Religion & Beliefs

To Fast or Not To Fast

This afternoon, I got a phone call from a friend of mine and we ended up in a discussion about a feminist Yom Kippur service she's attending this week in a start-up minyan living-room sort of setting. I asked her … Read More

By / September 17, 2007

This afternoon, I got a phone call from a friend of mine and we ended up in a discussion about a feminist Yom Kippur service she's attending this week in a start-up minyan living-room sort of setting. I asked her what elements were going to be changed, implemented or excluded to qualify the service as feminist and she pointed out some resources I'll be sharing with all of you a bit later this week, of course. She mentioned something which I found terribly interesting, and that the women leading this service made a point to let the attending women know that it was a "body-positive, fast-optional" minyan, feeling all too often food, eating, not-eating, and being female is so very loaded.

This idea started, my friend explained, when one of the service leaders, years ago, overhead women talking about the Yom Kippur diet and felt that seeing the fast as a trick to outsmart the metabolism to be quite a shonda, if not just missing the spiritual point, so they decided on their mindful approach.

Personally, this is a subject of great interest to me, mainly because I write a great deal about the social-cultural issues surrounding women and eating and so often about media literary versus body image and the like. This article from Jewish Family offers a breakdown of physical effects of temporary fasting, with a mindfulness towards eating disorders and here a few rabbis and physician talk it over in a broad sense. Here Richard Israel offers some tips and a decent explanation (for some of our friends-of-the-Jewcy readers) about why we fast, in personal and spiritual terms, while here a rabbi and health officials at the Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders urges people to consider not fasting at all.

This essay by Janie Lieberman details her struggle with eating disorders, why, with the day and its rituals too loaded for her, she did not chose to fast any longer, which ends with this paragraph:

"With Yom Kippur 'fast' approaching, we atone for our sins of the body and spirit. Forgetting all that, many will end their daylong fast by gorging at sundown. Indeed, the Jewish holidays are as rich in traditions as they are in rich food. I, however, do not fast. I did enough of that, and it was only a set up to binge. Judaism teaches us that the body is a soul's house. I respect that philosophy and don't abuse food or my body."

The Talmud declares that one must maintain a healthy body in order to have a healthy soul, and with such discussion in Judaism devoted to saving a single life being like saving the whole world, and with even the most observant person not only being rabbinically permitted but required to violate other halachic terms to spare someone death.

But, in my humble opinion, there is physically saving a life, and there is emotionally saving a life. Sometimes the lines blur, sometimes they do not, but both are of great sacredness and importance. This year on Yom Kippur, I wish everyone a meaningful, mindful and safe experience, however it manifests, and however we thoughtfully choose.