Guest post by R. Asher Bush
Rabbi Asher Bush is the rav of Congregation Ahavas Yisrael in Wesley Hills, NY and is a longtime member of the faculty at Frisch Yeshiva High School. He is the author of T’shuvos Sho’el B’Shlomo and serves as the Chairman of the Va’ad Halacha of the Rabbinical Council of America.
On one hand, I hate to give a group ruling about something that is so subjective/personal in terms of health and how a person is feeling. On the other, the temperature is expected to be very high in New York City and many people think that Tisha B’Av is the same as Yom Kippur, which it is not. The standard for permitting eating on Yom Kippur is possible danger; the standard for permitting eating on Tisha B’Av is Tzaar Gadol (great distress), that may be part of other sicknesses (e.g. migraine, flu, etc.) or in some cases caused by the fasting itself.
It should be noted, that as much as going to Shul and reciting Kinos is part of making Tisha B’Av a meaningful day, if health requires staying home, then one should do so. Related to this, if resting is necessary to enable a person to fast then they should do so and refrain from other activities, including the recitation of Kinos.
Clearly, activities should be limited and staying in the Shul or home with air-conditioning is appropriate. However, if a person feels that they may faint due to the heat and merely going into a properly air-conditioned location does not help, they should drink. Particular caution should be paid by older individuals. At the same time, Rav Avigdor Nebenzhal (Yerushalayim B’Moadeha, Tshuva #14) points out that working is not a reason to permit eating, even if the work causes difficulty in fasting.
It should be mentioned that a nursing mother who will not have enough milk for her child should have small amounts of beverages to prevent this; this is true whether the shortage of milk will be on Tisha B’Av or the next day (Rav Nebenzhal, ibid., #19). Related to this matter, Rav Nebenzahl also points out that a mother caring for children should not be in a position that she needs to eat due to her responsibilities. Rather, she should be assisted in the child care.
Most importantly, if there are any questions one should never hesitate to ask one’s Rav; if a person is exempt from fasting due for reasons of health it is generally neither a Mitzvah nor meritorious for them to fast.