The Fast of the 10th of Tevet is actually a compilation of three sad & tragic historical events over the course of three days.
On 8 Tevet – The Septuagint was published.
On 9 Tevet – Ezra the Scribe passed away
On 10 Tevet – The siege on Jerusalem began
Once upon a time, all three days were observed as fast days but the rabbis merged them into one day on the most tragic event – the siege on Jerusalem because it was too much for the Jewish people to fast three days in a row (the fast is a daytime fast only and one can eat at nightfall).
Historical reasons for each of the days of mourning:
8 Tevet – In the third century BCE, Ptolemy II, Greek ruler in Alexandria, Egypt ordered 70 Jewish elders to translate the Torah to Greek. He put each one
in a separate room in order to prevent collaboration and edited commentary of the text. Miraculously, all 70 translated (with edited commentary) precisely the same. The reason this is considered a dark day in Jewish history is because the Torah, without the accompanying Oral Law (Torah She’beal Peh), is meaningless and open to misinterpretations and future mistranslations.
9 Tevet – Relating back to the purity of Torah and tradition, Ezra, a luminary rabbinic figure in the early Second Temple period, was known as “the Scribe” because he wrote many Torah scrolls and promulgated Torah knowledge and instituted Torah readings in the public squares on Mondays and Thursdays as well as on Shabbat. He brought light in a very challenging and dark time, fighting against assimilation, intermarriage and apathy to Judaism, Zionism and Temple worship and is the father of Rabbinic Judaism as we know it today. His passing left a deep void.
10 Tevet – There are four fast days related to the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. This day is the beginning of the decline leading to that fateful dark day. As the Babylonians set siege to the city (Ezekiel 24:1-2), there were three years that passed before the destruction took place. The people felt invincible being protected by the massive walls and encouraged by false prophets of hope and didn’t repent and change their ways of idolatry nor their injustices to the weak and defenseless. As a result, the rabbis declared that even if the 10 of Tevet falls on Shabbat, we should fast on Shabbat making a statement that in a sense, it’s even more tragic a time than even Tisha B’Av. Practically, the fixed calendar does not allow the fast to fall on Shabbat.
We fast from morning until evening – for those of us living in the northern hemisphere, who are in the heart of winter, it is the shortest fast of the year. If you wish to wake up early and eat breakfast before light, you must go to sleep with the intention to do so.
Today, the 10th of Tevet has also become known in Israel as Yom Kaddish Clali – the day of saying Kaddish for all those whose yahrtzeit (day of passing) is not known to include Holocaust victims and some fallen soldiers.
The fast this year is on Tuesday, December 18 and begins at 5:23am and ends at 5:09pm.