Sacred Texts  Judaism  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book on Kindle

The Babylonian Talmud in Selection, by Leo Auerbach, [1944], at

p. 131

Days of Fasting

(Tractate Taanith)

RABBI Yohanan said: There are three keys which the Holy One, blessed be He, has not entrusted into the hands of any messenger, but keeps in his own hand. These are: The key of rain, the key of birth, and the key of the resurrection of the dead. The key of rain, for it is written: (Deut. xxviii, 12) The Lord shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven to give the rain unto the land in his season. The key of birth, for it is written: (Gen. xxx, 22) And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb. The key of the resurrection of the dead, for it is written: (Ezek. xxxvii, 13) And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves. In the West they said, also the key of sustenance, for it is written: (Psalms cxlv, 16) Thou openest thy hand, etc. Why did not Rabbi Yohanan include this?—Well, he can say that "Rains" includes sustenance also.

It was taught: The clouds and the winds are only secondary to the rain. Which ones are they? Ulla, and

p. 132

some say it was Rab Yehuda, said: Those that follow the rain, are these then beneficial? Is it not written: (Deut. xxviii, 24) The Lord shall make the rain of thy land powder and dust. To this Ulla, and some say it was Rabbi Yehuda, said: Does this mean the wind that comes after the rain?—There is no contradiction here. One speaks of a gentle rain, while the other means a downpour. This latter throws up dust, while the first does not.

Further Rabbi Yehuda said: The wind that comes after the rain is as good as the rain; clouds that come after the rain are as good as the rain; sunshine after the rain is doubly beneficial. What is excluded here? The glow of the evening and sunshine between the clouds.

Raba said: Snow is as beneficial to the mountain as five-fold rain to the earth, for it was said: (Job xxxvii, 6) For he saith to the snow, Be thou on the earth, likewise to the small rain, and to the great rain of his strength. And Raba also said: Snow for the mountains, hard rain for the trees, a gentle rain for fruit of the fields, and even a drizzle is good for the seeds under the hard sod.

Further Raba said: A young scholar is like a seed under the hard sod; if he begins to sprout, he will shoot forth. Raba also said: If a young scholar falls into a rage, it is only because the Torah has enraged him, for it was said: (Jeremiah xxiii, 29) Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord.



IF ON the seventeenth of Marheshwan no rain has as yet fallen, then some individuals begin to fast three days. They eat and drink after sundown, they may

p. 133

work, wash themselves, anoint themselves, put on sandals, and they may have marital relations. If the first of Kislev came and no rain has fallen, the court then orders the public to fast three days; they may eat and drink after sundown. They may work, wash themselves, anoint themselves, put on sandals, and they may have marital relations.



THE Rabbis taught: When the people of Israel find themselves in trouble, and one of them separates himself from the people, then the two angels of service, who accompany every person, come and lay their hands on his head and say: So-and-so, who has separated himself from the people, shall not see the consolation of the people. In another place we learned: When the people find themselves in trouble, let not a man say, I will go into my home and eat and drink, and all will be well with me. If he does so, it is of him that was written: (Isaiah xxii, 13) And behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine: let us eat and drink for tomorrow we shall die. . . . A man should share in the sorrows and troubles of his community, for thus we found our master Moses, that he shared in common with the community its sorrows and troubles, for it was said: (Exodus xvii, 12) But Moses’ hands were heavy, and they took a stone, and put it under him and he sat thereon. Did not Moses have a cushion or a bolster to sit upon? This is to teach us that Moses wished to say: "All of Israel find themselves in trouble, I too will suffer with them." And every person who shares in the sorrows of the community, lives to see also the consolation of the community. And perchance there

p. 134

will be one who will say: "Who is there that will testify against me?"—The stones of one's own house and the beams of his roof testify against him, for it was said: (Habakkuk ii, 11) For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it. In the school of Rabbi Shila it was said that the two angels of service who accompany each person will testify against him, for it was said: (Psalms xci, 11) For he shall give his angels charge over thee. Rabbi Hidka said: A man's own soul testifies against him, for it was said: (Micah vii, 5) Keep the doors of thy mouth from her that lieth in thy bosom.



IF THESE days passed and rain had not fallen, the court orders the community to fast another three days. They may eat and drink while it is still day, but they are not permitted to work, to wash themselves, to anoint themselves, to put on sandals, nor to have marital relations; and the bathhouses must be kept closed. If these days passed and rain had not come, the court orders a further fast of seven days, making it thirteen all together. These surpass the first day, for on these days they blow the horn and they close the shops. On Mondays they are permitted to open the shops partially, but on the fifth day they are permitted to open the shops because of the honor of the Sabbath. If these days passed, and no rains had fallen, men refrain from their business affairs, they also refrain from building, and from planting; no betrothals or marriages are arranged, and people do not greet one another, as should be with men who have merited the scorn of the Lord. Certain individuals fast till the end of Nisan. If the rains came

p. 135

after Nisan has passed, it is a sign of a curse, for it was said: (1 Samuel xii, 17) Is it not wheat harvest today? etc. . . .



IT IS logical that they would forbid the pleasures of bathing, anointing and intercourse; but why forbid work that is drudgery? Rabbi Hisda answered, in the name of Rabbi Jeremiah ben Abba: The Scriptures say: (Joel i, 14) Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders. This means that a fast day is as a solemn assembly; just as one is not permitted to work during a solemn assembly, so one must not work on a fast day. . . .



WHAT is the ritual of the days of fasting? They take out the Ark into the public place in the town, they put wood ashes on the Ark, on the head of the Prince and on the head of the Chief Justice of the Court, and everyone puts ashes on his own head. The eldest among them recites before them words of admonition: "My brethren, it was not said of the people of Nineveh that the Lord saw their sackcloth and their fasting, but (Jonah iii, 10) And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil ways and it is further said: (Joel ii, 13) Rend your heart and not your garments."

They stood in prayer, and they sent down to the Ark an old man who knew how to recite the prayers, a mar, who had children, and who was in want, so that his heart would be filled with his prayers. He would recite before them twenty-four benedictions, the eighteen of the daily ritual, and he would add six more.

p. 136

During the first three days of fasting the priests on duty would fast, but not throughout the day; but the priests of the House of Fathers did not fast at all. On the second three days, the priests on duty would fast throughout the whole day, while the priests of the House of Fathers would fast part of the day. On the last seven days they all fasted throughout the whole of the day. These are the words of Rabbi Joshua, but the Sages say: On the first three days none of the priests were fasting, on the second three days, the priests on watch duty fasted part of the day, but the priests of the House of the Fathers did not fast at all. On the last seven days, the priests of the watch fasted throughout the day while the priests of the House of the Fathers fasted, but only part of the day.

A public fast must not be ordered to begin on a Thursday, so as not to disrupt the prices in the market; but they order a three day fast to begin Monday to be followed by fasting again Thursday and then Monday.



IF THERE is an epidemic of pestilence in a city, or houses collapse in it, that city fasts and causes the sounding of horns, and in all the surrounding places they fast, but do not sound the horn. Rabbi Akiba says: they sound the horn, but they do not fast. What is termed an epidemic? If in a city that can furnish five hundred infantry men three deaths occur there in three consecutive days, it may be defined as a city in which an epidemic rages. If it is less than this, then there is no epidemic.

On the following occasions the horn is sounded: A

p. 137

blight; mildew; locusts; crickets; wild beasts; and the danger of the sword of an enemy. They sound the horn because this is a spreading calamity.

It happened that the Sages went down from Jerusalem to their own towns and ordered a fast because a blight the size of an oven's mouth was seen in Ashkelon. And they also ordered a fast because wolves devoured two children on the other side of the Jordan. Rabbi Yosi said not because they devoured the children, but because they were seen.

For the following they sound the horn on the Sabbath: If a city is surrounded by an enemy, if it is flooded by a river, or if a ship is sinking in the harbor. Rabbi Yosi says: They sound the horn to summon help, but not as a call to God. Simon the Yemenite said: They also sound the horn in the case of pestilence, but the Sages did not agree with him.

They sound the horn for any affliction that befalls the public, excepting for an oversupply of rain.

It happened once that they said to Honi the circle-maker: "Pray for rain to fall." He replied, go and fetch the Passover-ovens from the open so they won't dissolve. He prayed but the rains did not come. What did he do? He made a circle and stood within, and said: Lord of the Universe, thy children have turned to me for I am as one of Thy household. I swear by Thy great name that I shall not move from my place till Thou hast compassion upon Thy children. Then rain began to fall in small drops. Then he said: Not for that sort of rain did I pray, but for rain to fill cisterns, pits and caves. Then rain began to fall in great violence. Whereupon

p. 138

he said: Not for this sort of rain did I pray, but for a rain of good will, of benevolence and bounty. Then rain began to fall in the usual way, and it rained till the people of Israel had to leave Jerusalem and go up to the Mount of the Temple. Then they came to Honi and said to him: As thou has prayed for the rain to come, go now and pray for the rain to leave us. He said to them: Go and see if the stone of the Strayers has been washed away. Simon ben Shetah sent word to him: "Hadst thou not been Honi, I would have declared a Ban against thee. But what shall I do to thee? Thou petitionest the Lord and He does as thou askest him, as if thou wert a son who petitions a father, and the father fulfills his will. It is of thy kind that it was written: (Proverbs xxiii, 25) Thy father and thy mother shall be glad, and she that bare thee shall rejoice."



WHAT is a plague of drought?—Rab Yehuda said in the name of Rab: A plague which causes drought. Rab Nahman said: When to a field that is situated on a stream we have to bring water from another stream, then we call it drought. But when it has to be brought from another land, then it is a famine. Rabbi Hanina said: If one seah of grain costs a sela, but it is not to be had, then it is called famine. Rabbi Yohanan said: This is spoken only of the time when money is cheap, but produce is dear, but when money is dear while produce is cheap, then they sound the horn forthwith. For Rabbi Yohanan said: I remember distinctly a time when four seah of grain cost only one sela, but people in Tiberias were swelling from hunger, because there was not an issar to be had.

p. 139

Rabbi Eleazar ben Perata said: From the day that the Temple was destroyed the rainfalls were reduced. In some years there was plenty of rainfall, while in other years there was little. In some years the rain came in season, while in other years it came out of season. The year in which the rains came in season is to be compared to a servant to whom the master gave the food allowance on the first day of the week. Then we find that the dough is baked well and can be eaten with satisfaction. The year in which rains came out of season is compared to a servant to whom the master gave the allowance on the eve of Sabbath; we then find that the dough is not baked well. The year in which rain is plentiful is compared to a servant to whom the master gave the whole yearly allowance at one time, so that in the mill the loss in the grinding of a kor is the same as the loss in grinding of a kab and in the kneading the same waste entails in the kneading of a kor as in kneading a kab. A year in which the fall of rain is small may be compared to the servant to whom the master gives the allowance in small doses, we then find in the mill the loss in grinding a kab the same as that in a kor, and likewise the waste in kneading a kab is the same as that in a kor. Another comparison: When the rainfall is plentiful it may be compared to a man who kneads clay. If he has plenty of water, he does not use up all of it and the clay is well kneaded, but if he has little water, he will use up all that he has and the clay will not be kneaded properly.


THE Rabbis taught: Once the Israelites came for the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and there was no water for drinking purposes. Nakdimon ben Gurion went to a

p. 140

heathen magnate and said to him: Lend me twelve reservoirs of water for which I will return to you twelve wells of water, or if I fail to give you the wells, I shall give you twelve silver pieces, and he set a time limit for the return of the payment. When the day of repayment came, and rain had not fallen, the magnate sent word to Nakdimon that morning: "Return to me the water or the money that I have with you," but Nakdimon replied: "I have time the whole day." At midday he again received word to return the water or the money. Nakdimon replied: "I still have time to-day." Toward sundown again he received the message: "Return to me the water or the money that I have with you." But Nakdimon replied: "I still have time till the day is over." Whereupon the magnate sneered at him. He said: "Now that rains had not fallen the whole year, you expect them to fall now?" and in a cheerful mood he went down to the baths. Nakdimon went to the temple very depressed. He covered himself with his shawl and prayed before the Lord. He said: "Lord of the Universe. It is revealed and known to Thee that I have not done this for my glory and not for the glory of my father's house, but I have done this for Thy glory so that the pilgrims shall have water for drinking." At once the skies were darkened with clouds, and rain fell so that the twelve wells were filled with water and there was even an overflow. When the magnate was coming out of the bath-house, Nakdimon was emerging from the Temple. When they met Nakdimon said to the magnate: "Pay me for the overflow that I have with you." This one answered him: "I know that the Holy One, blessed be He, disturbed the world only for your sake, but I still have a claim against you, for

p. 141

the sun had already set, therefore the rains fell when the matter was already out of your hands." Nakdimon then returned to the Temple, covered himself with his shawl and stood in prayer and said: "Lord of the Universe! Make known that thou hast beloved ones in Thy world." At once the clouds were dispersed and the sun shone again.


FOR the Lord shall smite Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water (1 Kings xiv, 15) . Rab Yehuda said in the name of Rab: This is a blessing. For Rabbi Samuel ben Nahmani said in the name of Rabbi Yohanan: Why is it written: (Proverbs xxvii, 6) Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. Better is the curse of Ahiyah the Shilonite with which he cursed the people of Israel, than the blessing with which the wicked Balaam blessed them. Ahiyah the Shilonite cursed them by, comparing them to a reed, he said to Israel: For the Lord shall smite, etc. As the reed grows by the water, its stem grows new shoots and its roots are many, and though all the wind of the universe blow upon it, they cannot move it from its place, for it bends with the wind; if the winds stop, it goes back to its upright position. But the wicked Balaam blessed them by comparing them to the cedar, as it was said: (Numbers xxiv, 6) As cedar trees beside the waters. Now, the cedar does not grow by the water and its stock does not bring forth new shoots and its roots are not many, and all the winds in the universe cannot move it from its place. However if a south wind should blow at it, it uproots and turns it over. And not this alone, but the reed was honored so that pens are made of it for

p. 142

the writing of the Law, the Prophets and Hagiographa.


THE Rabbis taught: A man should always be as tender as the reed, and he should not be as hard as the cedar. It happened once that Rabbi Eleazar ben Simon was coming from Migdal Gedor, from the home of his teacher. He was riding an ass, sauntering on the banks of a river. He was very happy and in an elated mood, for he had done well in his studies. He met a man who was very ugly. The man greeted him: "Peace be with you, Master", but he did not return the greeting to him, but said instead: How ugly you are. Are all your townspeople as ugly as you are? The man replied: I do not know, but go and tell my Maker and say to him: "How ugly is the vessel which thou hast made." Rabbi Eleazar realized at once that he had sinned, he dismounted from his ass and prostrated himself before the man and said to him: "I beseech you to forgive me." The man replied: I will not forgive you till you have gone to the Master that created me and say to him: How ugly is the vessel that thou hast made. Rabbi Eleazar walked behind him till they arrived at the city. Here the townspeople came out and said to him: Peace be with you, our teacher, our master. The man said to them: Whom are you addressing as our teacher, our master? They answered: The one that is walking behind you. Whereupon he said to them: If this is our teacher, then may there be no more like him in Israel. They asked him what was the reason, and he told them: "So-and-so he did to me." Just the same, they said to him, you must forgive him, because he is truly a great man and a great scholar. He then replied: For your sake I shall forgive

p. 143

him, with the understanding that he shall never do the like again.


SAID Raba to Rabbi Rafrom ben Papa: Will the master, kindly, tell us some of the good deeds that Rab Huna was in the habit of doing? He answered: I do not remember much of his childhood days, but well do I remember the deeds of his later life. On cloudy days he would be driven in a golden carriage and he would inspect the whole city. He would have every weak wall pulled down. If the owner was able to rebuild it, he would do so; otherwise Rab Huna would rebuild it for him at his own expense. On every Sabbath eve, he would send his servant into the market place, who would there buy off all the vegetables that remained in the hands of the gardeners and would have them thrown into the river.—Why? He could have given them away to the poor.—The poor would then come to rely upon him, and would not buy anything in the market.—Well, he could have given them to some animals.—He was of the opinion that food which was fit for humans should not be given to animals.—Then he should not have bought them up.—Then the gardeners would not bring enough into the market.

When he had some good medicine he would fill a jar with it and suspend it above his door, and would announce: Whoever may have need of it let him come and help himself. Some say he knew of a cure for sibetha and he suspended a jar full of water and announced: Whoever suffers from sibetha, let him come and wash his hands with it and save his life thereby. Whenever he was at meal, he would open his door and announce:

p. 144

[paragraph continues] Whoever wishes let him come in and partake of my meal. Rabba said: I could do all these things myself, except the last one, because there are too many people in Mahuza.


Ilfa and Rabbi Yohanan studied the Law together, and they were both very poor. They once talked it over and decided that they would engage in business and fulfill the text: (Deut. xv, 4) Save when there shall be no poor among you. Then they sat down against a weak wall and ate their meal. Then two angels came, .and Rabbi Yohanan heard one of them say: Let's throw the wall over upon these two men and kill them, for they forsook the eternal for things earthly. However, one of the angels said: No, leave them alone, for one of them has a great future before him. Whereupon Yohanan said to Ilfa: Master, have you heard anything? but Ilfa answered: No. Rabbi Yohanan thought: Since I heard it and Ilfa did not, it must be I who am destined to do great things. He then said to Ilfa: I will go back and fulfill the verse: (Deut. xv, 11) For the poor shall never cease out of the land. Whereupon Rabbi Yohanan was installed as rector of the Academy, and the scholars said to Ilfa: Had you remained here to study, you would have been rector of the Academy.


IT IS related of Nahum of Gamzu that he was totally blind, that both of his arms and legs were amputated, and his whole body was covered with boils. He was lying in a dilapidated house, and the legs of his bed were standing in basins of water, so that the ants would not crawl up on him. His disciples came to take him out

p. 145

from the house, and then they intended to take out his things. Whereupon he said to them: take the things out first, and then take me out in my bed, for I assure you as long as I am in it the house will not collapse, but as soon as you take me out, the house is sure to collapse. They took the things out first and then they took him out in his bed. No sooner was he out than the house collapsed. His disciples said to him: Master, since you are so wholly righteous, why should all this have happened to you? He answered then: My children, I brought it all upon myself. Once, on a journey to the house of my father-in-law, I had with me three asses, one laden with food, one with liquids, and one with costly delectables. A poor man came upon me on the road and stopped me and said to me: Master, give me some food: I replied, Wait till I unload one of the asses. Before I had time to unload the ass, the man expired. I fell upon the man and exclaimed: My eyes that have had no pity upon you shall be blinded, my arms that had no pity upon your arms shall fall off, and my legs that had no pity upon your legs shall be cut off. I was not satisfied till I said: My whole body shall be covered with sores. His disciples cried: Woe to us that we see you in such a state. He replied, It would have been woe to me had you not seen me in such a state. Why was he called Nahum Gamzu? Because whatever happened to him he would say: this too (gam-zu) is for the best.

Once the Israelites wished to send gifts to Caesar. After a consultation they decided to send Nahum of Gamzu, because so many miracles had happened to him. They entrusted into his hand a chest full of precious stones and pearls: He then started on his journey; but

p. 146

when he stayed overnight in one of the inns, robbers came and pilfered his chest and filled it with earth. The next day when Nahum discovered the loss, he said: This too is for the best. When he arrived at the palace, the king wanted to kill him and all his men, for he said: The Jews are jesting with me. Nahum, however, said: This too is for the best. Then Elijah appeared, disguised as one of them, and said: Perhaps this is some of the earth of their father Abraham, which turns into swords when it is thrown against the enemy, for it is written: (Isaiah xli, 2) He gave them as the dust to his sword, and as driven stubble to his bow. They tried it against the enemy of a province that could not be conquered, but with the earth it was conquered this time. Whereupon they brought Nahum into the palace, filled his chest full of precious stones and pearls, and sent him home full of honors. On his return trip, when he stopped again at the same inn he was asked: What did you bring to the Emperor, that you were sent back with such great honor? He answered: The things that I had taken with me from here. The people of the inn then razed their house to the ground, and took the earth to Caesar and said to him. The earth which that man brought you was ours. They tested it and found it was worthless. Whereupon they put the innkeeper and his men to death.



FIVE things befell our ancestors on the seventeenth of Tamuz, and five on the ninth of Ab. On the seventeenth of Tamuz the Tablets were broken, and the Daily-Offering ceased, and the city was taken by assault, and

p. 147

[paragraph continues] Apostomus burned the Torah, and he put an image into the Temple. On the ninth of Ab it was decreed that our ancestors be forbidden from entering the Land of Israel, and the Temple was destroyed for the first and also for the second time, and the City of Bethar was conquered, and the city was ploughed up. When the month of Ab comes in, happiness should disappear.


RABBI Simon ben Gamaliel said: There were no better days in Israel then the fifteenth of Ab and the Day of Atonement, for on them the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in white garments that were borrowed, so as not to shame those that had none of their own. All the garments had to be washed first. And the daughters of Jerusalem would go out and dance in the vineyards. And what would they say? Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you would choose for yourself. Do not fix your eyes on grace, but look to the family, for (Proverbs xxxi, 30) Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.


Next: Childless Widows (Tractate Yebamoth)