Five Pillars Week: Ramadan Open Phones

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

An Indian Muslim man and child break their fast on the first day of Ramadan at Jama Masjid mosque in New Delhi on August 12, 2010. An Indian Muslim man and child break their fast on the first day of Ramadan at Jama Masjid mosque in New Delhi on August 12, 2010. (Getty Images)

It's Five Pillars of Islam week on The Brian Lehrer Show. Every day this week, we're hosting an interfaith conversation based around the Five Pillars: Shahadah (faith), Salat (prayer), Sawm (Ramadan), Zakat (charity) and Hajj (pilgrimage). Today: we open the phones to discuss fasting for Ramadan or any other religious practice. Call 212-433-9692 or post a comment here.

Comments [18]

(continued from previous post)

[1] Exactly what constitutes "dawn" and "nightfall", in this context, is the subject of extensive discussion and debate in the Talmud and subsequent halakhic literature to this day.

The most comprehensive and reliable site I know of on the web for looking-up these as well as other daily halakhic times (such as for various prayers) is
which also contains some explanations.

For what it's worth, as far as I am concerned, halakhic dawn is when the sun is 16.1 degrees below the earth's horizon. (In the NYC area, this ranges from as little as roughly 81 minutes before sunrise, at the equinox, to as much as roughly 110 minutes around the summer solstice.)

(Note that even from a /secular/ perspective, neither "dawn" nor "nightfall"/"end of twilight" are /absolute/, /objective/ phenomena but, rather, entirely /relative/ and often /subjective/. Astronomers recognize three separate values for both dawn as well as (end of) twilight, respectively, measured in the angle of the sun relative to the earth's horizon: "civil": -6 deg., "nautical": -12 deg. and "astronomical": - 18 deg. Of these, "astronomical", which is defined as the first (dawn) or last (twilight) moment that any light from the sun is present in the sky, may be the only that corresponds an /absolute/, completely /objective/ phenomenon.)

[2] There are some communities who have a tradition of exempting /all/ females from the "minor" rabbinical fasts. But this is far from a majority view.

Jul. 21 2013 11:46 PM

Amy from Manhattan wrote (Jul. 17 2013 12:17 PM),

"Judaism has 4 daytime-only fasts (until nightfall rather than sundown),"


These fasts begin at "dawn"[1] and, as you pointed-out end at "nightfall"[1].

In contrast, Yom Kippur and Tisha b'Av, follow the order of the Sabbath and festivals in beginning /no later than/ sundown and ending with "nightfall" (or end of twilight) /the following day/[1]. (A total duration of between roughly twenty-five and twenty-six hours; customs vary regarding the exact times for beginning, and especially, /ending/ the Sabbath, or a festival or fast day.[1])

Yom Kippur, the only fast commanded in the /Torah/, is the most stringent: one must fast unless doing so would put one's actual life in danger. All of the other four fasts are /rabbinically/ ordained. Of these, Tisha b'Av is the most important, with a status /almost/ as stringent as Yom Kippur. The remaining four are considerably more lenient with regard to those who find fasting difficult. (As always, any practical questions that may arise should be addressed to a competent halakhic authority.)

"& you can eat not only if you do get up that early but also if you meant to but didn't manage to get up early enough."

I have no idea where you could have gotten that idea from but I'm afraid that it is simply incorrect. At "dawn"[1], it becomes forbidden to eat or drink anything, whether one is ready or not and regardless of whether one had /intended/ to wake-up earlier than that or not.

All males from the age of thirteen and all females[2] from the age of twelve, whose health allows them, are obligated in fasting.


Jul. 21 2013 11:44 PM
Larry from New York City

The Buddhist concept of generosity is described in this 3 minute video from New York
Insight Meditation Center -

Jul. 18 2013 11:03 AM
Zainab from Bayonne, NJ

Fasting also gives a prespective of the poor and the needy all around the world. It give first hand experience of what hunger truly means. Gives us a chance to thank for all the blessings, we take for granted that we are honored with, without even asking for. Believe it or not fasting in the Holy month of Ramdan is totaly a different experience than fasting in any other time of the year. We welcome the month of Ramadan as an honored guest with respect love and thankfulness.

Jul. 17 2013 11:42 PM
Sandy from Elizabeth, NJ

Hi Brian,
I've been listening to your show since it was called "On the Line..." Anyway, very interesting segment on FASTING. One thing, it may be a bit inappropriate to refer to eating after a day of fasting as "PIGGING OUT". I imagine Muslims (and Jews) might take offense to that!

Jul. 17 2013 12:54 PM
Amy from Manhattan

One time the only chance I had to get together w/my (nonobservant) brother & our aunt happened to fall on Tish'a b-Av. I didn't have a problem going to a restaurant to spend time w/them while they ate, & they chose a Turkish restaurant. I got into an interesting conversation w/the waiter, a Muslim, when I explained why I wasn't ordering anything, & we compared fasting in Judaism & Islam.

One thing we didn't mention was what Zahid brings up, about waking up early to eat before sunrise. Judaism has 4 daytime-only fasts (until nightfall rather than sundown), & you can eat not only if you do get up that early but also if you meant to but didn't manage to get up early enough. (Not being a morning person, I haven't tried this.)

As for what helps in preparing for a fast, drinking extra fluids the day or 2 before is very helpful, esp. in the 2 full-day fasts.

Jul. 17 2013 12:17 PM
The Truth from Becky

BRIAN, it is about self are NOT focusing on the hunger while in prayer...

Jul. 17 2013 11:58 AM
Cynthia from East Harlem

Fasting is a discipline and a focus aid - I am an Orthodox Christian and as Halid (sorry if the I got the name wrong) just said it something that is not advertised or "mourned" - Yes there are food restrictions but in the day and age a vegitarian and/or vegan diet which our fasts encompass is not a hard thing to do. But as St John's Chrysostom said - more important is what comes out of the mouth than what goes in. I emphasize this to my Sunday School class (12 yr olds) who may not at that age do a "strict" fast, so that they how you act and speak to others is just as important. Fasting with out prayer and deeds does not have the same meaning or significance. Its supposed to be a humble experience and a journey and we are all at different points in the journey. I should add that one should not be fasting to the detrament of ones health.

Jul. 17 2013 11:54 AM
Ed from Larchmont

We fast also to imitate Jesus, who fasted and prayed for forty days in the desert at the start of his ministry. This is focused on during Lent each year.

Jul. 17 2013 11:50 AM
carolita from nyc

Since I eat out so often during the week, I do a sort of light fasting on the weekend: I just eat much less, eat more fruit than usual, and drink a lot of liquid (not alcohol). I feel like it cleans me, after lord knows what was in the stuff I bought all week.

Jul. 17 2013 11:48 AM
Sara from Bushwick

By happenstance I began a seven day fast on the first day of Ramadan. Today is my first day back to (small amounts) of solid food. I feel balanced, revitalized, and generally healthier. I tend toward the agnostic but there is an undeniable strong element of spirituality to any fast. Bonus = in this heat I haven't felt as hot, yesterday I was doing errands at midday in midtown and barely broke a sweat!

Jul. 17 2013 11:47 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Fasting leads to self-control and to detachment.

Jul. 17 2013 11:44 AM
John A

Needing is weakness. Setting it aside is strength. Fasting is strength training.
It may be distracting for me to try to add this, but weight loss after winter (Lent) or in hot summer months (Ramadan) is useful for temperature regulation too.
Dethrone "Taste is king". // "(Dis)Obey your thirst", (if it is for sugar)

Jul. 17 2013 11:12 AM
Reem from Oradell

Since the Islamic calendar is lunar, the month of Ramadan moves each year about 11 days earlier. So the entire cycle goes through about every 30 years or so. That means the last time Ramadan was in the summer, my parents were my age! And in the future, I'll be in my 50s when Ramadan comes once again in the summer.

Jul. 17 2013 10:53 AM
Hina M. from Fort Lee

Muslims fast with not only their stomachs, but with our minds, limbs, ears and tongue. For example, the fasting of the tongue--refraining from vain speech, backbiting, slander (all of which are things that God dislikes)--maintains the integrity of the stomach's fast.
Fasting teaches a person discipline, and by stopping ourselves from doing what God dislikes, we learn how to be conscious of God's omnipresence.

Jul. 17 2013 10:26 AM
Zahid from Brooklyn

There is a tradition of waking up people in the morning so they can eat before starting their fast.
Tradition is kept alive in Brooklyn by a Pakistani Drummer.

Jul. 17 2013 08:46 AM
M from larchmont from Larchmont

What timing. The Yelp Manhattan email blast this week is on where to find the best Halal Cart lunch. "This week, we eat first and ask questions last at some of the borough's finest roadside retreats". I guess they are not asking whether a sincere "Ramadan Mubarak" to the cart operator is in order.

Jul. 17 2013 07:04 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Fasting is a spiritual discipline, it is really the power behind prayer. One of the most renowned saints of the 20th century, St. Therese of Lisieux, died at 24 as a cloistered Carmelite nun. In her autobiography she wrote 'Prayer and fasting ... these are the two weapons God has given me'.

Fasting is the main reason behind priestly celibacy - a discipline good for the soul and fruitful. Of course fasting can refer to things other than food.

In the N.T. the clearest statement about fasting is in Mark 9:28-29 when the disciples ask Jesus: "Afterward, when Jesus was alone in the house with his disciples, they asked him, "Why couldn't we cast out that evil spirit? And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting."

Jul. 17 2013 05:38 AM

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