Fasting on Yom Kippur is one of the most widely observed rituals among Jews. Based on recent surveys, more than half nationally and as many as 72 percent locally will abstain from eating this Saturday.
But for those unable to partake in the fast because of medical reasons, having a meal on the Day of Atonement can be a difficult, guilt-ridden process. That’s particularly true in the case of those recovering from eating disorders, for whom a day without food may lead to a relapse, but who might not consider their illness severe enough to forgo the fast.
“If someone is suffering from a heart condition, he feels ‘I got sick I have to eat,’ ” says Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, a Brooklyn lecturer and author on Orthodox topics. “But if it’s an eating disorder, the person may say ‘I did this to myself. I don’t have a right to eat.’ ”
The rabbi, who wrote a book in 2000 on Torah perspectives about eating disorders, wants to provide spiritual support for those who might hesitate to break, or avoid the fast. He’s written a prayer to be recited before meals that emphasizes the Torah’s emphasis on health above nearly all other concerns.
“Merciful father, with a heavy heart, I have asked rabbis and have been directed that my annulment of this commandment is my fulfilling of it, that if my health requires that I eat today, I will thus fulfill your will,” the prayer reads in part. It is available in full on the rabbi’s website, www.rabbidovidgoldwasser.com.
The rabbi gets calls from concerned parents, some of whom observe no other Jewish rituals, who cannot convince ill children to eat on Yom Kippur. “I want to give them the kavana [intention] and take away the guilt involved,” said Rabbi Goldwasser of Congregation Bais Yitzchak in Midwood. “I explain exactly from the Talmud that if you don’t eat, you are responsible for a greater crime than eating on Yom Kippur.”
For those who are ailing but unsure whether to fast, Rabbi Goldwasser recommends consultations with both a doctor and a rabbi. But he says a rabbi, in many cases, should be more liberal than the physician. “A rabbi will say they should eat, in some cases, even if a doctor says he thinks you can get away with [fasting],” says Rabbi Goldwasser.