chometz she’avar alav hapesach; it had been owned by Jewish storekeepers, distributors or manufacturers on Pesach and had not been sold, thus rendering it prohibited. In his response, Dayan Weiss agrees with Rabbi Israel’s concerns, particularly since this custom of tikun has extremely weak halachic foundations. Nevertheless, Dayan Weiss quotes numerous Chassidic sources that support this custom. In conclusion, he feels that one should not change the custom where it is practiced. However, where there are kashrus concerns, he suggests providing very detailed instructions as to where one may purchase the products being served. (This author is aware that many kashrus concerns have been raised recently on liquor; however, we will discuss that topic a different time.)

The Sedei Chemed (Volume 5 page 241 #40) voices strong opposition to the minhag of tikun for a different reason: that people celebrate the tikun in the shul or Beis Medrash, and it is prohibited to eat or drink in shul, except for talmidei chachamim who are permitted to eat in a Beis Medrash while they are in the middle of their studying. This problem can be avoided by celebrating the tikun in a room adjacent to the shul which is not used regularly for prayer. In a later edition, included now in the current editions of Sedei Chemed (Volume 5, page 335 #4), he quotes subsequent correspondence from the Brezhaner Rav, who wrote him that it is permitted to conduct any seudas mitzvah in a shul, and therefore it is permitted to have tikun there. The Sedei Chemed further quotes the Spinker Rebbe, who wrote him that all the admorim conduct their tishin in the Beis Medrash on the basis that our shullen are built with the understanding that these activities may be conducted there.

Conclusion

However one observes a yahrtzeit, one should always remember that the day be used for reflection, introspection and teshuvah. Ultimately, this is the best tool to use, both as a tikun neshamah for the departed and as a protection for the person commemorating the yahrtzeit.