Tuesday, September 10, 2013

When to fast, when not to fast and when to break the fast

There are 5 prohibitions on Yom Kippur (1) Eating and drinking, (2) washing our body (3) anointing our body (4) having marital relations and (5) wearing leather shoes.

In some cases fasting is not observed.  

For example:

1. Minors: a boy or a girl younger than nine years old should not make any type of fast, even for a few hours. When children reach nine years old they should fast for a couple of hours if they are in good health. Once they are nine, each year the parents should encourage them to fast for a little longer, so they will slowly get used to the idea of a complete day of fasting. When the son or daughter reaches eleven years old they should try to fast for the whole day if they are in good health. A healthy girl from the age of twelve and a healthy boy from the age of thirteen are obligated to fast.

2. Mothers: After childbirth, during the first three days, a mother should not fast. The same rule applies for the 72 hours after a miscarriage. After the first 72 hours from the day of childbirth until the 7th day from childbirth, if the mother says that she needs to eat, she should eat. After the 7th day she has to fast like everyone else, unless otherwise indicated by her doctor. A woman in labor should NOT fast.
3. Sickness: A person who is sick (diabetes, etc.) or an elder person who is weak because of his age, or someone who is getting some type of important treatment or medication should get the advice of a reliable physician to see if he or she needs to eat and/or take the medication. After talking to a physician, a Rabbi should also be consulted to establish, based on the doctor's advice, how to eat his food or take the medication. When there is a risk (safeq) of some kind of danger to someone's life, the fast should be discontinued even if one was not able to consult with a physician.

4. Hole. According to Jewish Law, when a hole -a sick person, regardless of the seriousness of the disease- asserts that he or she needs to eat, they should be given food even without asking aDoctor.

Pregnancy and Yom Kippur

The following information is intended as a general guideline for normal and healthy pregnancies. You should not rely on this information as a substitute for personal medical advice.

A pregnant woman should observe the fast normally, provided she and the baby are in good health and the pregnancy has no complications. Nevertheless, if during Yom Kippur the mother feels sick, and particularly if she is vomiting or having any other signs of dehydration, she should break the fast and eat or drink immediately (See below: "How to break the fast"). However, mild dizziness and nausea that can be coped by lying down on a couch or a bed are considered normal and should be endured.

Dr. Jessica Jacob OBGYN explains that according to research done on healthy pregnant women there is no evidence that fasting would cause any complication to the mother or her baby. Five years ago, Dr Jacob gave a very detailed lecture in UMJCA on 'Pregnancy and Yom Kippur'. It is highly recommended for every pregnant women to listen to this lecture where she explains the studies that were done on this subject. She also explains why would a doctor advise a pregnant woman against fasting; how to cope with discomfort; the circumstances in which pregnant women should break the fast, etc.

Click here to listen to Dr. Jacob's lecture


When you were instructed by your doctor and/or your rabbi to eat on Yom Kippur, proceed as follows 

1. Eat a portion of food that weights up to 1 oz. (an ounce is 30 grams). After you finished the first portion you should wait ten minutes and then eat a second portion up to 1 oz.  You could do this (eat 1 oz., wait ten minutes, eat 1 oz.) as you need until you recover. 

2. For drinking, you could drink 1 oz., then wait 5 minutes and drink 1 oz. again and so forth.

* Once you feel better, you should continue the fast.

* When you eat or drink on Yom Kippur for medical reasons, you do not need to fast another day.

* To measure "1 ounce" it is recommended to use the plastic 1 oz. liquor shot cups (Kiddush little plastic cups). See this.