Religion & Beliefs

5 Things to Know About the Fast of the Firstborn

This year, the fast of the firstborn, Taanit Bechorot, falls on Thursday, April 17th. Should you be fasting? Here’s the lowdown: What It's All About: Remember the tenth plague, death of the firstborn sons? Recollect how the Jews marked their … Read More

By / March 31, 2008

This year, the fast of the firstborn, Taanit Bechorot, falls on Thursday, April 17th. Should you be fasting? Here’s the lowdown:

  1. What It's All About: Remember the tenth plague, death of the firstborn sons? Recollect how the Jews marked their houses with the blood of a pascal lamb, so God would know not to kill Jewish firstborn sons? Taanit Bechorot is a sunrise to sunset fast specifically for firstborn children (we’ll get to the daughter/son issue in a minute) to commemorate how they were saved from being slaughtered in the plague.
  2. When to Abstain: Usually, the fast falls on the day before Passover starts, but because Passover starts on a Saturday night this year, and we’re only allowed to fast on Shabbat for Yom Kippur, Taanit Bechorot is pushed to Thursday.
  3. Loopholes: The Rabbis knew that the day before Passover wasn’t a great time to be asking people to not eat (everyone deserves a pre-Passover donut fix, right?) so there are a number of suggested ways to get out of fasting. For instance, you generally can’t fast if you attend certain ceremonies that require festive meals, such as a bris, a wedding, a bar or bat mitzvah, or a siyum. Firstborns are encouraged to go to such ceremonies so they won't have to fast.
  4. Equal Opportunity Fasting: Are firstborn women obligated to fast on Taanit Bechorot? As you might expect, there’s some controversy around this question. Some authorities say that only firstborn men should fast. If a child is too young to fast, his father fasts for him, and if the father is a first born and has to be fasting already, the mother fasts for the child. But there are many communities where women are considered to be obligated as well. This is based mostly on a Midrash that says that Bitya, Pharoah’s eldest daughter, was saved because of the merit of Moses. This implies that other Egyptian women weren’t saved, so the miracle applies to women as well.
  5. Insatiable Appetite for Fasting Knowledge?: For more background on Taanit Bechorot, check out MyJewishLearning, or Daily Halacha. For more on the debate about whether women are obligated, check out a JOFA article called “Women and the Fast of the Firstborn.”