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What and when is the Fast of the Firstborn?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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On the day before1 Passover all firstborn2 males are required to fast. This fast commemorates G-d's kindness towards the Israelite firstborn; when G-d slew all the Egyptian firstborn males He spared their Jewish counterparts.

Many abide by the custom that the father of a firstborn male who is under the age of Bar Mitzvah fasts in lieu of his son.

This fast is more lenient than other fasts. Therefore, this fast may be broken if the faster participates in a Seudat Mitzvah (feast celebrating a mitzvah). Therefore it is customary for all synagogues to organize a Siyum on this day. After the Shacharit services all the firstborn (and anyone else who is interested in enjoying some refreshments...) listen to the completion of a tractate of Talmud, break their fast, and are free to eat for the rest of the day.

Footnotes

  • 1. If the first day of Passover is Sunday, the fast is moved to Thursday. It is forbidden to fast on Shabbat, and (in honor of Shabbat) we don't set up substitue fasts on Friday.
  • 2. Firstborn to either mother or father. A male who has an older sister is not considered a firstborn. A child who was delivered via caesarian section is still considered a firstborn with regards to this fast.
TAGS: Firstborn, bechor

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Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Passover
A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Shacharit
Morning prayer service. One of the three prayers a Jew is obligated to pray every day.
Siyum
Completion. Usually referring to one who has completed a tractate of the Talmud; a joyous event which warrants a festive meal.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.