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Ta’anit Dibbur

Question: Is there any basis for those who customarily perform a Ta’anit Dibbur (literally “a fast of speech”)? Answer: A Ta’anit Dibbur, which was established in earlier generations and many people customarily still perform today, refers to an order whereby one completely abstains from any non-Torah-related speech; for the duration of the entire day, only words of Torah and prayer emerge from the individual’s mouth. Even with regards to speaking words that one needs to say for a necessary purpose and pose no prohibition whatsoever, such as, “Please pass me the bread” and the like, one abstains from such speech as well while observing the Ta’anit Dibbur and only words of Torah and fear of Heaven are spoken on this day. We find no mention of the customary Ta’anit Dibbur in the Talmud or Rishonim at all. Although our Sages speak sternly about one who interrupts one’s Torah study for idle chat, nevertheless, the idea of the Ta’anit Dibbur whereby one does not speak any mundane words throughout the entire day is not mentioned explicitly by our Sages. Nevertheless, the great Mekubalim of the past several hundred years, among them the author of the Sefer Chemdat Yamim, speak highly of one who observes a Ta’anit Dibbur for the entire day. Indeed, he writes that in a certain way, a Ta’anit Dibbur is greater than a regular fast whereby one abstains from eating and drinking. This is especially true during this period of Shovavim (an acronym for the Parashiyot SH’emot, VA’era, B’o, BE’shalach, Y’itro, M’ishpatim) which is a time that is auspicious for the atonement of sins related to infringements of sanctity and purity. Similarly, the great Vilna Gaon writes in one of his letters published in the Sefer Alim Li’trufa that until the day one dies, one must cause one’s self to suffer, not through fasts and self-inflicted torture, but rather, through restraining one’s mouth and desires. This is true repentance, the fruit of the World to Come, and is worth more than all of the fasts and afflictions in the world. For every moment that one holds one’s tongue in this world, one merit as a result a hidden light that no angel or creation can ever imagine. Similarly, the Mishnah Berura (Chapter 571) states that when one wishes to accept a fast upon one’s self, it is better to pursue a Ta’anit Dibbur than a regular fast. In the year 5688 (1928), one of the greatest Mekubalim in Jerusalem at the time, Hagaon Harav Yitzchak Alfieh zt”l, whose virtues Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l extolled copiously, published a Sefer called Kuntres Ha’Yechieli where he quotes the words of many great Acharonim who refer to the Ta’anit Dibbur in the loftiest of terms. He writes that a Ta’anit Dibbur is equal to a tremendous number of regular fasts and through it, one achieves atonement for one’s sins. Indeed, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l also stressed the importance of the Ta’anit Dibbur. He would say that this is especially true of Kollel men who sit and toil in Torah in that they should preferably do so while immersed in a Ta’anit Dibbur. When he fell ill approximately ten years ago and his grandchildren came to visit him, Maran zt”l requested that they study Torah while observing a Ta’anit Dibbur and in this way, he was sure he would merit a speedy recovery. Nevertheless, we must point out that Maran zt”l did not approve of Kollel men who toiled in Torah to spend an entire day reading Tehillim while observing a Ta’anit Dibbur, for he said that there was nothing greater than studying the Talmud and Poskim through deep analysis; although there are specific times when Tehillim should be read, this should not be set as a standard for all Yeshivot and Kollels.


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