Texts: Fast of the Firstborn

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by R. Gil Student

Common practice today is that firstborn sons (and sometimes daughters and the fathers of young firstborn children) attend a siyum, a celebration of the completion of a program of Torah learning, in order to avoid the fast of the firstborn on erev Pesach. This is so common that last year, during the height of Coronavirus lockdown, most firstborns attended a virtual siyum rather than fast. Without criticizing current practice, I would like to point out that it was not always so. Firstborns used to fast on the eve of Pesach. (Perhaps I should note that I am a second born and my oldest child is a daughter, so this question is theoretical for me.)

A common question that arose is whether a father may eat at the meal celebrating the circumcision of his son on erev Pesach. Rav Mordechai Yaffe (17th cen., Poland; LevushOrach Chaim 470, Eliyahu Zuta 3) quotes the Chut Ha-Shani (no. 105) who rules that the immediate family and the mohel may eat but must make up the fast on another day. Rav Avraham Gombiner (17th cen., Poland; Magen Avraham 470:intro) quotes Rav Shmuel Ben Yosef (17th cen., Poland; Olas Shabbos 470:1) who quotes Rav Shlomo (Maharash) Ha-Levi (17th cen., Greece; Responsa Maharash Le-Veis Ha-Levi, no. 3) who permits the immediate family to eat at the circumcision meal but adds that one who acts strictly by fasting is praiseworthy. This responsum of Maharash Ha-Levi is included below.

I also saw that Rav Yehudah Leib Saraval (17th cen., Italy), in a responsum published in Rav Ya’akov Halperin’s (17th cen., Italy) Nachalas Ya’akov (no. 10) discusses Rav Halperin’s concern over a potential invitation to a circumcision on erev Pesach. Should he eat at the meal? Rav Saravel answers in the negative. Who is forcing him to eat at every mitzvah meal? This responsum is included below. (I would counter that the Gemara (Pesachim 113b) lists among the seven who are excommunicated from heaven someone who does not eat at a mitzvah meal, which Rashbam (ad loc., s.v. be-chaburas) offers a wedding and circumcision meal as examples, and Tosafos (Pesachim 114a s.v. ve-ein) identify solely as a circumcision meal.)

If there is such uncertainty and controversy among halakhic authorities about eating at a circumcision, I can only imagine what they would have said about someone attending a siyum on Torah that someone else learned in order to completely avoid the fast. But that was then. Times are different now. (And this year the fast is pushed earlier, so it is even more different.)

Responsa Maharash Le-Veis Ha-Levi, no. 3

Responsa Nachalas Ya’akov (appended to the 2014 edition of Responsa Maharam Padua), no. 10

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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