Jul 29, 2020

pregnant women and fasting

Rav Yoni Rosensweig issued a psak regarding pregnant/nursing women and fasting on Tisha B'Av. I did not see the original psak, nor did I search it out, but he himself considers it a lenient psak. I have no comment on the psak, but Rav Rosensweig posted to Facebook a response he received by email regarding his lenient psak. I find the response fascinating. 

Here it is:

I am also copying the text of the post here:

As I make clear every year, the ruling I follow with regards to pregnant and nursing mothers as far as fasting is concerned, is somewhat more lenient than what is customary. And while I believe many women find relief in such a ruling, as it makes sense to them in their current situation, it is incumbent upon us to also recognize that there is a form of "collateral damage" that such rulings create.

I recently received an email which adequately expresses this. I have no desire to contend with this email here in this post, but rather to simply let the voice of this woman be heard, as I am sure there are others out there who feel similarly, but have not the words to express it, or the desire to expose their feelings publicly.

"The wonderful lenient psak encouraging pregnant and nursing women not to fast is circulating, providing them with important reassurance that avoiding fasting is the right thing to do. This movement toward bettering the world through logical leniencies in halakha, like exempting women from the unreasonable expectation to fast during the child bearing stage, is uplifting and inspirational. It's comforting to know that our daughters will be armed with better halakhic tools to cope with these challenging years.

Has anyone paused to consider the distressing emotional and spiritual impact of these leniencies on the generations of women who suffered for years, apparently misinformed based on common psak?

With several children and miscarriages behind me, I have never missed one fast Yom Kippur or Tisha Bav. I was taught that's what we are obligated to do. Two of those fasts resulted in actual life-threatening conditions after the fact, and many others in days and weeks of anguish and aggravation suffering premature contractions, babies deprived of breastmilk, and other adverse effects to physical and mental health.

Fasting was a challenge I carried proudly and without resentment, because I believed it to be my halakhic obligation. I view the halakhic system as our framework for our commitment to Torah and to עבודת השם. It's a system I have put my trust in, and have sacrificed for.

While I am thrilled to know that my daughters will not have to similarly suffer, I find those who encourage the change of psak in this generation are unaware of the anguish this causes women of my generation, who felt they suffered needlessly at best, and acted irresponsibly at worst, when they were instructed to do what was essentially a מנהג טעות. I find myself wondering how I can trust a halakhic system that instructed me to risk my health and my infant children, but has now turned and changed its mind, for no apparent reason.

How does one remain committed to a halakhic system that has failed them, when they feel mocked by the system for their own commitment? Fasting compromised my health and the health of my children, it compromised my relationship with my husband due to all the anguish involved, and it demanded enormous sacrifice, that I was happy to take on at the time, and now, in the wake of the common psak, I feel was unfairly misplaced. I consider myself a learned woman; I have studied the texts, I asked all the right questions of a different generation of rabbis. All indications were that fasting was the only option, except in extreme circumstances. That was the predominant psak in our circles twenty years ago. Maintaining commitment to the halakhic system that has failed me in this way, that demanded compromises of health and relationships, is hard enough; but to feel mocked by that same system when nothing has really changed is too much. It makes a mockery of my sacrifice and my suffering.

I encourage you to continue dispensing halakhic leniencies. I understand this is part of the better world we live in, and getting better all the time. It would be a kindness to address the emotional ramifications to women like myself who made the mistake of believing that they were sacrificing for עבודת השם, and now feel mocked by the system. As we approach Tisha Bav, while I am not pregnant or nursing, for the first time in my life I feel disinclined to fast. I feel such mistrust of the system. Who's to say twenty years from now a new psak won't dismiss the next twenty years of fasting?

Thank you for listening".

Wow! Such an interesting perspective. I find it very not intuitive. On the one hand she wants to encourage you to keep publicizing such lenient piskei halacha while on the other hand it upsets her and makes her question what she did. Intuitively, I think, people would generally tell you to stop being so publicly lenient and only issue lenient psak in private, or tell you that you are wrong and the young generation will grow up without the strong commitment we used to have. Her perspective is fascinating. And she is right about the attitude that used to be in place. That is why we have stories like that of Rav Yisrael Salanter making kiddush on the bima on Yom Kippur in the middle of the black plague because otherwise nobody would eat.

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  1. This woman being so strict should have more emunah and bitachon in H' that in 'twenty years from now' as she puts it, instead of Moshiach coming ASAP and no more fasting! She seems to be more ritualistic than having faith in our ultimate Geulah! We pray he comes immediately.

  2. I don't understand this letter at all. I haven't read Rav Rosensweig's Psak, but depending on circumstances there have always been situations in which nursing or pregnant women were exempt from fasting. Is there something so unique in this Pasak that has never been offered before?

    The letter-writer says that she ended up in a life-threatening situation as a result of her fasting. Did she consult with a Rav (or Doctor) before the fast whether she was permitted to fast, or in subsequent years did she discuss it? Not clear from the letter why she fasted in such a situation, or on whose advice.

    1. what I understood is that the fasting was considered so serious, they rejected, and at least did not look for, ways out of it


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