Hebrew Bible

The Special Fast of Esther

Why Some Jews Fast In Honor of Queen Esther & Where the Tradition Comes From

March 21, 2024, is the Fast of Esther on the Jewish calendar in preparation for the holiday of Purim.

Read about this special tradition, why some Jews fast in honor of Queen Esther, and why it’s an especially meaningful and spiritual day for some Jewish women!

The Fast of Esther
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The Fast of Esther, or Ta'anit Esther in Hebrew, is a minor Jewish fast that usually takes place on the day preceding the holiday of Purim, on the 13th of the Hebrew month of Adar. This year, because Purim occurs on a Sunday and we don't hold fast days on Shabbat (except for Yom Kippur), the Fast of Esther will be on Thursday, March 21, 2024.

As with other minor fasts, the Fast of Esther traditionally involves abstaining from food and drink from sunrise to sunset. However, since it's not a major fast day like Yom Kippur or Tisha B'Av, not all Jews follow all of the traditional fasting prohibitions; some may only fast until midday, or only abstain from food, or not at all.

Whether one is actually fasting or not, there are also other ways of marking this day. This may include prayer, self-reflection, giving to charity, reading the Book of Esther or other Biblical texts, and general spiritual preparations for Purim.

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The Spiritual Significance of the Fast of Esther
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This special fast is dedicated to Queen Esther, the heroine of the Purim story. It commemorates the fast called for by Esther and undertaken by the Persian Jewish community in response to Haman's evil decree, as part of the Jews' prayer for salvation and Esther's preparations to approach King Ahasuerus and attempt to save her people.

The fast serves as a time of reflection, repentance, and prayer in preparation for the celebration of Purim. After this solemn spiritual day, Purim will be celebrated with joyous festivities such as festive meals, dressing up in costumes or silly outfits, interactive and rowdy readings of the Book of Esther (Megillah), and giving gifts of food to friends and neighbors. The quiet contemplation and fasting beforehand therefore lays the spiritual groundwork for the joy of the holiday.

In addition, the Fast of Esther also holds an extra-special significance among some observant Jewish women.

Some religious authorities consider women to be exempt from minor fasts, but even women who don't observe the others are more likely to keep the Fast of Esther, whether through abstaining from food and drink or with extra prayer and reflection. As far as Jewish commemorative days this one is unique for honoring, and having been started by, a woman. Queen Esther is also an inspiring heroine for many Jewish women, having been responsible for saving the Jewish people from genocide, making both Purim and the Fast of Esther particularly meaningful days!

 

Honor our Biblical heroine Queen Esther with your very own copy of the Book of Esther or a full Hebrew Bible, plus our specially curated Purim-themed gifts!

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