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Purim- Who Is Exempt From Fasting on Taanit Esther

Must pregnant women observe the fast of Ta’anit Ester?

The Halacha in such a case depends on the stage of pregnancy, and the woman’s condition.  After the first trimester, a pregnant woman is exempt from the fast so she may eat and drink to sustain and strengthen the fetus.  However, a woman in this case must ensure to eat and drink only as necessary to sustain the fetus; she should not indulge beyond what is necessary, since the day is a fast day for everyone else.

During the first trimester, a pregnant woman may eat if she experiences discomfort, such as if she suffers from morning sickness, general frailty and the like.  Particularly after forty days have passed since conception, there is greater room for leniency in cases where a woman experiences discomfort.  Within the first forty days, however, a woman should fast unless this causes her considerable discomfort.

A woman who is nursing an infant is exempt from the fast so that she will be able to properly feed the baby.

Hacham Ovadia Yosef extends this leniency and exempts women from the fast of Ta’anit Ester within two years after delivering a child.  The Gemara comments that a woman is frail for two years after childbirth, and therefore, according to Hacham Ovadia, a woman is exempt from the fast of Ta’anit Ester within this period.  This ruling is not, however, the generally accepted practice.  Many authorities, including the Kaf Ha’haim (based on the Bah), the Elya Rabba, the Kisur Shulhan Aruch, Hacham Bension Abba Shaul, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rabbi Mazuz, ruled that the status of a woman during this period vis-à-vis Ta’anit Ester depends solely on her physical condition.  If she says that she feels well and capable of fasting, then, according to the accepted position, she is required to observe the fast.  Although the Gemara says that women are generally frail for two years after childbirth, if a woman says she feels healthy and strong, then we have no basis on which to exempt her from the fast.  Indeed, there are many women who have children every year or so, and soon after childbirth they are already exercising regularly, running errands, and so on.  It would not be acceptable for a woman who is in good enough physical condition to exercise to claim that she does not have to fast simply because she is within two years of childbirth.  She should observe the fast of Ta’anit Ester unless she is indeed frail.

There is a fascinating responsum of Hacham Yosef Yedid Halevi (Aram Soba-Israel, 1867-1930), in which he claims that Torah scholars are exempt from fasting on all fasts except Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Ab.  He asserts that since fasting undermines a scholar’s ability to concentrate and focus on his studies, the importance of a scholar’s learning overrides these fasts, and he should thus not fast.  By the same token, he adds, teachers are also exempt from these fasts, so they can properly tend to their duties and perform their sacred work of teaching Torah to Jewish children.  Hacham Ovadia Yosef addresses this surprising ruling in a lengthy responsum, and disputes this position.  Indeed, the accepted Halacha is that Torah scholars and teachers are required to fast like everybody else.

The Mishna Berura (commentary by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan of Radin, 1839-1933) cites two different reasons for the fast of Ta’anit Ester.  According to one view, this fast commemorates the fast that the Jews observed on 13 Adar in Persia when they went to war against those who sought to destroy them.  They observed this fast as a means of repentance in order to be worthy of God’s assistance in battle.  According to others, the fast that we observe commemorates the three-day fast that Ester decreed upon the Jews of Shushan during Nissan, after Haman issued his edict.  Although we fast for only one day, this observance, according to some, commemorates the three-day fast that the Jews observed in Nissan.  There is a custom recorded in some sources to fast for three days after Purim – on the Monday, Thursday and then the next Monday after Purim – in commemoration of the three-day fast in Shushan, but this custom is not widely accepted.

Summary: Pregnant women who are past their first trimester are exempt from fasting on Ta’anit Ester.  During the first trimester, a woman should fast on Ta’anit Ester unless she experiences morning sickness or general frailty, in which case she is exempt from the fast, especially after the first forty days of pregnancy, when there is greater room for leniency.  Nursing women are also exempt from the fast.  A woman who has stopped nursing should observe the fast even if she is still within two years of childbirth, assuming she feels generally well.