Exceptions for Fasting on Yom Kippur

My dad once mentioned to me that exceptions were made for the fasting requirement of Yom Kippur for the elderly and/or the sick. It makes sense, but I don’t remember anything specific about this in the Bible. Are there execptions? And how are they arrived at (i.e. how old/sick do you have to be)?

Until someone more knowledgeable comes by, I’ll say that AFAIK it’s a generic exception, i.e. if fasting would endanger your life, then you should not fast (note the wording: it doesn’t say “don’t have to fast)”. So, a healthy old person should fast. A younger person with type I diabetes should not.

This is analogous to some of the various exceptions allowing “violation” of the Sabbath. So, for example, if you’re a doctor you can drive, use electrically powered equipment, etc., on the Sabbath if it might help to save a life.

A Jewish friend told me that if fasting would endanger your health, that you were forbidden to do so. I found this very interesting; the reverse of some other religions in which you have to ask for permission to not observe the rule.

This is typical of most Jewish law. For the silly but canonical example, if you’re trapped on a desert island with nothing to eat but ham sandwiches, you are required under Jewish law to eat them, even though it would appear to violate the kashrut.

Pragmatism, I like it. :slight_smile:

Hey, the Jews are smart. It ain’t for nothin’ that they secretly control the world. :slight_smile:

Yeah, this is one of those things that are either forbidden or mandatory.

I’m on medication that must be taken on a full stomach. It’s not for a life-threatening condition, but it is for pain. (Motrin and Mobic for joint problems, if anyone’s interested.) I asked about this WRT fasting and was told that I could not properly concentrate on prayer if I were in pain, and that I should eat one meal sufficient to take the medication, then resume fasting.


Is this something that’s written down somewhere, or is it just under the heading of common sense? :slight_smile:

How about for those in less life-threatening situations? For example, a breast-feeding mother?

It’s not only for life-threatening situations as MsRobyn demonstrates. The specifics are no doubt well-codified somewhere; keep in mind, there’s a long tradition of elucidating the intricacies of Jewish law through a specific process that was believed to be handed down with the Torah. It’s possible that it springs from Rabbinical interpretations of the Hebrew Bible - I’m not certain. But Jewish law has always treated life as very sacred, and there’s plenty of textual support for that.

Pregnant and nursing women are prohibited from fasting, as of course are children under the age of 13. Under Jewish law, 13 is when you become a man, baby.

How is it that we’ve discussed kashrut and Yom Kippur, as well as the Zionist Conspiracy, and still nobody has used the ;j smiley? So now I’ve used it. L’shanah Tovah!


Not necessarily factual, but dad told me that my grandmother’s Orthodox rabbi would tell her not to worry about keeping the fast if she experienced extreme discomfort or pain. She didn’t listen, though.

But the ham ban was lifted in 1998

*“As it is written in Genesis, Noah had a much-beloved son named Ham, who was the father of all Canaan,” Saperstein said. “From this day forth, we shall honor Noah’s greatest son by partaking of the flesh which shares his name.”

Saperstein also noted that the complex genealogies of the Pentateuch lend credence to the theory that Abraham bore a son named Bakon, and that one of David’s in-laws was known as Zebulon Bar-Sausage. "*


There’s nothing specific about this in Tanach (aka Hebrew Bible) just as the Bible doesn’t say anything about Kol Nidre! We also don’t take a goat with a red thread on its horns out into the desert either. All the rules and traditions came long after Tanach was written. The rules by which an observant Jew lives come from Talmud, the commentaries on Tanach, and from commentaries on Talmud such as those of Rashi.

The rule you cite about fasting is a natural rabbinic rule. We should fast on Yom Kippur to put us in a world that is different from the everyday, so that we can focus our intellect and passion (mind and heart) on returning to G-d. But, life is a higher priority than atonement, so we must preserve life even if it means giving up the fast.

Also, the traditional point of fasts in all religions was to purify the body, to accentuate our ability to resist temptations, and to sense the frailty and preciousness of life. We should fast, not suffer.

I take medication that makes me extremely dehydrated, so for this reason and others I drink small amounts of water during a fast.

The bottom line: the rules are commentary. This reminds me of a joke (and what part of being a Yid doesn’t?). You’ll only get it if you’ve studied Tanach ;j :
A man goes to the rabbi and asks for help in building a house. The rabbi consults Tanach and gives the man instructions. The man follows them, but before the house is half-completed, it falls down.
The man goes back to the rabbi. This time the rabbi consults the Talmud and gives more instructions. This time the man manages to get the house up, but just as he’s putting on the front door knocker, the house collapses.
Furious, the man returns and complains to the rabbi, "Rabbi, I followed all your instructions, but the house still fell down. The rabbi looks up from his book in wonderment, and says “Amazing! That’s just what Rashi says!”

And a Yom Kippur observation:
In the yeshivah, they tell the story of an observant Jew who had 7 pairs of false teeth.
“Why seven?” asks the rabbi.
“Well, I can see three pairs: one for milchich, one for fleishich, and one for parve” answers one bocher.
“And I can see another three!” shouts another. “The same three, but this time for Pesach (no leavening on them)!”
Finally, the smartest bocher says “And of course, one pair for Yom Kippur!”

Ha-shana tovah tikatevu v’ timatenu
(May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year)

I have the same problem. Fortunately, I had a bottle of seltzer in the fridge. I hate the taste of plain seltzer. I drank a cup and was able to rehydrate without feeling guilty.

I’m no scholar, but that’s comedy.

Back to the OP

According to Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s Jewish Literacy- children under 9 are forbidden to fast. Kids from 9-12 are encouraged to eat less than usual. Women who have given birth in the past 3 days are not supposed to fast. Pregnant women may eat if they feel especially intense hunger.

I’m surprised he doesn’t list more inclusive exemptions on pregnant women and nursing mothers. AFAIK, there is no thorough list. An exhaustive list would become outdated, and would be ridiculously long. As MsRobyn said, those who are exempted from fasting are forbidden to fast. If old man Rifkin (Old Man Rifkin, he don’t say nothing. He just keeps rollin’) and 82 year old with a heart problem, blood problems, and stomach problems insists that he’s healthy and fasts, he’s actually comitting a sin. A fully staffed ambulance is usually parked outside synagogues for those folks who faint or experience other health problems due to fasting.

Children under 13 are forbidden to fast? Must they eat every day, or only on Yom Kippur and other fast days?

My rabbi told me last year when I was nursing my daughter that I shouldn’t fast.

I’m Reform in case anyone’s interested.

Parents of children under 13 are required to feed them every day - to do otherwise constitutes bad parenting. The child’s opinion on the matter isn’t really asked.

I get it… it’s very much like a joke I know about two elderly farmers, one with a sick cow and the other dispensing advice based on what he did with his own cow when it was sick.

As a breastfeeding (well, breastpumping) mom, I can report that my milk supply drops very suddenly from missing just one meal. So, since my 8 month old is forbidden to fast, but must drink only my milk, I could not fast, or she would be, too. Whether or not this is rabinnical reasoning, I don’t know. But it’s a practical reason why I personally couldn’t do it.

(Of course, I also don’t fast 'cause I’m not Jewish - but you know what I mean. Being an exclusive pumper, I have a much more detailed knowledge of how my milk varies than a breastfeeder - who only knows if her baby is fussing, but not always why.)