MembersJesus on Fasting and Prayer in Jewish Law

Why did Jesus insist that “when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face”? (Mt. 6:17)

By Tsvi Sadan | | Topics: Jesus' Jewish Sayings
Jesus did not abolish public prayer, but did rebuke making a show of it.
Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Examining the New Testament through a halachic (Jewish religious) lens in order to rediscover its lost Jewish nature brings to light another occasion on which Jesus concurs with traditional Jewish law. What he opposes is making a self-righteous show of keeping said laws.

In Matthew 6, Jesus speaks about fasting, prayer, charity (translated as “righteousness”), and repentance (from self-reliance). This suggests that the background to this portion of the Sermon on the Mount is drought. For Israel, lack of rain is a sign of God’s displeasure with His people:

“Beware that your hearts are not deceived, and that you do not turn away and serve other gods and worship them. Or the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and He will shut up the heavens so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its fruit; and...

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