Throughout the week, the individuals whose turn it was to represent the Jewish people in ma’amadot (see daf 26) would involve themselves in fasts and prayer:
- On Monday, on behalf of those traveling the seas
- On Tuesday, on behalf of those traveling in the desert
- On Wednesday, on behalf of those suffering from contagious disease (askara or croup)
- On Thursday, on behalf of pregnant and nursing women.
Members of the ma’amadot did not fast on Friday, in order to honor Shabbat, and they certainly did not fast on Shabbat itself. Why didn’t they fast on Sundays? A number of explanations appear in the Gemara. Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani says that Sunday is the third day after man was created (Adam was created on Friday, just before Shabbat began) and the third day is a day of weakness (see Bereshit 34:25). The explanation presented by Rabbi Yohanan is “because of the notzrim.”
Notzrim is ordinarily translated as Christians, and, in fact, most of the commentaries explain that the ma’amadot did not fast on Sundays due to the concern that the Christians would take offense at the fact that the Jews were fasting on the day of the week that was their day of celebration. The Maharsha suggests a different angle: that fasting – and not working – on the Christian day of rest would appear to support the new religion’s practices and beliefs. Nevertheless, the Maharsha, as well as other commentaries, point out that there are many historical problems with these explanations.
Another approach to Rabbi Yohanan’s statement is to read the word as notzarim – the ones who were created – rather than notzrim, in which case Rabbi Yohanan’s explanation is similar to the one offered by Rabbi Shmu’el bar Naḥmani.
The Meiri suggests that the term notzrim refers to Babylonians, based on the passage in Yirmiyahu (4:16) – “Notzrim are coming from a faraway land” – which is interpreted by the Radak to be referring to the army of the Babylonians. According to the Meiri, the Babylonians had a day of celebration on Sundays, so the Sages did not want to establish anything special on that day.