The Meal Before
While there are several fast days on the Jewish calendar, only two are referred to as “major fasts”: Tisha B’Av and Yom Kippur. They are thus labelled because (1) there is little leeway for not fasting and (2) the fast begins at sunset and ends after the next nightfall.
These fasts last for 25 hours, and they are both preceded by a special meal known as the Seudah Hamafseket, the final meal which fulfills the Talmudic statement that “One must eat and drink while it is yet day” (Talmud Pesachim 54b). This meal is generally eaten following the afternoon prayer service. Just as Tisha B’Av and Yom Kippur are fast days for very different reasons (mourning verses atonement), their respective preceding meals have very different tones as well.
The Tisha B’Av Seudah Hamafseket, on the other hand, is a meal of mourning. It is customary that only one type of cooked food is served, often boiled egg or lentils (both foods are served to those in mourning because their shape is a reminder of the cycle of life.) It is also customary to dip one’s bread or egg into ashes. Additionally, there is a tradition of eating this meal while sitting on the floor or on a low stool, similar to the practice of those who sit Shiva.
The Yom Kippur Seudah Hamafseket, on the other hand, is a more festive meal . While it is customary to eat heartily before the fast, it is often recommended that one partake of lighter foods at the Seudah Hamafseket. For ease in fasting, it is also customary to avoid fish and salty foods.
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