Eating on Yom Kippur?

It has come to that time of year again when my family argues over whether my 81-year-old grandfather should fast on Yom Kippur. This year, however, the situation is slightly different, since less than a year ago he was in hospital for a very serious operation.

What are the guidelines for breaking the fast on Yom Kippur if a person becomes very ill due to fasting? Also, do you have any advice in terms of precautions to help one fast easier?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

If someone is ill, and a doctor is of the opinion that fasting might pose a life-danger, then the patient should eat or drink small amounts.

The patient should try to eat only about 60 cc., and wait nine minutes before eating again. Once nine minutes have passed, he can eat this small amount again, and so on throughout the day.

With drinking, he should try to drink less than what the Talmud calls "melo lugmav" - the amount that would fill a person's puffed-out cheek. While this amount will vary from person to person, it is approximately 80 cc., and he should wait nine minutes before drinking again. (According to some, the maximum amount he should both eat and drink is 30 cc. If someone is able to be stringent for this on Yom Kippur, this is the first choice.)

If waiting 9 minutes between eating or drinking is too difficult he can wait less time, down to intervals of 4 minutes or even 2 minutes if he cannot wait.

How does consuming small amounts make a difference? The obligation on Yom Kippur is to "afflict" our souls (Leviticus 16:31) – which is primarily done through fasting. The Sages define how much food and drink sates us to the point that we are no longer "afflicted". Less than these amounts, although prohibited on Yom Kippur (as we may generally not even do a "partial" sin), may be consumed in cases of great necessity to avoid eating and drinking more significant amounts. A person who does so is still technically considered fasting.

Note that eating and drinking are treated as independent acts, meaning that the patient can eat and drink together during those nine minutes, and the amounts are not combined.

Having said all this, if these small amounts prove insufficient, the patient may even eat and drink regularly. In such a case, a person does not say Kiddush before eating, but does recite "Grace After Meals," inserting the "ya'aleh veyavo" paragraph.

Now what about a case where the patient's opinion conflicts with that of the doctor? If the patient is certain he needs to eat to prevent a danger to health, then we rely on his word, even if the doctor disagrees. And in the opposite scenario - if the patient refuses to eat despite doctors' warnings - then we persuade the patient to eat, since it is possible that his judgment is impaired due to illness.

I'd also like to share this story:

About 150 years ago there was an epidemic going around parts of Lithuania around the time of the High Holidays. Doctor's orders were that nobody was allowed to fast. It seemed, however, that few were willing to follow the doctor's orders. Realizing this, Rabbi Israel Salanter went from synagogue to synagogue on Yom Kippur night and, standing by the ark, he ate before the shocked crowds. Seeing their rabbi eat on Yom Kippur, the masses went home to eat as well.

Just as on Yom Kippur it is a mitzvah to fast, in certain circumstances the mitzvah is to eat on Yom Kippur. Even if a person wants to fast like everyone else, God sometimes gives a unique test - in this case to eat on Yom Kippur, to remain healthy and serve God.

Even in such a case, there is a way to join the Yom Kippur mood. Besides fasting on Yom Kippur, we are enjoined to refrain from washing, wearing leather shoes, and engaging in marital relations.

See more specific guidelines for how to deal with sick people and children on Yom Kippur:

(sources: Talmud - Yoma 82-83, Code of Jewish Law - O.C. 612, 618 with Mishnah Berurah)

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