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I am a firstborn. Suppose I wake up late on Erev Pesach and walk into shul right after they finish the siyum. Can I still partake in the post-siyum meal, or am I too late? More precisely, what are the minimal requirements for breaking the Fast of the Firstborn?

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I think you mean "more generally." :) </pedantic> – Isaac Moses Mar 2 '10 at 21:36
Speaking of being pedantic, I don't think not fasting for b'chorim on erev Pesach is equivalent to "breaking" a fast. If I understand correctly, the practice of firstborns fasting codeveloped with the practice of them not fasting when involved in a s'udas mitzva. This could have a ramification for the "burden of heter" and thus the answer, but I am less sure about that. – WAF Mar 3 '10 at 4:44

5 Answers 5

The Gra, the shulchan aruch, and the mishnah berurah, all say you should fast.

The Gra was particularly insistent that healthy adult firstborn males should NOT get out of fasting on Erev Pesach by attending a siyum, but should actually fast! However, even the Gra conceded that, when Pesach starts on shabbos or motze shabbos, and the fast is pushed ahead to Thursday, since it is no longer done on Erev Pesach, one may attend a siyum to avoid the fast.

Wikipedia has an unusually erudite exposition on the fast of the firstborn, including a whole section on when/how to break it.

If you miss the siyum, and you're otherwise healthy, just fast. After kiddush on the first cup of wine at the seder, you can have as much water and other food (except matzah and matzah meal products) as you like.

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Do you have a source for this Gra? – Double AA Jan 4 '12 at 14:32
Do you have a source for your final statement? I imagine it ought to at least be limited by the requirement to leave room for the things you eat as Mitzvot and the Afikomen. – Isaac Moses Jan 4 '12 at 14:49
Sorry guys. Both answers I received orally from one of my mentors and teachers. (Yes, I am a bechor, and yes, I have fasted on taanis bechoros). – user1095 Jan 4 '12 at 16:17

The main obligation is to give charity (and thereby "redeem the fast"). The siyum itself is really just extra, and in fact, as noted in the answers above, the siyum doesn't really "work" since most people do not actually join in a celebratory meal afterward. So the minimal requirement is charity. This was explained by one of the poskei hador in the US, R. Henkin

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I heard that you can recite Pirkei Avos and make a siyum on that in a worst case scenario.

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Rabbi Shlomo Zalman says you can listen to siyum on the Phone in a worst case senario

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What about the siyumim that are braodcast over the radio during the 9 days? – Azi Apr 1 '10 at 2:31

I heard from Rabbi Strasser from Boro Park that it isn't necessary to actually hear the siyum. The person who did the siyum celebrates by throwing a party and invites people to join him. All those that partake in the party are exempt from fasting.

In fact, some people mistakenly believe that hearing the siyum is all that's required, and subsequently go home to eat. This (according to Rabbi Strasser) is a mistake. They must partake of the meal given at the site which celebrates the siyum.

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In the comment thread on his recent Hirhurim post on the topic of this fast (…), I asked R' Ari Enkin if he'd seen these ideas in the sources. He responded: "This is a very, very b'dieved position which is not endorsed by too many authorities. Everyone agrees that one must hear the siyum, lechatchila." – Isaac Moses Mar 24 '10 at 13:43
I've been at a (rabbinically endorsed) siyum where they didn't even serve food...when I asked they said you should eat sooner rather than later. – andrewmh20 Sep 23 at 17:32

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