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Is there a difference between taanit and tzom and what is it? At first I thought it was the difference between public and private fasts, but there are public and private taanit so that is not the case.

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Taanis has it's root in עני & עינוי. It's meaning is suffering, fasting, for the purpose of humbling oneself, ענו & ענוה being closely related. This is the common understanding of the word.

Tzom according to Radak in the name of his father is an expression of gathering. The focus of this word in this context is the gathering of the people in order to repent, but the word means gathering even when done not for the purpose of gathering. He points to maseches chulin chapter 4 mishna 6 and the gemara there on 76a where tzumas hagidin means the gathering of sinews. This Radak can be seen in Melachim 1 21 9 and also in his seffer hasharoshim under צום.

  • But is there a technical difference? Or are they interchangeable in every instance? – SophArch Sep 14 '16 at 14:22
  • As colloquial terms they are interchangeable with no halachik difference. But what the words actually mean is what I presented here. I thought that was what you wanted to know. – user6591 Sep 14 '16 at 14:43
  • Interesting answer to an interesting question. Follow up to your 1st paragraph - If I'm not mistaken, aren't all the public fasts called "Ta'anis"? If so, why do only Tish'a B'Av and Yom Kippur involve other aspects of עינוי besides fasting? If I should ask a separate question on this, let me know. – DanF Sep 14 '16 at 18:49
  • @DanF you can definitely ask a different question for a better answer but the short version is that yom kippur has drashos for its laws centering around the word inuy. Other fasts which are rabbinic do not have these other inuy laws (but to a certain degree stringent behavior is mentioned). Tisha biav has some similar acts to yom kippur, but that is coincidental. The extra laws on 9th of Av is due to aveilus, not because it is a fast. So the two days a year we don't wear shoes or wash ourselves have unrelated reasons why. – user6591 Sep 14 '16 at 19:09
  • @user6591 Thanks. I think I will need to ask a separate question. I think there may be more to it than what you described. I think I read that originally, all the fasts involved "inuy", but I may be wrong. – DanF Sep 14 '16 at 19:30

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