Taanit, Chapter Two, Mishnah Six

 

Introduction

The priests were divided into twenty-four guards called “mishmarot.”  Each guard served in the Temple for one week.  Each guard was divided into subsections by the father’s house, and on each day a different father’s house would serve in the Temple.  Our mishnah deals with how these guards and father’s houses would act on fast days decreed because of rain.

 

Mishnah Six

1)      On the first three fasts the men of the guard fast but do not complete their fast, and the men of the father’s house do not fast at all.

a)      On the second three fasts the men of the guard fast and complete their fast and the men of the father’s house fast but do not complete their fast.

b)      On the last seven both fast and complete their fast, the words of Rabbi Joshua.

2)      The sages say: on the first three fasts neither fast at all.

a)      On the second three, the men of the guard fast but do not complete their fast, and the men of the father’s house do not fast at all.

b)      On the last seven, the men of the guard fast and complete their fast and the men of the father’s house fast but do not complete their fast.

 

Explanation

Section one:  The fasts are divided into three sets, each set of fasts more serious than the previous one (see above 1:5).  The general principle in the mishnah is clear.  The “men of the guard” fast less than normal people. Thus during the first three fasts, while other people complete their fast, meaning they fast until the end of the day, the men of the guard end their fast early.  The reason is that since they are serving in the Temple, the day is somewhat of a personal holiday for them.  However, according to Rabbi Joshua, by the second set of fasts they are already acting like all other people.

The “men of the father’s house” are those who are actually serving in the Temple on that day. Since they are actually working, it is an even greater day of celebration for them. To denote this, they don’t fast at all during the first three fasts, they semi-fast during the second set and only begin to fully fast during the last seven fasts.

Section two: The sages agree with the general principles of Rabbi Joshua, they are just more lenient than he is at every stage.  For instance, on the first three fasts, even the men of the guard don’t fast at all.  And even on the last seven, the men of the father’s house don’t fully fast.  Assumedly, the other sages hold that serving in the Temple is a greater celebration than Rabbi Joshua thinks.    

 

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