“Nursing” Women and Jewish Fasts

I received a fascinating question this morning which requires it’s own post:

Q. According to B. Niddah 9a, a woman is considered as a “meineket” – nursing – even if she is not actually nursing the baby. For example, if her child dies the mother still retains the status of a nursing woman for the purposes of niddah.1

Since women have an automatic halakhic designation as “nursing” for two years, and that Jewish Law is lenient regarding nursing women fasting, can we say that all women who are within the first two years after giving birth have this lenient status for fasting – regardless if they are actually nursing?

A. It appears to me that despite the logic of applying the same halakhic classification of “nursing” from niddah to fasting, a woman who is not actually nursing would not be able to take advantage of this leniency. My reasoning is based on the similar language of the Rambam and Shulhan Aruch:

רמב”ם הלכות תעניות פרק ג הלכה ה
אבל בשאר התעניות אין עוברות ומניקות מתענות, ואף על פי שאינן מתענות אין מענגות עצמן בתפנוקים אלא אוכלות ושותות כדי קיום הולד.

שולחן ערוך אורח חיים הלכות תענית סימן תקעה סעיף ה
(עוברות ומיניקות מתענות, אבל לא בג’ ראשונות ולא בז’ אחרונות; ומיהו לא יאכלו אלא כדי קיום הולד (ואסור להן להחמיר ולהתענות) (תשב”ץ סימן תכ”ח.

According to both Rambam and Shulhan Aruch, while a nursing woman is not obligated to fast – and indeed probably should not fast. However, both agree that a nursing mother is only allowed to eat up to the point where it is necessary to nurse/sustain the child. If the woman is not nursing, then logically the quantity of such sustenance would be absolute zero. Hence it is my opinion that if a mother is not actually nursing, she has no reason to eat in order to sustain the child.

Therefore, even if a mother has the halakhic status of “nursing” for niddah for two years after giving birth, it is my opinion that if she is not actually nursing she would still have to fast.

Discussion and comments are welcome below.


1. See this article for more details.