FASTS, consisting both of self-imposed and enjoined, total or partial abstinence from food, have existed among the Jews, as among all other nations, from time immemorial.
1. The import of fasting.—The idea which the Jews attached to fasting was to afflict, weaken, and humble the soul by withholding from it the neces sary food in order to aid man, thus brought low, to give himself more entirely to serious devotion, repentance, and communion with God. This is evi dent from the phrase V/t) ri3r, aszia or humble the soul, well rendered by the Septuagrint, Tcoretvoii, 1149c0 ; being the shorter form of DIV2 VB), to afflict the soul by fasting (Ps. xxxv. 13), used to express fasting on the most solemn and only occasion, i.e., the day of atonement, in which it is commanded in the law of Moses (comp. Lev. xvi. 29, 31; xxiii. 27, 32 ; Num. xxix. 7).* The pressions wv, fast (2 Sam. xii. 16 ; r Kings xxi. 9, 12 ; 2 Chron. XX. 3 ; Ezr. viii. 21 ; Is. lviii. 5, 6, al.); and nwn, fast (Ezr. ix. 5), wrongly trans lated heaviness in the A.V., are still shorter forms of this phrase. This idea of fasting is also seen in the case of Moses himself, where it is evident that his total abstinence from food for forty days was intended as a spiritual discipline to wean him from earth and fit him for his more immediate commu nion with God (Exod. xxxiv. 28), and from the re mark that the nobles of Israel,' who had no such intimate communion with God, savv Hirn without fasting (ibid. xxiv. 11).
2. Fasts from the giving- of the Lax., to the Baby lonish captivity.—Though, as has already been re marked, the day of atonement was the only fast enjoined in the law of Moses, yet it vvas not the only occasion when the pious Israelites endeavoured to crucify the flesh and the lusts thereof by total or partial abstinence from food. From the enact ments in Num. xxx. 2-16, we see that husbands and wives, and parents and children of both sexes, not unfrequently voluntarily took upon themselves vows to abstain from food as an act of humiliation in the sight of God, believing to conciliate thereby the favour of heaven. Occasions for fasting rapidly increased with the course of events. Monarchs re garded impending calamities, and the defeat which their armies sustained, as punishments from heaven for some national sin, and proclaimed a national fast (Judg. xx. 26 ; I Sam. vii. 6 ; 1 Kings xxi. ;
2 Chron. xx. 3), and the people beheld in any humiliation to which they were subjected by their enemies, and in every affliction to which flesh and blood are heir, the chastisement of God for some secret transgression, and imposed private fasts upon themselves (T Sam. i. 7 ; xx. 34 ; xxxi. 13 ; 2 Sa.M. i. 12 ; 35 ; xii. 16 ; Kings xxi.
27). Still up to the time of the Babylonish captivity, the great day of atonement was the only annual fist which the Jews as a nation kept.
3. From the Babylanish captivity to the destruc tion of the second Temple.—This ascetic mode of piety sliews itself more especially in and after the Babylonish captivity. As long as the Temple of the Lord stood upon Mount Moriah, and the altar was blazing with the ever burning fire, the pious Israelites endeavoured to serve God and conciliate His favour by frequent offerings of sacrifices. But when the Temple was destroyed, and the people carried into captivity, the sacrifice of the body and one's own fat and blood was substituted for that of animals. Hence, that touching prayer recorded in the Talmud, which the Jews offered on their fast ` Lord of the Universe ! Thou knowest that when the Temple existed, the man that sinned brought a sacrifice, and though only the fat and blood thereof were offered, yet lie was forgiven. Now that I fast, and my own fat and blood are consumed, let it please Thee to accept this sacrifice of my fat and blood, as if offered upon Thine altar, and be merciful unto me' (Berachoth 17, a). With such a view of their importance, fasts of all sorts, private, public, and annual, were, as a matter of course, rapidly multiplied. Days on which national calamities occurred, were as eagerly seized as fitting- opportunities for creating annual fasts, in order to sacrifice the fat and blood of the body,' as the occasions during the time of the T,Tmple to offer animals upon the altar. ID the following list, the annual and periodical fasts which originated during this period, and which are observed by the Jews to the present day, are enumerated, and the particulars of those fasts given which are not noticed in separate articles of this Cyclopwdia.