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Why do we fast on Yom Kippur?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht


Library » Holidays » Yom Kippur | Subscribe | What is RSS?


A. Fasting on Yom Kippur is mandated by the Torah and is Positive Mitzvah #164. The Torah1 commands us to “afflict” ourselves on the “Tenth of Tishrei,” i.e. Yom Kippur. The Mosaic tradition teaches us that “afflict” (in this context) means de-emphasizing the body’s needs in five areas: bathing; using creams, oils, perfumes or other skin accessories; wearing leather shoes; sexual relations; and eating and drinking.

B. What’s the big deal about eating and drinking? Actually, it’s a very big deal. Yom Kippur is G-d’s designated annual day of total spirituality. On Yom Kippur, we get into things that make us like angels the most, and out of things that make us like animals the most: we spend the whole day in Tefillah, and we put our bodily cravings on the back burner. Tefillah is what makes us most like angels, and eating/drinking is what makes us most like animals. On Yom Kippur, we try to soar as high as we can. Not worrying about what’s to eat helps keep that in focus.

On Yom Kippur, a day of Moshiach in microcosm, we divorce ourselves from our needs for physical maintenance and rely on G-d...
C. Ultimately, fasting on Yom Kippur is an expression of pure faith in G-d. Yom Kippur is compared to Shabbat, and Shabbat is compared to the Era of Moshiach. In the Era of Moshiach, G-d will obliterate hunger, starvation, need and blight from mankind. On Yom Kippur, a day of Moshiach in microcosm, we divorce ourselves from our needs for physical maintenance and rely on G-d, as we will when Moshiach comes.

How do I fast on Yom Kippur?

1. Get in Time

Yom Kippur starts at a specific hour and minute, and likewise with the fast—it begins at sundset the eve of Yom Kippur, the ninth of Tishrei, and continues until the stars come out, 25 hours later. The precise times depend on your geographic location—consult your local Chabad center or see here for specifics.

2. Don’t even think of it!

When the Torah says fast, it means fast. Absolutely nothing may pass your lips and enter your mouth during this 25-hour period: no food, no drink, no crackers, no water, nothing. If the going gets tough, use this little mental trick: if I made it this far, I can make it the rest of the way. Also, bear in mind that you’re standing shoulder to shoulder with your Jewish brothers and sisters the world over, as they all fast on this day. If they can do it, so can you. And here’s another thought: Jews have been fasting for eons on Yom Kippur, yet somehow, it didn’t kill us. You’ll be fine.

3. The Rabbi is In

There are very few mitzvahs you have to lay your life down for (three, to be precise), and fasting on Yom Kippur isn’t one of them. If you’re on medication, you may take it if your life depends on it. For more information on this topic, see Is it permitted to take medicine on a fast day?


  • 1. Leviticus 23:27


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3 mitzvahs

Posted by: Anonymous, New York, NY, USA on Sep 18, 2005

What are the three Mitzvahs that you mention that seem to be the most important that a Jew should lay down his/her life for? Thank you

Editor's Comment

Murder, idolatry, and illicit sexual relations.


Holidays » Yom Kippur » About

(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
The Messiah. Moshiach is the person who will usher in an era of peace and tranquility for all of humanity when there will be no jealousy or hate, wars or famine. This is a fundamental Jewish belief.
The seventh month of the Jewish calendar. This month, which arrives in early autumn, has more holidays than any other month: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah.
Yom Kippur
Day of Atonement. This late-autumn high-holiday is the holiest day of the year. We devote this day to repentance and all healthy adults are required to fast.
Chabad, an acronym for Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding, is the name of a Chassidic Group founded in the 1770s. Two of the most fundamental teachings of Chabad are the intellectual pursuit of understanding the divine and the willingness to help every Jew who has a spiritual or material need.
Prayer. The Jewish Sages instituted three daily prayers, and an additional prayer on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.