Child appropriate activities for fast days - Matan - The Sadie Rennert

Child appropriate activities for fast days Rabbanit Debbie Zimmerman

Av 5783 | July 2023

Topic : Fast Days , Shayla ,


Note from Shayla: Lately we’ve received a few questions regarding what kind of activities are appropriate for children on fast days in general and Tisha B’Av in particular.[1] Here are some of the questions:

  1. Can I take my daughter (almost 3) horseback-riding on the 17th of Tammuz if that’s the only opportunity we will have this summer?
  2. On summer afternoons my kids usually play in the wading pool, can they still play on Tisha B’Av?
  3. Can I bathe my younger children before they go to bed on Tisha B’Av?
  4. Should I be careful to choose an appropriate movie for my four-year-old to watch on Tisha B’Av (so I can fast more easily)?


“On one foot”

There is a rabbinic mitzvah of chinukh, to educate children in the ways of Torah and mitzvot. Halakhic consensus is that there is no chinukh for mourning if a child loses a close relative. There’s a bit more discussion regarding communal morning on fast days.

Until the age of chinukh, in this case somewhere between six and nine, depending on the child, children can’t understand mourning and therefore children do not have to abstain from fun activities, even on Tisha B’Av. At this age children can certainly play in a pool and bathe before bed, as long as these activities are not unduly distracting for an adult’s mourning and observance of Tisha B’Av.

Not only are children not obligated in mourning, some halakhic authorities teach that children should not be made to feel sad before the age of mitzvot. Therefore, there is certainly no reason to expose children, and certainly not young children, to sad stories or movies. Focus instead on positive messages – kindness, justice, social action, following the Torah, the value of the Temple, etc. Older children can learn about Jewish history. Teach children about what we’re working toward and how we can get there. There is enough age-appropriate content  encouraging these values to keep children occupied on Tisha B’Av.

On minor fast days there are no limitations on a child’s activities. Horseback riding, the pool, etc. are all fine.

In depth

Why do we fast?

Before exploring appropriate fast day activities it’s important to understand why we fast on the four fast days commemorating destruction – of the Temples, the Jewish state, and more.[2] On a simple level, just as we celebrate festivals commemorating joyous events such as the exodus from Egypt, we also mourn these tragedies. When we mourn, just as when we celebrate, we connect ourselves with Jewish people throughout space and time, affirming our shared history, traditions, and mission. As the gemara teaches, “All those who mourn Jerusalem will merit to see its joy.”[3]

The prophets explain that the fast is a means to an end, meant to facilitate repentance.[4] Rambam teaches that the history of the Jewish people, our successes and failures, reverberate through history and affect us to this day.[5] Rav Soloveitchik calls this a “unitive time consciousness.”[6] It seems that if we still suffer from the effects of past tragedies, it’s because we are still guilty of the same mistakes. The fasts are meant to awaken our consciousness and help us along the path to teshuva. We understand that our actions have the power to bring us closer to God and closer to a better world – one with a unified Jewish people, security in the Land of Israel, and universal recognition of God’s dominion. A world of justice and righteousness.

Though few question why we eat festive meals on Shabbat and holidays, many question why we must abstain from food on fast days. There are two different ways to understand why fasting accompanies the repentance and mourning of these days. Fasting can be a physical manifestation of an emotional response to trauma, as we see in Megilat Esther when the Jewish people hear of Achashverosh’s decree.[7] Conversely, for those that do not feel this deep emotional pain, the physical act of fasting may encourage the appropriate thoughts and feelings.[8] The physical act of self-sacrifice during a fast evokes the Temple sacrifices; we have sacrificed our own flesh and blood to God.[9] A fast without repentance is meaningless; the action of fasting can help lead us to a mindset of repentance which can bring about atonement.

Basic fast day obligations – “Minor” fasts and Tisha B’Av

Aside from the biblically mandated fast on Yom Kippur, the sages describe two types of fast days. A ta’anit tzibur, a public or communal fast, has similar laws to Yom Kippur. The fast begins at sundown and ends the following night. In addition to eating and drinking – bathing, anointing, wearing leather shoes, and marital relations are also forbidden. Working is discouraged or forbidden, although there is no prohibition of melakha (the 39 types of creative work that are prohibited on Shabbat, Yom Kippur, and – with small exceptions – festivals). A ta’anit yakhid, individual fast, begins at dawn and ends at nightfall. Only eating and drinking are prohibited.[10]

Halakhic consensus is that Tisha Be-Av is a ta’anit tzibur established by the prophets. Due to the scale and severity of the tragedies that happened on that day there is an obligation to fast until we live in a time of peace and the Temple is established, when it will become a festival along with the three minor fasts. This obligation is generally considered more serious than other rabbinic obligations, as it is mentioned in the Prophets.[11]

The three minor fasts – the 10th of Tevet, 17th of Tammuz, and Tzom Gedalia on the 3rd of Tishrei – have a different status and are significantly more lenient.[12] According to Tosafot these days now have the status of a ta’anit yachid.[13] Ramban, however, maintained that they were accepted as ta’aniyot tzibur and bathing and the like should be prohibited, but in practice the custom is to observe them according to the more relaxed rules of a ta’anit yachid.[14]

Appropriate fast day behavior

As we have seen, the essence of these fasts seems to be repentance. Consequently, parallel to the injunction against eating and drinking (unless one is exempt), fast days should be filled with introspection, repentance, and prayer – particularly communal, but individual as well. The three minor fasts all have special Torah readings and added prayers of selikhot to facilitate these processes. Aside from this time there are no technical prohibitions against work or entertainment, although those who are able should focus whatever time they can on repentance.

Tisha B’Av is inherently different. The day is a culmination of a period of mourning, and there are specific laws that prohibit activities that bring joy, such as Torah study, or distractions, such as work. There are also no selikhot on Tisha B’Av; instead the morning is meant to be spent reciting kinnot, lamentations, over the destruction of the Temples and other calamities. These traditions indicate that the fast of Tisha B’Av is less concerned with repentance and more focused on mourning. On one level mourning can facilitate our teshuva. Many tales of our destruction begin with Jews who refuse to acknowledge they have strayed from the right path. But mourning also has independent value. We must do the emotional work, take time to focus on what is broken and what is lacking, and then grieve these losses.[15]

Chinukh for mourning

In a related teshuva we discussed whether parents are obligated to teach their children how to mourn. It’s generally accepted that there’s no chinukh (education) for private mourning when a relative dies, but there’s some dispute if this applies to the communal mourning of Bein HaMetzarim and fast days.

Until the age of six or seven children are almost completely unable to understand mourning and therefore there is no obligation of chinukh to observe the laws and customs of Bein HaMetzarim. Even older children who have not reached the age of mitzvot (twelve for girls, thirteen for boys) may not really be able to grasp the idea. But even if we rule there is no mitzvah of chinukh for mourning, there is still a mitzvah of chinukh for yirat HaShem (revering God) to be part of the Jewish people, mourn with them, and understand our history.[16]

Therefore, as children mature parents should introduce them to these concepts in an age appropriate manner. This involves slowly introducing customs of mourning, careful to make sure the child does not resent them. Additionally, children should be taught the importance of Jewish unity and Ahavat Chinam (loving each other even without a reason) and what we are missing since the destruction of the Temples and the exiles. Instead of focusing on prohibitions this is a good time to focus on acts of kindness and Torah study.

What are appropriate Tisha B’Av activities for children?

Activities for younger children

Up until age six or seven, before the age of chinukh, there are no restrictions on activities on Tisha B’Av. Children may go in a wading pool if it is a hot day, they can watch movies, and even listen to music. Some of these activities may make it easier for those caring for the child to observe Tisha B’Av, but if they make it more difficult or distract from the mourning, alternatives should be found.[17]

Activities for children at the age of chinukh

Above age six or seven children can still do interesting and enjoyable activities. They are not obligated to limit distractions from mourning or to feel sad, but they should be taught to join the community in the solemnity of the day.

Chinukh should start with positive messages which can be incorporated into activities focused on kindness – like making cards or food for people in need of some affection, or on education – like building a Temple out of Lego or interviewing people from different Jewish backgrounds to learn about their stories. If a child is going to watch movies or tv shows, content for younger children should focus on positive messages of kindness; older children can also be introduced to appropriate historical or current events that hold their attention.

Bathing and washing

There is no prohibition against washing off dirt or germs, even for adults. Bathing children who have not reached the age of chinukh (somewhere between age six and nine depending on the child) is absolutely permitted, but since it may distract the adult from their mourning it’s best to avoid it when possible. On erev Tisha B’Av it’s preferable to bathe children before the fast begins. If a child’s bedtime is around when the fast is over, there is no reason to skip bathtime or showers if a child is dirty or they bathe nightly as part of their routine.

It’s preferable that children who understand the concept of mourning and are aware that adults do not bathe on Tisha B’Av also delay their showers until after the fast. But in cases of need, such as a child who is especially dirty or who needs their bedtime routine, there’s room to be lenient.

Teshuva – Repentance

As we saw, fast days in general, as well as the mourning on Tisha B’Av is also related to teshuva. On one hand, children are not obligated in mitzvot and therefore technically not obligated to do teshuva. On the other, as children mature they should be taught to take responsibility for their actions, that actions have repercussions, and that we must admit our mistakes and ask for forgiveness or try to repair our misdeeds – all key elements of teshuva.

Parents should consider which aspects of teshuva might be relevant to teach older children. If parents do not think that focusing on mistakes is appropriate for their child, one can focus on growing mitzvah observance and social action instead. Chinukh starts around age six, but children are far from ready to take collective responsibility for the sins of a nation at that time. Even twelve or thirteen is difficult. But there are many appropriate rabbinic stories and lessons that can be taught at this time.

Torah study

Shulkhan Arukh rules that children do not study Torah on Tisha B’Av.[18] Taz explains that this is not because children are obligated in mourning, since children don’t experience joy when they study Torah; the reason they abstain from learning on Tisha B’Av is because teaching children Torah makes their teacher happy.[19] Alternatively, Magen Avraham rules that there are some aspects of chinukh for children on Tisha B’Av; a child who understands what they read should study the sad stories of the destruction.

This should be done with care; even older children may not be ready for some of the traumatic stories of the pain and suffering of the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, or the many horrors of the exile. Still, the Torah is rich and there is appropriate content for children of all ages to learn and discuss. Younger children can begin with stories that relate to the reasons for the destruction – such as the tale of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, or rabbinic stories that encourage kindness and accepting others even if they are different – such as Rabbi Elazar and the mekhuar (ugly man).[20]

At what age should children begin fasting?

Based on the gemara in Yoma, Rambam rules that around the age of nine or ten children should fast on Yom Kippur for a few hours, eating a bit later than usual. This increases according to the child’s strength. At age eleven (or twelve) there is a rabbinic obligation to fast the entire day.[21] Tur rules accordingly, and lists which Yom Kippur restrictions apply to children of different ages. Neither of them mention children when discussing the laws of Tisha B’Av or other minor fasts. Shulkhan Arukh and Rema also do not mention children.[22]

Mishna Berura explicitly states that there is no obligation to teach them to fast in mourning, even for a few hours, but that children who are able to understand mourning should be taught to limit  themselves to basic foods on these fasts to mourn with the community.[23]


We rule there is no chinukh for mourning, but when it is age appropriate there is chinukh to join the community – even when it is sad. Younger children who can’t comprehend mourning or history do not need to observe any traditions of mourning and may act as usual on all rabbinic fast days, including Tisha B’Av. Until they are bar or bat mitzvah children do not need to learn to fast on these days, but when they are older they should limit themselves to basic foods to reflect the mood of the day.

Starting around age six or seven children are still too young to understand mourning, but it’s a good time to begin incorporating some age-appropriate, positive educational messages into their activities. Even though there is no need to encourage them to be sad or expose them to inappropriate or traumatic ideas, they should gradually increase their observance of some of the traditions of mourning so they learn how to be part of a community.


[1] Four fast days were enacted after the destruction of the First Temple and subsequent exile. With some changes, these fasts now commemorate the process of the destruction and exile of both Temples along with other tragedies: 10th of Tevet, 17th of Tammuz, 9th of Av (Tisha B’Av), and 3rd of Tishrei (Tzom Gedalia). The nature of these days will be discussed – as days of repentance, mourning, or both.

Ta’anit Esther, the 13th of Adar, was enacted later and is not considered a day of mourning. (Rambam Hilkhot Taaniyot 5:5; Shulkhan Arukh and Rema OC 586:2)
Yom Kippur, the only Torah mandated fast, it is not a day of mourning.

[2] See note 1.

[3] TB Ta’anit 30b

[4] Yishayahu 58:3-9; Zekharya chapters 7-8. Mishna Berura 549:1

[5] Hilkhot Ta’aniyot 5:1

[6] Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “Avelut Yeshanah and Avelut Chadashah: Historical and Individual Mourning,”

[7] Esther 4:1-2, 15-16;

[8] A similar idea can be found in Sefer HaChinukh when he discusses the purpose of sin-offerings (Mitzvah 95).

“The plain meaning of sacrifices… for we have established that the essential [feelings of] our hearts follow our actions. Therefore when a person since his heart cannot be properly purified by speech alone, by turning to the wall and saying “i have sinned and I won’t do it again,” but he must do a great action [to overcome] the matter of his sin, to take of his works and bother to bring them to the Temple to the Cohen and all the actions that are written concerning sin-offerings. Through this great undertaking the evil of the sin will be ingrained in his heart and he will avoid it the next time.”

[9] On fast days Rav Sheshet would say a prayer to convey that our fasts are in place of sacrifices (Berachot 17a). “When Rav Sheshet would sit in fast, he would say this after he prayed: Master of worlds, it is revealed before you, that in the time when the Temple was standing a person would sin and bring a korban, and all that would be offered is its fat and blood and the person would be atoned for; and now, I sat fasting, and my fat and blood were lessened. May it be Your will that my fat and blood that has been lessened will be as if I had offered it before upon the altar, and you will be satisfied by me.”

[10] Tosefta Ta’anit Chapter 2

[11] Zekharya 7:4-19; Tosefta Sota (Lieberman) 6:10; Mishna Ta’anit 4:6; Shulkhan Arukh OC 549-551

[12] TB Rosh HaShana 18b; Tur and Shulkhan Arukh OC 550:1.

In times where Jews are persecuted, anywhere in the world, all Jewish adults have a prophetic obligation to fast. In neutral times, which many argue applies to our times, the people were allowed to decide whether to fast. At some point the Jewish people accepted a blanket obligation to fast on these days that did not include the night before and prohibited only eating and drinking.

[13] Tosafot Megila 5 “rachatz b’karona shel Tzipori”, Tosafot Ta’anit 13a “v’kol shehu mishum ta’anug”

[14] Torat Ha’Adam Sha’ar Ha’Evel, Inyan Aveilut Yesheina

[15] It’s important to note that there are times when people are exempt from mourning or should limit it and only observe the bare minimum of mourning, such as someone in a particularly precarious emotional state. When in doubt it’s preferable to consult a halakhic authority.

[16] Mishna Berura 550:4; Arukh HaShulkhan 551:1

[17] Based on the opinion of Taz in the section on Torah study.

[18] 554:1

[19] See Taz ad loc. 1

[20] TB Gittin 55b, Taanit 20a.

[21] Yoma 82a, Mishneh Torah Hilkhot Shvitat Asor 2:10. Commentaries such as Raavad and Lekhem Mishneh note that the gemara indicates that girls fast at age eleven and boys at twelve. Some posit it’s possible Rambam indeed felt boys should fast from age eleven in case they reached physical majority (based on certain signs of puberty) in their 13th year (between the age of twelve and thirteen).

[22] One aspect of the mitzvah of chinukh is that a parent may not actively provide children with an opportunity to violate a prohibition. Mishna Berura states that the prohibition against feeding children prohibited food is limited to prohibited foods such as non-kosher meat. It does not extend to foods that are generally permitted but that are prohibited due to an external reason, such as one has not made kiddush on Shabbat. Or eating on a fast day, such as in our case.

[23] OC 550

Rabbanit Debbie Zimmerman Debbie Zimmerman graduated from the first cohort of Hilkhata – Matan’s Advanced Halakhic Institute and is a Halakhic Responder. She is a multi-disciplinary Jewish educator, with over a decade of experience in adolescent and adult education. After completing a BA in Social Work, Debbie studied Tanakh in the Master’s Program for Bible in Matan and Talmud in Beit Morasha.

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