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In Esther 4:16, Esther tells Mordecai to have the entire Jewish community fast for three straight days:

‘Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day; I also and my maidens will fast in like manner; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.’

And in Jonah 3, there also seems to be a suggestion of some sort of prolonged fasting (though it's less explicit):

Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city, of three days’ journey. And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he proclaimed, and said: ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.’ And the people of Nineveh believed G-d; and they proclaimed a fast, and […] And [the king] caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying: ‘Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing; let them not feed, nor drink water; […] Who knoweth whether G-d will not turn and repent, and turn away from His fierce anger, that we perish not?’

How do such extended fasts work?

I've met many people who aren't able to completely fast for even 25 hours or so for Yom Kippur. Is it just a matter of motivation — that the people of Shushan and of Nineveh were more afraid during these events than we are on Yom Kippur? Or did Hashem lend them strength to continue fasting? Or something else?

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    Common advice is that you can survive 3 days without water, eg. livescience.com/… – Double AA Nov 17 '15 at 23:34
  • @DoubleAA: Thanks. I wasn't really asking about how the people are still not dead at the end of the fast, but since you raise the point -- if a typical healthy person can only survive three days without water, then how did the elderly, infirm, pregnant, nursing, etc., survive fasting that long? – ruakh Nov 17 '15 at 23:46
  • Sick and weak people are exempt from fasting, no? – Double AA Nov 17 '15 at 23:57
  • @DoubleAA: On the modern liturgical fast days, yes. But on a three-day fast, almost everyone would be "sick and weak" after one or two days, so presumably that's not what Esther had in mind. ;-) – ruakh Nov 18 '15 at 0:03
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    @sabbahillel: FWIW, for the Esther case, she specifies "שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים לַיְלָה וָיוֹם" shloshet yamim layla vayom, meaning "three days, night and day". I take that to mean a full 72 hours, but I could be wrong. – ruakh Nov 18 '15 at 0:52
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I don't see (in my Lublin-style Mikraos G'dolos) any commentary note how many days the Nineveh folks fasted. I'd have to assume, absent other knowledge, that they fasted until the end of the day the fast was proclaimed, or maybe only the entire next day. (That's what I'd do if an announcement were made in the king's name that everyone must fast, with no duration specified.)

The Esther fast is of course harder to explain that way: it says it was to last "three days, night and day". But it was only three days: the Bavli, Y'vamos 121 amud 2, says that there was no miracle in their surviving this 72-hour fast.

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According to the Maharal in Ohr Chadash (on Megillas Esther) it means that you fast at the end of the first day, the whole 24 hours of the second day and a part of the third.

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    How does that fit with שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים לַיְלָה וָיוֹם? – Double AA Nov 18 '15 at 3:14
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    @DoubleAA As the Maharal explains there, miktzas hayom k'kulo (and otherwise it should have said שלשה ימים ושלשה לילות). – Loewian Nov 18 '15 at 3:44
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    @Loewian How I wish we could apply that to other fasts... – Double AA Nov 18 '15 at 3:45
  • @DoubleAA ;) (Though, correct me if I'm wrong - I don't think we ever say it by something that is only one day - only by the last day of a series...) – Loewian Nov 18 '15 at 3:56
  • @Loewian Aveilut for a Shemu'a Rechoka (Pesachim 4a). – Double AA Nov 18 '15 at 5:08

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