What's the Deal with Asara b'Tevet?

So as Jewish educators, we all know about the major fast days on the Jewish calendar. Yom Kippur gets top billing, followed by Tisha b’Av, particularly for those who work in the camping world. After that, it depends - some of us are aware of the more minor fast days, others are hit are miss, and others are scratching their heads already trying to remember when the others pop up on the calendar. I’m hit or miss - I always remember in theory, but sometimes [such as this week] I come to the realization that I may or may not have planned a lunch meeting on a fast day by accident. Oops.

I’m assuming that I’m not the only one out there who doesn’t have the 10th of Tevet at the forefront of my Jewish consciousness, so I wanted to delve into it a little bit and to think about how we as Jewish educators can make this relatively minor remembrance day meaningful in a contemporary context. First, a quick refresher on the background of the day:

  • The 10th of Tevet is a minor fast day, which lasts from dawn to dusk (meaning there’s no erev chag for this one).

  • It commemorates the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar II - it’s the anniversary of the date when the siege that ultimately resulted in the destruction of the First Temple began.

  • In modern times, the 10th of Tevet has been designated as the general yartzeit [memorial] day for those who died in the Holocaust whose actual dates of death are unknown.

  • As a minor fast day, those who observe are only restricted in their eating - none of the other mourning practices associated with fast days, such as refraining from bathing, need to be observed.

So as Jewish educators, how do we help our students relate to Asara b’Tevet?

My answer is about process and incrementalism. There are four fast dates on the Jewish calendar [three minor days + Tisha b’Av] devoted to commemorating the destruction of the Temple and the siege of Jerusalem. Each one marks a different stage in the process of the ultimate destruction, and the 10th of Tevet is the first step. While the initial siege was tragic, it wasn’t the inevitable end of Jerusalem, or the Temple, or Jewish civilization. At that stage, there was still time to redirect the course of history, and to achieve various outcomes. So keeping that in mind, we can use this day as a trigger to consider the current moment where we’re at in history, as related to any topic [the environment, politics, Jewish unity, etc.], and to think about how we can course correct while we still have the gift of time. It’s way too easy, especially with the rhetoric of the day, to subscribe to fatalistic inevitabilities. So how can we redirect the narrative, and use this remembrance of a first stage to try to do better this time around?

Do you teach Asara b’Tevet to your students? How do you make it meaningful for them?