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What is the procedure for one who must eat on Yom Kippur?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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General Information:

  • One who is required to eat on Yom Kippur1 due to medical reasons, should not attempt to fast against the doctor's orders. The same Torah which commands us to fast on Yom Kippur tells us that guarding our health is far more important than fasting on this holy day. Just as a healthy person fulfills a Mitzvah by fasting; an ill person does a mitzvah by eating.2 
  • A rabbi should be consulted in advance to receive specific dispensation from fasting. However, in case of a medical emergency, or even if there is any question whether the condition is a medical emergency or not, the patient should be given food or medicine immediately.
  • A person who is required to eat or drink due to illness, but afterwards feels strong enough to fast, must resume fasting.
  • One, who is weak and can only fast if he remains in bed all day, should not attempt to go to synagogue or pray, rather he should fast and remain in bed. Attending synagogue and/or praying are of secondary importance in comparison to the biblical obligation to fast.

Just as a healthy person fulfills a mitzvah by fasting; an ill person does a mitzvah by eating
Eating Procedure:

  • According to the Torah, one is only culpable when eating at least 1.26 ounces3   of food, or drinking at least a mouthful of liquid, within a short period of time.4 If possible, the ill person who must break the fast, should eat and drink less than the abovementioned amount at intermittent intervals. Preferably, one should wait 9 minutes between these snacks. Obviously, if the medical condition does not allow for this intermittent snacking, the patient must follow the doctor's orders.
  • When one is required to eat, no Kiddush is recited on Yom Kippur. (This applies even when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbat.)
  • Before eating bread one must wash hands as is done throughout the year. There is no need to have two complete challahs, as is required on all other festivals.
  • There is a difference of opinion whether the ya'aleh viyavo is reciting during the Grace After Meals.

In an ancient Machzor, it is suggested for an ill person to recite the following prayer before partaking of food on Yom Kippur:

Behold I am prepared to fulfill the mitzvah of eating and drinking on Yom Kippur, as You have written in Your Torah:5   "You shall observe My statutes and My ordinances, which a man shall do and live by them. I am the L-rd." In the merit of fulfilling this mitzvah, seal me, and all the ill of Your nation Israel, for a complete recovery. May I merit next Yom Kippur to once again fulfill [the mitzvah of] "you shall afflict yourselves [on Yom Kippur]."6   May this be Your will. Amen.

See also Is it permitted to take medicine on a fast day?

Footnotes

  • 1. Pregnant or nursing women -- who are exempt from fasting on all other public fast days (with the exception of Tisha b'Av -- must fast on Yom Kippur. A rabbi should be consulted if extenuating circumstances exist.
  • 2. Similarly, one who has no strength to pray on Yom Kippur need not be upset. The chazzan's prayers cover for all those who cannot pray due to circumstances that are out of their control.
  • 3. 2/3 of the Talmudic measurement called "k'beitzah".
  • 4. It is biblically forbidden to eat or drink even less than this amount, but such an offense is not punishable by Torah law.
  • 5. Leviticus 18:5.
  • 6. Leviticus 23:27.

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Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Shabbat
(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
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.
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.
Grace After Meals
Biblically mandated prayer, consisting of four blessings, recited after eating more than an ounce of bread.
Kiddush
Prayer recited at the beginning of the Sabbath or Holiday meal--both the evening and afternoon meals. This prayer, acknowledging the sanctity of the day, is recited over a cup of wine or grape juice.
Machzor
High Holiday prayerbook.