The 9th of the Jewish month of Av, known as Tisha B’Av, commemorates the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. On this most mournful day of the year, Jews are required to fast from sunset until nightfall the following day.
(On a side note, most rabbinic opinions exempt pregnant and nursing women from fasting on the four minor fast days. My husband was surprised to learn that his colleague’s wife, nursing a young baby, was fasting on the 17th of Tammuz.)
Before Yom Kippur last year, I blogged about the opinion of our synagogue’s rabbi requiring pregnant and nursing women to eat and drink in “shiurim” instead of fasting completely on Tisha b’Av and Yom Kippur. Shiurim are small quantities of food and liquid eaten at regular intervals. The quantities are small enough so that technically, the woman is still considered to be fasting.
Last year’s post also gives tips to help nursing mothers and babies get through the fast safely.
Yet this is still controversial. In response to a published opinion by Rabbi Nachum Rabinovich, Rabbi Yuval Cherlow ruled that barring special circumstances, pregnant and nursing women must fast on Tisha b’Av. Ynet reports:
The Halacha (Jewish law) holds no all-inclusive exemption for pregnant women or those breastfeeding. Each case must be assessed separately.
This is the rule decided upon by the head of the Petach Tikva Hesder Yeshiva Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, right before Tisha B’Av.
In the Halachic sentence [ruling] published in the yeshiva’s website, Rabbi Cherlow negates a general dismissal [exemption] and instead, calls upon women in these situations to better prepare themselves for fasting. The rabbi explained that “the assumption that nowadays women are weaker than they were in the past is not necessarily so, and the medical logic says that in light of the nutrition and medicine that we live with today, the situation is exactly the opposite.”
Thus, he disputes the lenient Halachic position stating that women in these situations must be exempt from fasting in all cases, a stance supported in the recent years by popular rabbis of the religious-Zionist persuasion.
In the book that was recently published by doctor and Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz, the head of the Ma’ale Adumim Hesder Yeshiva, a different view is presented.
According to this Ynet article (Hebrew) about Rabbi Rabinowitz’s book. women after the fifth month of pregnancy and nursing mothers “should not fast” on Tisha b’Av. The ruling does not apply to Yom Kippur.
Most nursing mothers make more than enough milk, so their babies do well even if the fast causes a drop in supply. The babies usually reverse this by nursing extra the night and day following the fast. However, in my years counseling nursing mothers I have come across a few babies and mothers who suffered terribly by the end of the fast. I just heard a typical example: A mother was home with a toddler and baby. The baby didn’t stop crying, and the mother was in no shape to shlep the kids to shul and ask a rabbi about breaking the fast. Sometimes a mother knows her supply is low or borderline, or she fasts badly in general, so she asks a question in advance about how to handle it. But often, there is no way to predict when the situation will get out of hand. Our rabbi’s approach is one way to avoid this scenario.
Also see: Fasting during Pregnancy on Yom Kippur