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2. When does the fast begin?
All fast days, whether public or private [other than Tishe Be’av and Yom Kippur], begin by Alos Hashachar/daybreak. Hence, it is permitted to eat or drink on the night of the fast, up until Alos Hashachar. [The exact time of Alos will be explain in A.] This, however, is with exception to one who went to sleep at night and woke up prior to Alos, as will be explained in B.
A. When is Alos Hashachar?
There is general dispute amongst the Poskim as to the definition of Alos/daybreak according to Halacha. Some Poskim, and calenders, rule Alos Hashachar begins 72 minutes prior to sunrise. Other Poskim, and calendars, rule Alos Hashachar begins 90 minutes prior to sunrise. Other Poskim, and calendars, rule Alos Hashachar begins two fluctuating hours prior to sunrise, and so is understood by many to be the opinion of Admur. This means that the fast begins when the sun is 26 degrees below the horizon, and does not refer to 120 Zmaniyos minutes. [Practically, those who follow the rulings of Admur, are to be stringent like all opinions, and so is the widespread Chabad custom. Thus, regarding a fast day, one is to be stringent to consider Alos Hashachar to begin approximately two fluctuating hours prior to sunrise. Accordingly, even if one was awake the entire night, or went to sleep on condition to wake up before Alos to eat/drink, he must stop eating and drinking two fluctuating hours before sunrise. Being that different calendars follow different opinions regarding the definition of Alos, it is imperative that by a fast day, one look at a calendar which shows the time of Alos in accordance to the ruling of Admur, which is 2 fluctuating hours before Alos. [The correct time according to Admur can be found in Luach Kolel Chabad, Hiskashrus, Chabad Dvar Malchus, Luach of Rav Sangwai and certain Chabad websites. The time of Alos for a fast day found on Chabad.org does not follow the above understanding of Admur.]
The fast begins from Alos Hashachar, although since there are various opinions in Poskim, and calendars, regarding the time of Alos Hashachar, one is to speak to his Rav for a final ruling of which opinion and calendar to follow. The suggested approach for those who follow the opinion of Admur, is to be stringent to stop eating and drinking starting from 120 fluctuating minutes [when the sun is 26 degrees below the horizon], and follow a calendar that uses this time.
B. One who woke up before Alos:
The above allowance to eat on the night before a fast up until the time of Alos, only applies if one remained awake throughout the night. However, if one slept a set sleep and then woke up prior to Alos, then he may not eat [anything] even if it is prior to Alos, unless he stipulated prior to going to sleep that he plans to eat after awaking before Alos. [See below for definition of a set sleep versus a temporary sleep, and the ruling according to Kaballah.]
Drinking: Some Poskim rule that just as it is forbidden to eat prior to Alos if one did not make a stipulation before going to sleep, so too, he may not drink prior to Alos if a stipulation was not made prior to going to sleep. Other Poskim, however, rule that drinking before Alos does not require a stipulation, and he may thus drink prior to Alos, even if he did not stipulate before going to sleep. [This allowance extends to any drink, and not just water. Practically, if he is not accustomed to drink in middle of the night after awakening, then it is initially proper to make a stipulation prior to going to sleep even if he only plans to drink and not to eat upon waking up before Alos. However, Bedieved, if one did not make this stipulation, then he may nevertheless drink prior to Alos even if he is not accustomed to drink in middle of the night after awakening. One who is accustomed to always drink upon waking up in middle of the night, does not need to make a stipulation at all, even initially. If one stipulated to eat upon awakening prior to Alos, then this includes also drinking, and it is not necessary to also stipulate to drink.]
A temporary sleep: The above requirement to make a stipulation before going to sleep only applies by a set sleep [i.e. Shinas Keva]. [Thus, if one slept a temporary sleep and then woke up before Alos, it is considered as if he did not sleep at all and he may thus continue to eat and drink prior to Alos, even though a stipulation was not made beforehand. Now, what is the definition of a temporary sleep, versus a set sleep? A temporary sleep is defined as one who slightly dozed off, such as during a meal, or while reading, in which case one’s consciousness is still somewhat alert, and he will thus reply if asked a question. However, one who fell into a regular deep state of sleep, is considered to have slept a set sleep even if he did not do so on his bed. Thus, if one fell asleep on the couch, then if a stipulation was not made beforehand he may not eat upon awakening prior to Alos, if he fell into a regular deep sleep. However, if one fell asleep in middle of a meal, prior to finishing it, then this matter is debated amongst the Poskim as to whether a stipulation is required beforehand.]
The Zoharic prohibition against eating before Alos: Despite the above Halachic allowance to eat before Alos of a fast day if a stipulation was made, some Poskim rule it is a grave prohibition according to Kabala to eat, prior to dawn, after awakening, throughout the entire year. This prohibition applies starting from midnight and onwards, after awakening from a standard sleep of 60 breaths. Practically, the custom of Sephardic Jewry is to be stringent. However, Ashkenazi Jewry is lenient and so is the Chabad custom. If one did not sleep that night for at least 60 breaths, then according to all, he may eat up until dawn. Likewise, some Poskim rule that if one plans to return to sleep for a second time before Alos, then this prohibition does not apply. Likewise, if one is weak or sick, he may eat prior to Alos even according to the Zohar.]
Eating within 30 minutes prior to Alos: It is forbidden throughout the year to begin a meal starting from 30 minutes prior to Alos [however, snacking is allowed]. [One may eat up until 55 grams of bread, and Mezonos, and an unlimited amount of fruit and drink.]
If one slept [even not on one’s bed, such as on one’s couch] and then woke up prior to Alos, he may not eat unless he stipulated prior to going to sleep that he plans to eat after awaking before Alos. He may however have a drink, even if he did not stipulate before going to sleep. Nevertheless, initially it is proper to stipulate before going to sleep even if one only plans to drink and not to eat. If one did not sleep a set sleep but rather slightly dozed off, it is considered as if he has not slept at all in this regard and he may thus continue eating until Alos. It is forbidden throughout the year to begin a meal starting from 30 minutes prior to Alos however, snacking is allowed. The custom of Sephardic Jewry is to be stringent throughout the year and not eat anything prior to Alos, after awakening from a set sleep.
Q&A on stipulating before going to sleep
If one went to sleep without stipulation and then ate prior to Alos, is it considered as if he broke his fast?
General Q&A on eating the night before the fast
May one eat a lot of food prior to a fast in order so he does not feel hungry?
The Poskim rule that one may not eat more than usual prior to a fast, as this defeats the entire purpose of feeling oppression on that day. Nevertheless, one who is weak natured, and needs to eat a lot more food than usual in order to have strength, may do so.
May one take a fast-easy pill [Kali Zom] in order to alleviate the fast?
This follows the same ruling as above.
May one eat meat and drink wine on the night of a fast?
Some are accustomed not to do so.
 Michaber 564:1 “By all fast days in which one eats at night, whether public or private, one may eat and drink up until Alos Hashachar.”; Braisa Taanis 12; See Michaber 550:2 “One is not required to start fasting Mibiod Yom”
 Rashal Pesachim 2a; Minchas Kohen 2:6; M”A 89:2; Levush 261 and 459; Admur in 89:1, 184:3, and 261:5; Derech Hachaim; M”B 89 in Biur Halacha “Veim”; 58 Biur Halacha “Kemo”; and chapters: 92; 163; 235; 261; 459; This opinion is based on the calculation that there are 18 minutes per Mil [as rules Terumos Hadeshen 123; Michaber 459:2; Yoreh Deah 69:6; Rama 261:1; Admur in 89:1, 184:3, and 261:5] and there are 4 Mil between Alos and Neitz [as rules Rebbe Yehuda in Pesachim 94a] Accordingly there are 72 minutes before Alos, as 18 x 4=72.
 Gr”a 459; Chok Yaakov 459:10; Chasam Sofer in glosses 89] This opinion is based on the calculation that there are 22.5 minutes per Mil [as rules Mahril in Hilchos Pesach] and there are 4 Mil between Alos and Neitz [as rules Rebbe Yehuda in Pesachim 94a] Accordingly there are 90 minutes before Alos, as 22.5 x 4=72.
 Ruling of Admur in accordance to Harav Hagaon Avraham Chaim Naah printed in Shiureiy Mikveh 37; Yagdil Torah Tzemach Tzedek 23 p. 23 [see there for a full organized summary on the subject]; See Shiureiy Tziyon 37; Yagdil Torah Tzemach Tzedek 23 p. 23; Siddur Raskin p. 625 and Miluim 27 [summary of opinions according to Admur]; Rav Sangwai in Habracha 5:162 [defends and proofs the opinion of Gra”ch Naah in Admur and that so learned the Rebbe to be the opinion of Admur]; Piskeiy Teshuvos 89:2
Rulings of Admur: Admur wrote different calculations regarding Alos Hashachar throughout the Shulchan Aruch, Siddur and Tanya. This created confusion as to Admur’s opinion as to the time of Alos Hashachar. From 89:1, 184:3, and 261:5 it is calculated that Alos Hashachar is 72 minutes before sunrise, or possibly 96 minutes. In 249:3, 459:10 and the Siddur [Seder Hachnasas Shabbos] it can be calculated that Alos Hashachar is 96 minutes or 120 minutes before sunrise. From the time of Alos mentioned in the Siddur regarding Sefiras Haomer it is possible to calculate it as 72 or 120 minutes. In Igeres Hateshuva 3 Admur extends the time of starting a fast to three hours before sunrise. The following are the opinions of Chabad Rabbanim in this matter:
Opinion of Admur according to the Gra”ch Naah-Two fluctuating hours: Rav Avraham Chaim Naah ruled that according to Admur, Alos Hashachar begins two fluctuating hours prior to sunrise. [Shiureiy Tziyon 37; Yagdil Torah Tzemach Tzedek 23 p. 23] The calculation is as follows: There are 5 Mil between Alos and Neitz [as rules Ula in Pesachim 93b]. Each Mil is 24 minutes [as rules Rambam in Pirush Hamishnayos Pesachim 3:2]. Thus 24 minutes per Mil x 5 Mil between Alos and Neitz equals 120 minutes. [This follows the ruling of Admur in 249:3; 459:10 and Siddur and so rules regarding 24 minutes per Mil: Peri Chadash Y.D. 69:26; Kitzur SHU”A 36:11. However, in 89:1 and 261:5 Admur rules that there is only 4 Mil between Alos and sunrise, hence there is only 96 minutes between Alos and sunrise. As well, although in 459:10 Admur rules that the day begins from sunrise and ends by sunset, in 89:1 he rules that it begins from Alos until nightfall. Nevertheless, the final ruling of Admur follows the ruling of the Siddur in which Admur rules like in 459:10.]
Other opinions amongst Chabad Rabbanim: See article of Rav Raskin in Siddur Miluim 27, and Rav Sangwai in Habracha, for a summary of opinions of Chabad Rabbanim regarding the time of Alos Hashachar according to Admur. The opinions vary between 120 minutes, 72 minutes, 90 minutes and 96 minutes.
Opinion of three hours before sunrise: In Tanya, Igeres Hateshuva 3, Admur writes that one may eat up to three hours before sunrise, of a penitential fast. This implies that by a fast day one is to begin fasting even before Alos, when 1:3rd of the night has entered. [See Igros Kodesh 18:557] It requires further analysis however if this applies to all fasts, or just a penitential fast. [Sefer Haminhagim p. 45] However, from Admur in Siddur by Sefiras Haomer, it is implied that one may eat on a fast day up until Alos. [Hiskashrus 424:18 footnote 113] Likewise, Rav Groner states that he heard clearly from the Rebbe that the three hours is only applicable by a penitential fast. [Hiskashrus] However in Sichos Kodesh 2:494 the Rebbe mentioned a scrupulousness to begin the fast some time before Alos Hashachar. Vetzaruch Iyun.
 Definition of fluctuating hours: This means that the hours fluctuate in the winter and summer. Some Poskim rule this means it fluctuates in terms of Zmaniyos, meaning that it depends on the amount of hours in the day. Thus in the summer, the hours will be longer [between 120-150 minutes for two hours] while in the winter they will be shorter [between 90-120 minutes for two hours]. [So rules Minchas Cohen 2:6; Rama 233; Peri Chadash 58] However the Alter Rebbe and Gr”a both rule that it follows not the amount of hours in the day but rather the degree of distance of the sun from the horizon. [Admur in Seder Hachnasas Shabbos; Gr”a in 261; See Shut Mahrshag 2:34 quoted in Piskeiy Teshuvos 89:2 footnote 59 that this is the way we rule.] Thus, those who hold that Alos is 72 minutes it ends up being in Tishrei and Nissan 16.1 degrees from the horizon and the amount of time it takes the sun to travel to the horizon fluctuates between winter and summer. [See Piskeiy Teshuvos 89:2] According to Admur however who holds of 120 minutes, this would be when the sun is 26 degrees below the horizon.
Other opinions: Some Poskim rule we always measure the hours as set hours and hence there will always be only 120:90:72 minutes between Alos and sunrise at all times. [Admur 89:1; Birkeiy Yosef 261:1; Peri Megadim 261 A”A 9; Derech Hachaim; Siddur Yaavetz; Machatzis Hashekel 235:3]
 See the previous footnote
 Shiureiy Tziyon ibid; It is important to note that there are Chabad Rabbanim who take a different approach in their understanding of the opinion of Admur, and each person is to follow his Rav. [See opinions of other Chabad Rabbanim in previous footnotes.] Those, who do not necessarily follow the rulings of Admur, should speak to his Rav for a final ruling regarding this matter, and which time, and calendar he should follow.
 Michaber 564:1
 Rama ibid; Tur ibid
 P”M 564 A”A 3
 Michaber ibid
 Rama 564:1; Tur 564; Mordechai; Hagahos Maimani; Hagahos Ashri
 The reason: As it is common to drink upon awakening in middle of the night, and hence it is considered as if one stipulated even if one did not explicitly do so. [Rama ibid]
 Beis Yosef 564 in implication of this opinion; Kaf Hachaim 564:8
Other opinions: Some Poskim rule that even according to this opinion, only water is allowed to be drunk. [Kol Bo in name of Rif]
 So learns M”B 564:6 in M”A 565:3 that even initially it is not required to stipulate if he is accustomed to drink
 M”A 564:3; Bach 564; Levush 564; Elya Raba 563:2; M”B 564:6; Kaf Hachaim 564:9
 Elya Raba 563:2; M”B 564:6; Shaar HaTziyon 564:7; Kaf Hachaim 564:10 in name of Shulchan Shlomo regarding if one is thirsty
 M”A 564:3; Elya Raba 563:2; Chayeh Adam 132:17; M”B ibid; Kaf Hachaim 564:9
 Kaf Hachaim 564:10
 Rama ibid; Tur ibid
 Taz 564:1; Beis Yosef 564; P”M 564 M”Z 1; Mamar Mordechai 564:1; M”B 564:2; Kaf Hachaim 564:5
Other opinions: See Beir Hagoleh ibid; Rabbeinu Yerucham
 Taz 564:1; Beis Yosef 564; P”M 564 M”Z 1; Mamar Mordechai 564:1; M”B 564:3; Kaf Hachaim 564:5
Other opinions: Some Poskim rule that it is only considered a set sleep if one slept on his bed. [Rabbeinu Yerucham, brought and negated in Taz ibid, Beis Yosef ibid]
 See M”B 564:3; Kaf Hachaim 564:2
 M”A 89:14 in name of Tov Haaretz, Rav Chaim Vital and Zohar 2:215; Beir Heiytiv 581:12 in name of Zohar and Kisvei Arizal; Chida in Machazik Bracha 581:5; Birkeiy Yosef 89:1 [Shiyurei Bracha] in name of Mekubbalim; Yosef Ometz 17:2; Mishnas Chassidim Chatzos 7; Or Hachama Zohar ibid; Nitzutzei Oros Zohar ibid; Kaf Hachaim 581:69; 89:28-31]
The reason: As one who eats food past midnight after awakening adds vitality to the Kelipos. [Rebbe ibid] It is however not prohibited due to the prohibition of eating prior to prayer, as this prohibition only begins from Alos. [89:5; Rebbe ibid]
Other Poskim: Some rule that even according to Kabala there is no need to refrain from eating prior to Alos. [Heishiv Moshe 6 based on Siddur Arizal of Rav Shabsi of Rashkov that Rav Chaim Vital ate before Alos; Maharil and Rama ibid]
Opinion of Shulchan Aruch Harav: In Igeres Hateshuvah chapter 3 Admur writes that one may eat prior to three hours before sunrise on a fast day. The Rebbe in Igros Hakodesh 3:75 writes that this ruling only was said regarding when the prohibition of eating prior to a fast begins and is not discussing the prohibition of the Zohar, which in certain cases is allowed. Nevertheless a proof can be brought from Admur 89:5, which omits this law of the M”A ibid brought from the Zohar, that Admur rules it is permitted.
 So is evident from M”A ibid; Beir Heiytiv ibid; and other Poskim; Igros Hakodesh 3:75
 Kaf Hachaim ibid
 Shvus Yaakov 3:41 defends the ruling of Rama; Some Poskim write that the current Ashkenazi custom is to only be lenient to allow to drink coffee or tea prior to Alos, although regarding eating food they are careful. [Shaareiy Teshuvah 581:12; M”B 581:21]
 See Igros Hakodesh 3:75 [brought in Shulchan Menachem 1:44] that so is the ruling of Admur. It is our custom to allow one to eat after Alos before Davening in order to have strength to Daven. Certainly then, one may be lenient to eat before Alos in order to have strength to Daven.
 P”M 89 A”A 14; Igros Hakodesh 3:75
 Ashel Avraham Butchach [Tinyana] 89; See there that he connects the prohibition of the Zohar to the prohibition of eating before Davening.
 Nitzutzei Oros Zohar ibid; A”A 89 in name of Shev Yaakov [brought in Igros Hakodesh ibid]
 Admur 89:5; Rama 581:2; M”B 89:27 in name of Derech Hachaim and Rav Akiva Eiger
 Piskeiy Teshuvos 564:1
 See Shevet Hakehasi 1:180; Piskeiy Teshuvos 564:2
 Kaf Hachaim 550:11; See Piskeiy Teshuvos 564:1
 Kitzur Shlah; Nehar Shalom 550:2; Elya Raba 563:1; Bigdei Yesha 564
 Seder Hayom Inyanei Bein Hametzarim; See Piskeiy Teshuvos 550:8; 564:1
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