Fasting at Tisha B’Av can stir hunger for giving


LOS ANGELES (JTA) — At Tisha B’Av this year, think of fasting as a tzedakah stimulus plan. By observing this day of mourning, by not eating, our hunger can stimulate us to look beyond our own tables.

Coming in the middle of summer, amid barbecues, picnics and trips to the ballpark, the day dedicated each year to the historic loss of Jerusalem and other Jewish calamities can be one of spiritual recovery.

You just need a little change.

For the last couple of years I have partially fasted, not noshing from sundown until noon the next day, skipping breakfast as a kind of warm-up for Yom Kippur, convincing myself it’s the thought that counts.

This year, I want to make it till nightfall on July 30; the holiday starts the prior sundown.

How hard can this be? In a society obsessed with lap belts, liquid diets and calorie counts, where reality show contestants routinely are stuck starving in tropical nowheres, it can’t be that difficult to go without food for a day.

I can do that … mostly.

Hold that thought while I gather some loose change on my desk.

Truth is, some of us can barely drag ourselves through a Yom Kippur of no coffee, no chips or dips. Contemplating another day sans burgers is almost too much.

Additionally, the Jewish calendar includes a number of other fast days, like the Fast of Esther, when we sacrifice only from dawn till night. Others include the Fast of Gedaliah, the 10th of Tevet and a fast on the 17th of Tammuz to mark the breach of the walls of Jerusalem.

… There’s also some change near the clothes dryer.

Why do we fast? Are we looking for spiritual weight gain.

Fasting seems so counter-intuitive to Judaism, or at least the way we experience it: We celebrate, we eat. We mourn, we eat – people even bring food to us.

Our practice, our identification with Jewish life, is stuffed with scenes of abundance: two loaves of challah on Shabbat, baskets of goodies on Purim, cake at meetings, cake at temple. OK, so maybe it’s just trail mix on the picket line.

And don’t forget the shelves and shelves, the libraries of Jewish cookbooks. Even the Essenes sat down together for meal.

… And a couple of singles by the front door.

Judaism does offer several heavy reasons to fast: for mourning and loss; seeking purity and for forgiveness; and for awareness. On Tisha B’Av, we fast to mourn the destruction of the first and second Temples.

Though I try to connect, those events are so remote. I want to fast in remembrance; I need a push.

For motivation, I can read the verses in Lamentations that describe the utter destruction and desolation, “for your ruin is vast as the sea.” Or turn to the expulsions, persecutions and martyrdom that also befell the Jewish people near or on this day.

Jews also fast for a cause. For instance, to draw attention to starvation in Darfur, 80 rabbis, cantors and lay leaders from all the movements recently held a two-day fast, only having water, in solidarity.

The act illustrates well the words of the Prophet Isaiah when he describes the fast that he desires as able:

“To unlock the fetters of wickedness
And untie the cords of yoke
To let the oppressed go free;
To break off every yoke.
It is to share your bread with the hungry,
And to take the wretched poor into your home;
When you see the naked, to clothe him,
And not to ignore your own kin.
Then shall your light burst through like the dawn.”

Fasting sharpens our conscience, reminding us of those in hunger. This year as I fast, while remembering those days so long ago, I will try to remember and renew the days I live in as well.

… nice, a five crumpled up in my jeans pocket.

Putting aside the burgers, herring, chips, soda and whatever for that day, I am going to take the money saved and send it to one of the many 501(c)3s that always seem to want my attention.

That’s what the change is for.

How much is a day without food worth?

Figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture allow me to calculate that many of us spend on the average $10 per day per person for food. Of course, some of us spend a lot more. Especially while writing an article about fasting.

Think about it. For Tisha B’Av, whether you fast or not, remember the day by giving the cost of food that you would normally eat on this day. I promise, the idea won’t deplete the nation’s treasury or increase the trade deficit.

On the Ninth of Av, your stomach might grumble a bit, but banks will not fail. Food banks might actually gain.

(Edmon J. Rodman is a Los Angeles writer and designer.)

Recommended from JTA