Orthodox to pray for Israel on next fast day, July 8

In light of current Middle East unrest, next month's fast of Shive'ah Asar B'Tammuz (the 17th of Tammuz) will take on special meaning for local and national Orthodoxy.

Under the auspices of the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America, the fast day, intended to commemorate the historical breaching of the walls of Jerusalem, has been declared for Sunday, July 8, as a day of prayer and action for Israel.

It is the second of four fast days during the year; each is connected to the critical events culminating in the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem.

The others are the 10th of Tevet, marking the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem; the ninth of Av, when the Temple was destroyed; and the third of Tishri, when Gedaliah, the Babylonian-appointed governor of Judea was assassinated.

"The fasting is nothing new; we fast on these days every year," said Rabbi Yitzchok Feldman, spiritual leader of Congregation Emek Beracha in Palo Alto. "This year, however, there is added significance as the status of Jerusalem has come under serious discussion."

In a sense, Israel is currently undergoing "a spiritual breaching of its walls," added Rabbi Shlomo Zarchi, whose congregation Chevra Thilim in San Francisco also will participate in the day of prayer.

In addition to "an intensified concentration" during the fast and the reciting of psalms asking "for extra protection for a Jewish community that is in great danger now," Feldman said, Orthodox congregations will view a video produced by the Orthodox Union.

The video, which contains man-on-the-street type interviews with Israeli citizens and leaders, "should underscore the urgent need for our support and involvement" in preserving Israel's well-being, he said.

The video also presents an explanation of practical steps that each Jew can take to show solidarity, such as visiting Israel now.

Orthodox Jews should contact their congregations individually to find out when and if they are screening the video.

Zarchi said that solidarity with the people of Israel is "an obligation" of American Jewry.

"Our brothers and sisters in Israel make tremendous amounts of sacrifice every day," said Zarchi. "There has been so much blood and tears as they sacrifice for our homeland."

The way to mark this solidarity "for a community going through a troubling time" is by "making a little sacrifice of our own," said Zarchi, referring to the fast.

"Fasting is an awakening; often times people don't wake up to something until it hurts them personally," explained Zarchi. "The purpose isn't so much to pain ourselves; it's to bring ourselves to an awareness of something we need to fix."

This awareness and desire to fix the problem, however, has nothing to do with political end of the peace process, noted Feldman.

"It's not our place to decide what the sacrifices for peace should be," he said.

"But we have an intense concern about Jerusalem's future disposition. It is a city, which has special significance all over the world."