"Fasting" in different religions

How do different religions define “fasting”?

I know that Muslims fast during Ramadan, which means no food or drink of any kind during daylight hours (sort of). (Other prohibitions too but I’ll stick with the fastin angle here.)

A related post asks about which Christians fast for Lent, although nowadays that usually means giving up something. Originally, it probably meant something else–but what?

Catholics (are there others?) at least at one time fasted on Friday, which meant no meat, although fish didn’t count as meat.

Jews fast on one day, I don’t remember which one or what the rules are.

Are there other religious fasting occasions? And what does “fasting” mean?

To keep this in GQ and out of GD, etc., please stick to the OP and let’s not talk about why one should fast (unless it’s essential to the answer), whether one should fast, health risks, etc.

Jews fast more than one day.

The one day you are probably thinking of is Yom Kippur.

There are other fast days as well, however. These are observed by the Orthodox and a percentage of Conservative Jews. These fast days are:

Tisha B’Av - the anniversary of the day of the destruction of the Temples. Usually falls out in late July/early August
Shiva Asar B’Tamuz - the anniversary of the date that the walls of Jerusalem were breached before the destruction of the Second Temple. Occurs exactly three weeks before Tisha B’Av.
Tzom G’daliah - commemerating the assasination of Gedaliah, the governor of the Jewish community that was left after Nebuchadnezzar exiled most of Judah. Falls out the day after Rosh HaShannah.
Asara B’Teves - the anniversary of the date that the seige of Jerusalem began. Usually falls out in January.
Ta’anis Esther - the only fast (aside from Yom Kippur which has no direct connection to the destruction of the Temple), commemerating the fast that Esther ane the Jews undertook when under threat of extermination from Haman.

All of these fasts (except for Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av are sunrise-to-sunset fasts and only involve the abstinence from food and water. The other two fasts are sunset-to-sunset fasts (actually, a bit longer. They actually last about 25 hours) and involve not only a prohibition on eating and drinking, but also on washing, annointing, wearing leather shoes and marital relations.

Zev Steinhardt

Slight correction…

This practice is abstaining from meat, not fasting. Fasting does occur on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday for Catholics. For us, fasting is defined as having one small meal during the day - two ‘snacks’ (I don’t know what else to call them) may be consumed during the day as well.

All Fridays are still technically meatless for Catholics, although my understanding is that this is only mandatory during Lent.

The original purpose of fasting in any religion, as far as I know, is to deny the physical appetites in order to concentrate and be closer to the spiritual part of our being. Jesus, when he began his ministry fasted for 40 days in the wilderness to gain spiritual strength.

In the Mormon church, which I am most familiar with, fasting takes on two different forms. One Sunday a month, usually the first Sunday, members are asked to abstain from two meals (normally breakfast and lunch) and to contribute the amount they would have spent for those meals to the needy.

When a person feels a need for a special blessing or help from God, he will sometimes fast for a period of 24 hours, coupled with prayer to request special help. Sometimes, a family or even a congregation will all fast and pray together to ask for blessings on behalf of a family or church member.

Correct. Catholics are required to engage in penitential practice during Fridays throughout the year, but may substitute another penitence for going meatless. During Lent and Passiontide, meat is forbidden.

‘Snacks’ is a good word. They are two small meals, sufficient only to maintain health, such that together they would not equal another of the single meal permitted.

  • Rick

Thank you–perhaps this is my mistake but I thought I had heard the practice of abstaining from meat referred to as fasting at one time or another. Just the kind of clarification I was hoping for.

This page, http://www.beliefnet.com/features/fasting_chart.html , gives a chart of the fasting practices of various religions. I’m unqualified to say how accurate it is.

The linked chart is fairly accurate for Eastern Orthodoxy, although IMO a better way of looking at it would be as 4 different levels of fasting:

  1. No meat, poultry, or derivative products.
  2. As #1, and no dairy or eggs.
  3. As #2, and no fish.
  4. As #3, and no wine or oil.

Shellfish are always allowed.

Fasting, besides abstinence from certain foods, also implies a general focus on asceticism in ones life, as shown by extra prayer, charity, refraining from sin, etc. It’s just that the food regulations are usually what require the most explanation.

Most Wednesdays and Fridays of the year, excepting those in certain weeks, are level 4 fasting. Mondays are also level 4 fast days for monastics. Other than a few other isolated days of the year, the 4 main fasting periods are the Nativity fast (6 weeks before Christmas, roughly half is level 2, the other half is level 3), Apostles fast (variable days after Pentecost, level 3), Dormition fast (first two weeks of August, level 4), and Lent / Holy Week (level 4 weekdays, level 3 weekends, level 2 feasts of Annunciation and Palm Sunday). The week before Lent is level 1.

In general, the rules for most fasting days can be modified by taking into account the interactions of various fixed and movable feasts, as calculated by the Typikon, a very large set of books that regulates the worship practices of Orthodox Christianity. (Actually, I believe the Typikon proper is only one book, but the word is usually used to refer to the entire set of liturgical texts and regulations.)

Would the opposite of fasting be slowing? … where you can eat lots of ice cream, say?

I have a friend who is Hindu…I’m not sure what sect.

She fasts a couple times a month. Additionally, her temple is fasting for a sick member, and so each person spends a specific day of the month to fast so that there is always someone fasting in that person’s name. Usually these are water-only fasts, but for some of them even water isn’t allowed. There are also some times where she is only supposed to eat from certain food groups in the course of a day. The fasts last from sunrise to sunrise.

She also observes a lent-like period where she is expected to give something up for about a month.

I know in a few Native American rituals, fasting is done to obtain contact with one’s animal guide, or spirit.
I can’t tell you which tribe, though, but youngsters are sent off, alone, and are told to fast until they make contact with their animal guide. Other tribes would fast and stay in “sweat huts” until that ccontact has been made.

I suspect that fasting is a part in most religions, as it encompasses both an element of catharsis (cleansing) and strength of will.
etymology of the word “fast” is this:

fast (v.) - O.E. fæstan “to fast” (as a religious duty), originally “hold firmly,” sense evolution is via “firm control of oneself, holding to observance.”

Dex – I think the opposite of fasting is ‘Mardi Gras’
I don’t recall ice cream in particular being involved, but then again memories are a bit hazy…

But doughnuts and pancakes are definitely involved. And if you want your pancakes a la mode, hey, great.

Also, a minor nitpick on yBeayf’s post: So far as I know, all Christians are expected to be chaste all the time. Chastity does not mean abstinence from sex, it means abstinence from sex with anyone other than your spouse. Celibacy, meanwhile, means not being married, so a person who is both celibate and chaste doesn’t get any.

Druids fast to promote mental clarity, usually when you feel it’s especially needed. For instnace if you’re trying to solve a particularly difficult situation in your life, etc. Personally, I suck at this aspect of my faith, but it’s one I’ve keep trying to embrace from time to time.

As far as the definition, fasting to me always meant no food whatsoever. Drinking water or some other soft beverage was always allowed, as dehydration can happen quickly and isn’t really conducive to…well, to anything. I lived with a group of very spiritual Koreans for a while, and they fasted a lot, like maybe a day or two every couple weeks. They were Christians, some Protestant denomination but I don’t recall which one specifically.

I love that the Catholics get a light meal and two snacks. Is there a single rule that these people actually follow 100%? With the complexity of the rules and the number of loopholes, I’m starting to believe there’s some sort of connection between the Pope and the IRS.

Chronos, where did I mention chastity? I did mention charity, as in giving alms, etc.

The link provided by chukhung has it right for the Baha’is (which is why I’m up and reading the boards so early:)). Additional info: the age of spiritual consent is 15, so children younger than this do not fast. Also, those over 70, women who are pregnant, nursing, or have their periods (!), or those for whom fasting would be inadvisable for health reasons, like diabetics, or manual laborers. I myself am prone to kidney stones, so as per my doctors instructions I do not abstain from water during the day. I don’t eat, though. I’ll tell you this, it’s the one time of year I’m grateful to get my period! :slight_smile:

However, there was a time when even married Catholics were not supposed to have sex during Lent. I’m not sure when that rule was dropped, but I think it was way before Vatican II (which is when the rules concerning fasting and abstinence were changed).

The rule, however, is still in effect for Eastern Orthodox. I should mention that all of these Orthodox fasting regulations are the ideal, and each individual works with their spiritual father to find a fasting regimen that works for them.

Stupid hamsters. Maybe they’re enforceing some kind of useful info to flip answers ratio.

I meant to also say to Dex that given elfje’s derivation of ‘fast’ in this sense (as in ‘make fast’, or tight) that the opposite of fast is clearly ‘loose’. Which of course brings us back to Mardi Gras again…