How Do the Sick and Pregnant Observe Yom Kippur?

Chief Rabbi Lau explains the ins and outs of the Day of Atonement fast, regarding who can eat and how.

Orli Harari, Ari Yashar ,

Rabbi David Lau
Rabbi David Lau
Flash 90

Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi David Lau released Halakhic (Jewish legal) guidelines for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which is a day-long fast beginning on Friday at sundown.

The rabbi began by warning "a sick person who wants to be stringent on himself and fast - in opposition to the instructions of his rabbi and doctor - is as one who spills blood. Just as it is a mitzvah (commandment) for one to fast, in the same way it is a mitzvah for the other (sick person) to eat."

"On the other hand, for someone obligated (by Jewish law) to fast for whom it is difficult to fast, it is better that they lie in bed all day at home and not go to the synagogue so that they won't reach a situation where they need to eat and drink, since the principle of the day is the fast," added Rabbi Lau.

Elaborating on the practice for those in difficult conditions to fast, the rabbi continued "those who are sick, pregnant women, and women giving birth should rest in an air-conditioned room, so that they won't need to drink or that they can drink only small amounts because the mitzvah of the day is the fast, and those who are able should go to the synagogue."

The amount of food (27 grams every nine minutes) and drink (up to 40 cubic centimeters every nine minutes) allowed on the fast only applies for the sick, added the rabbi. A sick person who wants to eat is to be reminded it is Yom Kippur, and if they still wish to do so they are to be fed.

The sick, even those not in danger, are allowed to take medicine on Yom Kippur if it has a bitter taste, but should not take water to help swallow pills. Sick people in danger, or who may be in danger if they do not take medicine, should take the medicine with a small quantity of water after adding something slightly bitter to it.

Pregnant and nursing mothers

In the case of nursing mothers and pregnant women, Rabbi Lau noted that their husbands are required by Jewish law to take care of the children so that their wives can observe the fast and not be forced to eat or drink.

While pregnant and nursing mothers are to observe the fast, a pregnant mother in the end of labor experiencing regular contractions can drink a small quantity (kashiur, literally a measured quantity) so as not to reach labor while dehydrated.

In the first three days after birth, mothers are not to fast.

However, if the new mother doesn't ask for food and the doctor doesn't tell her to eat, she is to be fed only in according measure. From the fourth to the seventh day after birth, if she asks for food or the doctor tells her to eat, she is to eat as normal.

If the doctor says a mother within seven days of birth does not need to eat, or she feels stable enough to fast and there is no doctor, she can fast while only eating and drinking a small quantity. If she wants to fast and the doctor does not oppose, she is allowed to do so.

After the seventh day following birthing women are obligated by the fast, but if they are in a weakened condition due to the birth and want to eat, or the doctor demands that they eat, they are obligated to do so. If the seventh day since the birth ends in the middle of Yom Kippur, they are to fast from the hour the seventh day ended.

A nursing mother who provides all of the food for her baby, and who may not be able to provide enough if she stops drinking, may be allowed to drink but should ask a rabbi first.

Rabbi Lau reminded that medical concoctions meant to ease the fast may be taken before it, concluding by saying "may it be G-d's will that we all merit forgiveness, pardon and atonement."