Fast of First-Born

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The fast on 14 Nisan, the day before Passover. The earliest reference to the first-born fasting on the eve of Passover is in the post-Talmudic tractate Soferim (ch. 21). This fast is said to commemorate the deliverance of the first-born Israelites when the Egyptian first-born were slain and is therefore unique as a fast not of mourning or penance but of thanksgiving. Traditionally, the completion of a Talmudic tractate in study is an occasion for a ‘religious meal’ in which it is a religious obligation to participate. This obligation overrides the need to fast on this day, which is an unusual fast in any event. It is consequently the well-nigh universal custom that a Talmudic scholar arranges to complete the study of a Talmudic tractate on this day after which the celebratory meal (usually just drinks and cakes) is partaken of by the first-born and this releases him from the obligation to fast.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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