For Those Who Cannot Fast, Yom Kippur Should Still be Meaningful

September 24, 2020

By Rabbi Dov Linzer for The Jewish Forward

Yom Kippur is almost upon us. According to Torah law, the Jewish people are mandated to fast the entire day. This can be difficult enough for most people, but particularly so for those with eating disorders. Fasting itself is not just the issue. For them, Yom Kippur can be a triggering holiday that creates and worsens feelings of loneliness and inadequacy. What are they supposed to do on this holy day?

This question deserves to be asked every year, but it takes on particular poignancy now. In contrast to a packed synagogue with day-long prayers, this Yom Kippur will see many people staying home out of safety concerns, and others attending synagogue, in only small numbers and only for truncated periods of time. Many Jews who normally connect to the sanctity of the day and the powerful sense of community that it provides will struggle to feel a sense of religious meaning and belonging.

Now perhaps is the time to recognize that there are many in our community who don’t just feel pain and isolation this year, but rather on every single Yom Kippur.

It is easy to think that this is not a problem because we as a community have already addressed the needs of those with eating disorders. From a strictly rules-based point of view, Jewish tradition mandates that rituals and restrictions be overridden when there is the slightest risk of danger to a person’s life. Thus, Jews with eating disorders who seek religious guidance about this holiday are often told that they are permitted to eat food on Yom Kippur. Case closed — right?

But that’s simply not enough from a spiritual perspective. The permission to eat may address physical well-being, but it does not address emotional, mental, or spiritual well-being. For many Jews, eating on Yom Kippur feels like a violation of this holiest of days, regardless of the reasons and justifications. And on a day devoted to bringing the community together, Jews who are eating can feel deeply alone, disconnected and even guilty for doing what they must to stay healthy. These feelings can create an extra layer of stress and anxiety around what is often already for them a daily, complicated relationship with food.

Nobody deserves to be doubly afflicted on Yom Kippur. How can rabbis help Yom Kippur still feel meaningful and inclusive to those who are not fasting?

Read More >

Photograph of a lake surrounded by a forest. Image of a dark lake with a small wooded island in the center of the picture and trees surrounding the lake edges on all sides. Most of the trees are tall and slender with brown bark and leaves that point upwards forming little canopy cover. The trees on the island have fewer leaves then the other trees and the leaves they do have are a pastel yellow with a tinge of green. The trees on the right of the foreground also have few leaves but their leaves are green and you can see a small amount of the muddy bank around them, the tree closest to the water is also leaning to the left. The trees on the left foreground are more golden in color and the trees in the background are a grey-green and are very tall and leafy. The sky highlighter yellow with one large yellow cloud on the top left. The water is reflecting the trees, mostly from the island, the reflections are darker.White Oak Pond, Women and Tehillim: Staying Connected During COVID
A black smooth background that gives the impression of a floor-like horizontal surface. On top of, arranged almost in 8 messy columns, are scattered many 3D question marks. From left to right the 2nd, 4th and 7th columns have a single, faintly glowing, orange question mark.How to be Emotional in 5781: The Legacy of a Hasidic Educational Master