Fasting on Yom Kippur

The Mitzvah to Fast
It is a positive mitzvah to fast on Yom Kippur, as it is written: “[Each year] on the 10th day of the 7th month you must fast…this is because on this day you shall have all your sins atoned, so that you will be cleansed. Before God you will be cleansed of all your sins” (Leviticus 16:29-30). One who transgresses and does not fast, in addition to negating a positive commandment, also transgresses a negative commandment.
And anyone who eats even one small sesame seed, or drinks even one drop of water, transgresses a Torah prohibition.
A Sick Person for Whom Fasting is Not Life-Threatening is Obligated to Fast
A person who suffers pain from his illness – as long as his life is not in danger, it is forbidden for him to eat or drink anything. This is because fasting on Yom Kippur is a Torah obligation, and therefore, only pikuach nefesh (the preservation of life) overrides it.
This is the difference between Yom Kippur and the other fasts – namely, on the fast of Yom Kippur, ill people must also fast because it is a Torah prohibition; on the fast of Tisha B’Av, ill people are exempt from fasting; and on the minor fasts, pregnant and nursing mothers are also exempt.
Therefore, individuals sick with the flu, angina and the like – since their lives are not in danger, they are obligated to fast on Yom Kippur. It is preferable for an ill person to lie in bed all day and not go to the synagogue, than to eat or drink anything, because the main mitzvah of the day is fasting, for by doing so, God purifies Israel from its sins. And when an ill person is lying in bed, if possible, he should try to pray to the best of his ability, and if reading from the prayer book is too difficult, he should try to pray in his heart and move his lips in private prayers – but not to eat or drink anything.
Swallowing Medicine
While it is permitted for a sick person suffering from his illness to swallow pills – provided the pills do not taste good, and one takes care to swallow them without water. A person who cannot swallow pills without water should add a bit of soap to the water, thus causing it to taste bad, and with this water, swallow the pill.
Although we have learned that it is a Torah prohibition to eat or drink even the smallest amount, this refers specifically to something edible, but a medicine which is not intended to be eaten, is not considered food. True, there is a Rabbinical prohibition to eat or drink even something inedible (S.A. 612:6-8), but when the intention is medicinal, and not for the purposes of eating or drinking, there is also no Rabbinical prohibition.
Thus, the prohibition of taking medicine on Yom Kippur is equivalent to that ofShabbat, i.e., it is forbidden for one who experiences slight pain to take medicine, but if one is mitzta’er (distressed), it is permitted to take medicine (P’ninei Halacha, Shabbat 28:4-5, footnote 3).
Individuals required to take medicine on a daily basis, are also allowed to do so onYom Kippur.
Headache Sufferers
If the fast causes one great pain, he is permitted to take pills to relieve the pain. Similarly, individuals suffering from intense headaches due to not drinking coffee are permitted to take pills containing caffeine, or pills to relieve headaches.
In addition, someone who knows that the fast is likely to cause a painful attack, such as a migraine sufferer, is permitted to take pills in advance to avert the onset of a painful attack.
A Dangerously Ill Person
Someone who is dangerously ill and the fast is liable to result in his death, is commanded to drink and eat as needed, because pikuach nefesh overrides themitzvah of fasting, as is the case for all other mitzvoth from the Torah (Yoma 85b). A person in a state of safek sakana (questionable risk of death) and is machmir(stringent) with himself not to drink or eat – sins, because he transgresses the commandment from the Torah to guard one’s life.
The intention is not merely in a situation in which, as a result of fasting, a significant percentage of sick individuals will die, rather, as long as there is a possibility the fast will cause an ill person’s death or weaken his ability to cope with his dangerous illness, it is a mitzvah for him to drink and eat as necessary. Similarly, if the fast is liable to hasten the death of a terminally ill person on the verge of dying, it is amitzvah for him to eat and drink as needed, because in order to save life – even for short period of time – it is permissible to eat and drink on Yom Kippur.
Not to Be Overly Concerned 
On the other hand, however, one should not be overly concerned, for if we worry about sakanat nefashot (endangering life) over every common illness, in effect, we abandon the halakha which determines that a sick person is obligated to fast onYom Kippur.
Not only that, but if we overly exaggerate and worry about remote dangers, we would have to hospitalize all sick people, prohibit all non-essential means of transportation for fear of accidents, and of course, prohibit all types of hikes and excursions, and so forth.
Rather, the general rule is: Any danger that people usually treat urgently – investing time and effort – such as rushing a sick person to a hospital, is considered sakanat nefashot, and to prevent it, it is a mitzvah to desecrate Shabbat, and drink and eat on Yom Kippur. But dangers in which people do not rush and invest time and resources to take care of, is not considered sakanat nefashot.
The Greatest Mistake in Eating and Drinking in Shiurim (Measurements)
A common and widespread misconception among doctors and the ill is the belief that the advice to drink l’shiurim (in measured quantities) is sort of a middle-path, suitable for sick individuals for whom the fast is not life-threatening. In truth, however, drinking even a little bit is a Torah prohibition, and a person whose life is not endangered as a result of fasting, is forbidden to drink anything.
Rather, the point about drinking l’shiurim is that even when a dangerously ill person needs and is permitted to eat and drink on Yom Kippur, in the opinion of Ramban, it is preferable to eat and drink l’shiurim, so as to reduce to some extent the severity of the prohibition, because one who eats or drinks less than a shiur, although he has transgressed a Torah prohibition, one is not obligated to bring a sin offering and is not punished with karet (having one’s soul cut off from Israel). However, manyRishonim including Rif and Rambam do not mention this instruction, because in their opinion, a dangerously ill person is allowed to drink and eat l’chatchila (from the outset) without any restriction, and this was also the opinion of a number of Achronim(Natziv, Ohr Sameach and others). Nevertheless, the Shulchan Aruch determined that, if possible, it is preferable to drink and eat less than a shiur (618:7-8).  All this, however, is on the condition the sick person’s life is in danger.
What is Eating and Drinking in Shiurim?
The shiur for drinking is k’mlo peev (a cheekful of liquid), each person according to the size of his mouth. The shiur for eating is k’kotevet hagasa (a type of large date). In other words, eating and drinking less than a shiur means drinking less than k’mlo peev, and eating less than k’kotevet, which is 30 ml (S.A. 612:1-5, 8-10). The interval between drinking and eating is approximately nine minutes.
Diabetics and a Woman After Giving Birth
However, when there is reason to believe that drinking and eating in shiurim is liable to cause the slightest negligence in the strengthening of the dangerously ill person, he must drink and eat normally. For example, when a yoledet (a woman after giving birth) is tired, it is best for her to drink normally so that she can sleep uninterrupted, and not have to remain awake in order to drink in shiurim.
Diabetics who have not found a reliable solution for their situation must be very careful about this. If there is concern that due to eating in shiurim they might be negligent and not eat as needed, they must eat normally.
Praying in a Minyan as Opposed to Eating in Shiurim
It is preferable for diabetics who need to eat on Yom Kippur to eat more than ak’shiur at one time and pray in synagogue, than to remain at home and eat in shiurim. There are two reasons for this: First, eating in shiurim is a hiddur (enhancement), and praying in a minyan is more important. Second, if ill people are required to remain at home in order to eat in shiurim, some will nevertheless go to synagogue, intending to eat there in shiurim privately, but in practice, due to various reasons, will forget to eat as necessary, and as a result, become unconscious, faint, and God forbid, die. Diabetics have been known to die on Yom Kippur because of this reason.
Pregnant Women
Pregnant and nursing women are obligated to fast on Yom Kippur (Pesachim 54b; S.A.617:1). Even on Tisha B’Av, pregnant and nursing women are obligated to fast,kal v’chomer (all the more so) on Yom Kippur, whose requirement comes from the Torah.
There are some poskim (Jewish law authorities) who wanted to permit pregnant women to drink in shiurim, because in their opinion, women have become weaker nowadays, and fasting may cause them to miscarry. However, from studies conducted in Israel and the around the world, it was revealed that fasting does not increase the risk of miscarriage. Only in rare cases is fasting liable to induce labor in the ninth month of pregnancy, and in any case, this does not entail sakanat nefashot. Also, there is no evidence to the claim that nowadays women have gotten weaker. On the contrary – today, people are healthier than in the past, both due to the diversity and abundance of food, and because of medical advancement. This is also reflected in the rise of life expectancy by tens of years. Consequently, there is no room to be more lenient than in the past, and the halakha remains firm that pregnant and nursing women are obligated to fast (Tzitz Eliezer 17:20, footnote 4; Nishmat Avraham 617:1).
Thus, even a pregnant woman suffering from vomiting, high blood pressure, low hemoglobin (iron), and various ailments, is obligated to fast on Yom Kippur, and it is forbidden for her to drink in shiurim. Only in a special case where the pregnancy is at risk and a God-fearing doctor orders her, is a pregnant woman permitted to drink, and then, it is preferable for her to drink in shiurim.
Nursing Women
A nursing woman is obligated to fast on Yom Kippur (Pesachim 54b; S.A. 617:1). Although nursing causes fasting to be difficult, because it results in a further loss of fluids, there is no danger to the mother. The baby as well is not in danger, for if its’ mother is the type of woman whose milk does not decrease by fasting, the infant is not affected by the fast at all. And if its’ mother is the type of woman whose milk decreases due to fasting, she can supplement by feeding her baby oatmeal or water with glucose, and thus, the infant will not be affected by the fast.
Some poskim wanted to be lenient concerning nursing women, because in their opinion, weakness has descended upon the world, and today, without nursing, babies are at risk – however, their statements are extremely puzzling. For although surely there are positive benefits to nursing and mother’s milk, and many doctors encourage nursing, nevertheless, there are many women who do not nurse at all, and we have not witnessed doctors waging a war in support of women continuing to nursing in order to save their children for fear of mortal danger. If, in the past, when numerous babies died in their first year of life, and there were no good substitutes for mother’s milk, the clear instruction was that a pregnant woman was obligated to fast – even onTisha B’Av – how is it conceivable that nowadays, when there are good substitutes, suddenly, this issue has become one of pikuach nefesh?!
Although this is clearly the halakha, one should not object to those who naively rely on rabbis who are lenient. But in regards to rabbis who instruct women to be lenient – the bewilderment is great.
Quite often, it seems that behind such opinions lies a worldview which ignores the positive aspects of modern living. According to their opinion, the past was wonderful, people were strong, pregnant and nursing women were amazingly healthy. Today, however, we are miserable, and can only cry and sulk over our bitter fate. In reality, though, our situation today is infinitely better than conditions were a hundred years ago. Life expectancy has increased dramatically, the mortality rate of infants dying within their first year of life is extremely low, and pregnant and nursing women are much healthier. In the past, twenty percent of women died in childbirth; today, not even one percent dies. Incidentally, this is the same outlook that believes we shouldn’t thank God for the In-gathering of the Exiles and the establishment of the State of Israel – as if the grief-stricken galut (exile) was superior.
When is it Permitted to be Lenient?
However, when a baby is weak and prone to illness and the doctor thinks he is especially in need of mother’s milk, and there is reasonable concern that as a result of the fast, the nursing mother’s milk will stop or significantly diminish – on orders of a God-fearing doctor, she should drink in shiurim (O.C. 617:1). However, this is a very rare case, because if on the day before the fast, a nursing woman drinks a lot of water, almost certainly her milk will not decrease as a result of fasting.
It is preferable for her to start drinking more three days before the fast and get more sleep, and thus, her milk supply will increase. In addition to this, she can express milk for a number of meals a few days before the fast, and thus, the baby will have plenty of milk on the fast. Based on the experience of several women, it is advisable to alternately skip two feedings in the afternoon and early evening, and instead, give the baby a substitute, and thus the fast will pass more easily for both mother and baby.
This article appears in the “Basheva” newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

Selichot for Clal Yisrael

Custom of Reciting Selichot for the Salvation of the Clal        
Since the times of the Geonim (589-1038), many Jews have had the custom of rising in ashmoret ha’boker (early hours of the morning) during Aserit Yamei Teshuva (the Ten Days of Repentance) to recite Selichot (penitential poems and prayers). Contrary to the belief of many who think the objective of Selichot is to pray about one’s individual life, the main intention is to pray for Clal Yisrael – to awaken toteshuva (repentance), to beg God to forgive us for our sins and have mercy on His people in their exile and tribulations; not to glance at our transgressions and sins, but rather, that God should remember the covenant He made with our forefathers, and with us; remember the binding of Isaac, and the sacrifice of all the holy Jews who gave their lives to sanctify His name; and to pray for the Ingathering of the Exiles, the building of the Land and Jerusalem, the building of the Holy temple, and the return of the Shechina (Divine Presence) to Zion.
This is always the best approach for an individual – to participate in the prayers of thetzibor (general public), and redouble one’s prayers over Clal Yisrael, the dwelling of the Shechina, and the sanctification of His name in the world. Precisely in this manner, one’s personal prayers will also be accepted.
The Prophetic Origin     
Thus, we have found that in times of trouble, the Prophets aroused Israel to gather in fasting and prayer, begging God to spare His people and land, as it is written:
Blow the shofar in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those who suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth from his chamber, and the bride out of her pavilion. Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the alter, and let them say, Spare your people, O Lord, and give not your heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule over them: why should they say among the peoples, Where is their God? Then the Lord was zealous for his land, and pitied his people” (Joel 2:15-18).
When are Selichot Recited?
In the times of the Geonim the custom was to recite Selichot during the Ten Days of Repentance; this was the minhag of the two great yeshivot in Babylon, and was also the prevalent custom during the period of the Rishonim (1000-1450) (Rambam, Hilchot Teshuva 3:4). In a few places, the custom was to recite Selichot all of the month of Elul.
Sephardic Custom
Towards the end of the period of the Rishonim, Sephardic communities accepted the custom of reciting Selichot all of the month of Elul and the Ten Days of Repentance (S.A. 581:1). This is because all of these days are worthy of repentance, as we have seen that on Rosh Chodesh Elul, Moshe Rabbeinu ascended Mount Sinai to ask forgiveness for Israel’s sin of the Golden Calf, and on Yom Kippur, God answered: “I grant forgiveness as you have requested.”
Ashkenazi Custom
In Ashkenaz, the accepted custom was to begin reciting Selichot on the Moetzei Shabbat before Rosh Hashana, provided there were four days on which to recite them before Rosh Hashana.
Various explanations were cited for this (M.B. 581:6). However, I will mention the reason cited in the book ‘Leket Yosher’ (in the name of Trumat Hadeshen), thatMoetzei Shabbat is an able time for Selichot because on Shabbat “everyone is accustomed to study Torah…” seeing as Shabbat and the Torah are spouses, “and on Shabbat, Israel is free from work and study Torah. Therefore, it is good to start onYom Rishon (Moetzei Shabbat), because the people are happy for having learned Torah on Shabbat, and also because of Oneg Shabbat, and as was said in the Talmud: “The Divine Presence rests upon man neither through gloom, nor through laziness, save through a matter of joy in connection with a mitzvah…”(Shabbat 30b).
According to this, although the best time to recite Selichot is in the early hours of the morning, on the first day there is an advantage to recite them on Moetzei Shabbat after chatzot (halakhic mid-night), while still dressed in Shabbat clothes.
At What Time of Day are Selichot Recited?
The best time to recite Selichot is in the early hours of the morning, i.e., towards the end of the night, because this is a time of compassion and grace, a time of anticipation just before the appearance of daylight and the revelation of the word of God in the world. At that very moment in time everyone is asleep, the world is quiet and unpolluted from thoughts and evil deeds, and prayer radiates from the depths of the heart, penetrates all barriers, and is accepted. At any rate, after chatzot lyla, the fitting time to recite Selichot begins, because that’s when anticipation of daylight starts, and it is a time of favor and compassion.
In recent generations, people have become used to going to sleep late at night, and the regular time for waking up is between 6:00 and 7:00 A.M. – approximately two hours after ashmoret ha’boker. If people were to rise at ashmoret, they would be tired all day long, and their work and studies are likely to be affected. Consequently, today many people tend to get up for Selichot about an hour, or half an hour, before the time they usually pray Shacharit. And although dawn has already risen, bediavad (post factum) the time is still suitable for reciting Selichot. If they are able to reciteSelichot after chatzot lyla, it is preferable.
Are Selichot Obligatory?
Although the Rishonim did not fix the reciting of Selichot as mandatory, this is the minhag of Israel. However, someone who finds it difficult to wake up for Selichot is not obligated to do so during the month of Elul. During the Ten Days of Repentance, one should be more meticulous in reciting Selichot, because these days are more able for repentance and atonement (see, Rosh Hashana 18a; Rambam, Teshuva 2:6).
Selichot Opposed to Fatigue at Work and Study
Someone who cannot go to sleep early, and waking up for Selichot will result in fatigue and an inability to fulfill his duties at work – it is preferable for him not to wake up for Selichot even during the Tens Days of Repentance. Instead, he should try to increase his reciting of Tehillim, and if he wants, during the day he can recite the sections of Selichot that an individual is permitted to say.
The standard instruction is that it even for a Torah scholar accustomed to studying diligently, it is proper for him to devote the required amount of time to recite Selichot (Rokach 209; Birkei Yosef and Shaarei Teshuva 581:1).  It is the custom in all yeshivot to recite Selichot, even though it comes at the expense of learning. However, if rising early causes one to lose more learning time than the time dedicated in reciting Selichot, because afterwards, the change in schedule will cause lack of concentration in his studies, it is preferable not to rise for Selichot.
The Wording of Selichot
Since our Sages did not explicitly establish the reciting of Selichot, accordingly, Selichot lack a standard nusach (wording), and every community added its own pleas and poems. Nevertheless, there is a general framework used in all the comminities, as appears in the siddur of Rabbi Amram Gaon, with the reciting of the Yud Gimmel Midot (Thirteen Attributes of Mercy) being the focal point of the prayer.
Although the recitation of piyutim (poems) should not be cancelled on a regular basis, nevertheless, when the worshippers are short on time, they can skip some of them and say the main Selichot, making an effort to recite those Selichot which arouse one to greater teshuva.
Similarly, when teachers see that students find it hard to concentrate on all the Selichot, they may rearrange the order so the students can have better kavana (intention). And when it is necessary for members of different communities to pray together, and they wish to recite Selichot jointly, they can arrange a combined version, as Rabbi Avraham Gisser shlita, and Rabbi Shmuel Shapira shlita have done.
Selichot Nowadays Should Be Similar to the Prayers of Ezra
After being privileged to witness the developing process of the In-gathering of the Exiles and the establishment of the State of Israel, we should be aroused to recite Selichot with even more intensity, requesting that God continue having mercy on us, return us to Him in complete repentance, and redeem us completely.
Similar to our present situation, the olei Bavel (immigrants from Babylon) in the times of the first return to Zion, also faced serious spiritual difficulties, and by repenting, merited to build the Second Temple. As in the words of Ezra who, upon immigrating to Israel from Babylon, found that many Jewish inhabitants had taken foreign women for themselves, and the ministers and their deputies were underhanded. When he heard this, he rent his garments, plucked his hair, knelt down on his knees, spread out his hands, and prayed:
And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down appalled. Then were assembled unto me every one that trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of them of the captivity; and I sat appalled until the evening offering. And at the evening offering I arose up from my fasting, even with my garment and my mantle rent; and I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God; and I said: ‘O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to you, my God; for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our guiltiness is grown up unto the heavens. Since the days of our fathers we have been exceeding guilty unto this day; and for our iniquities have we, our kings, and our priests, been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to spoiling, and to confusion of face, as it is this day. And now for a little moment grace has been shown from the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in His holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage. For we are bondmen; yet our God has not forsaken us in our bondage, but has extended mercy unto us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of our God, and to repair the ruins thereof, and to give us a fence in Judah and in Jerusalem.And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments, which you have commanded by your servants the prophets, saying: The land, unto which you go to possess it, is an unclean land through the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands, through their abominations, wherewith they have filled it from one end to another with their filthiness. Now therefore give not your daughters unto their sons, neither take their daughters unto your sons, nor seek their peace or their prosperity for ever; that you may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever. And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great guilt, seeing that you our God has punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and has given us such a remnant, shall we again break your commandments, and make marriages with the peoples that do these abominations? Would you not be angry with us till you had consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape? O Lord, the God of Israel, you are righteous; for we are left a remnant that is escaped, as it is this day; behold, we are before you in our guiltiness; for none can stand before you because of this” (Ezra 9:3-15).
Ezra’s sorrow, fasting and prayers aroused the nation to repent, and thanks to this, the Second Temple was built and stood for hundreds of years. However, failing to repent completely, seeing as many Jews remained in Babylonian exile and did not immigrate to Israel, the Shechina (Divine Presence) did not dwell in the Second Temple as it had done in the First Temple, and ultimately, it too, was destroyed due to our sins.
Is the Wording of Selichot Suitable for Our Times?
Indeed, in the wording of Selichot there are sentences fitting for times of galut(exile), and certain people find it difficult to identify with the content. Some even claim there is a bit of falsehood in reciting them today.
But when we view Am Yisrael as one people having lived in all generations, with each one of us really linked to all the Jews who lived in all the generations and in all the various countries, well then, each and every one of us was actually along with all the Jews in every exile, and all the terrible tribulations. Along with them we suffered severe degradation, till we almost lost hope. We were together with the holy Jews and martyrs in all the forced conversions; in the Crusades and the Inquisition; in the Muslim killings, and the Chmielnicki pogroms of 1648-1650; and the last and most horrendous of all – the dreadful Holocaust, which ended barely seventy years ago, with hundreds of thousands of survivors who underwent the death camps and ghettos still living among us. How can we be at ease, saying that the Selichot supplications are not suitable for us, when the world is still full of wicked people who openly declare their desire to continue the work of the Nazis? Thus, the text of Selichot can be recited out of deep sense of identification.
This article appeared in ‘Basheva’ and was translated from Hebrew.