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Taanis Bechorim

Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Alt, 6/5/2020

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Fascinating InsightsThe Sefer (in English)

Taanis Bechorim

We know that on Erev Pesach, there is a Taanis Bechorim[1] because the Jewish firstborns were saved from Makkas Bechoros .[2]  


1) The Beer Yosef[3] is bothered why a Bechor nowadays fasts since it should be the descendants of those Bechorim who fast, not other Bechorim who descended from people who werent Bechorim at the time of Makkas Bechoros? Future Bechorim wouldnt have been affected by the fact that the Bechorim were spared unless their ancestors were Bechorim at the time of Makkas Bechoros. Furthermore, those who are descendants of those Bechorim may not be fasting (if they are not Bechorim)?

2) If the purpose of a fast is to publicize the miracle of the firstborns being saved, then why do we fast? It should be done in a happy way, just as we see with other miracles which are commemorated with a Seuda.

3) R Shlomo Zalman Aurbach asks that if we fast because the Jewish firstborns were saved from Makkas Bechoros, then why do we fast on Erev Pesach, the 14th of Nissan? Makkas Bechoros occurred on the 15th of Nissan, the first night of Pesach.[4]


Taanis Bechorim is not to publicize the miracle of being saved rather its a commemoration (). This is just like we see with Taanis Esther where we fast as it is a commemoration to the original fastsince they fasted, we fast. The Zichron Yehuda[5] says the same is by Taanis Bechorim as the Jewish Bechorim by Makkas Bechoros fasted because they knew the Bechorim were in danger. That is, despite a divine guarantee of safety against Makkas Bechoros. This is because in a time of trouble, one needs heavenly mercy.[6]     


The Jewish firstborns surely fasted to be saved, although they were promised since they needed heavenly mercy. Rabbeinu Yonah[7] writes that when Hashem was ready to destroy Mitzrayim, the Jews were in fear and davened to Hashem that He should fulfill what He saidthat the plague of Makkas Bechoros not affect thembecause the way of Tzadikim is not to be confident with their righteousness, because . If the Bechorim davened, then they fasted, as the two go together as in , the matter of the fasts and their lamentations.[8] Therefore, we too today fast as a commemoration to the firstborns fasting in Mitzrayim.[9] Consequently, we dont make it a Simcha rather a fast since that is what it is a commemoration for. With this we can explain why Taanis Bechorim is on the 14th although Makkas Bechoros was on the 15th at nightbecause the Jews fasted on the 14th

Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R Mordechai Friedlander Ztzl for close to five years. He received Semicha from R Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

[1] Can a Bechor eat at a Seudas Bris that takes place on Erev Pesach? The Magen Avraham (Orach Chaim, 470, s.v. ) in the name of the Maharash Halevi (Orach Chaim 3) says that a Bechor can eat at the Seudas Bris but one who is stringent . The Magen Avraham then says that in our countries, we are accustomed to fast even if there is a Bris. The Mishna Brura (470:10) writes that eating at a Bris on Erev Pesach would require Hataras Nedarim, annulling of a vow (in places where they are stringent), since a Minhag is considered like a vowexcept for the Mohel, Sandek and father of the son who can eat without Hataras Nedarim. However, even they must compensate for the fast after Pesach. We are accustomed today to be lenient and eat also by a Seudas Siyum Mesachta and even if the Bechor himself didnt learn the Mesachta.

[2] Tur, Orach Chaim, 470. The Meiri (1249-1315) writes (Pesachim 107, s.v. ") that the Talmud Yerushalmi and Mesachta Sofrim require Bechorim to fast on Erev Pesach. This is how they are accustomed in some places in France and Germany but its not necessary at all. The Noda BYehuda of Prague (1713-1793) was very particular that one not make a Siyum on Erev Pesach to get out of the firstborn fast. The Beis Din of Prague even posted a sign saying from the Beis Din that one who makes a Siyum on Erev Pesach to break the firstborn fast is not acting in accordance with the sages. R Yehoshua Aharon Zvi Weinberger known as the Maharitz writes that he fasted for his firstborn son for 13 yearsuntil he was Bar Mitzvaand he wasnt lenient to rely on a Siyum Mesachta. He adds that his Rebbe, the Chassam Sofer (1762-1839), fasted all his life because he himself was a Bechor. However, when the Chassam Sofer was old and weak, in order to eat, he waited for a Bris because he was a Mohel.

[3] This was authored by R Yosef Salant who lived from 1885 until 1981.

[4] Cited in Sefer Taanis Bechorim, p. 22. The reason we commemorate it on the 14th cant merely be because the 15th is Yom Tov causing them to move it to the 14th because then the fast should have been moved to the 13th, since the 14th of Nissan is also somewhat of a Yom Tov, as it is Erev Yom Tov and the day that the Korban Pesach was brought. There are even restrictions against doing various forms of Melacha on the 14th. Furthermore, when Purim is on Sunday, Taanis Esther is moved back to Thursday and not to Friday (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 686:2) and when Erev Pesach comes out on Shabbos, Taanis Bechorim is moved back to Thursday (470:2). The Aruch Hashulchan (470:4) and Mishna Brura (470:6) explain that the reason Taanis Bechorim is shifted back to Thursday instead of Friday is because since its anyway not in the proper time, it is preferable to distance it from Shabbos so that the Bechorim dont enter into Shabbos while fasting. Based on that, if Erev Pesach isnt the real time for the fast, it would seem inappropriate to reschedule the fast to Erev Pesach thereby causing the Bechorim to enter into Pesach while fasting.

[5] Zichron Yehuda, volume 1, 133. This was authored by R Yehuda Greenwald (1845-1920), who was a student of the Kesav Sofer. He became the Rav of Satmar.

[6] This can be because of (Sanhedrin 98b), where if someone sins, then the promise may be annulled.

[7] To Mesachta Brachos.

[8] Esther 9:31.

[9] See the Tur, Orach Chaim, 686. When the Tur says , it can be understood as, we fast as a commemoration to what brought the miracleTefila and fastingand not that it is to publicize the miracle. 

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