Anorexia patients must eat on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), even if they are in advanced stages of treatment, Schneider Hospital's Rabbi Dr. Tomer Mevorach said.
In an article published by the Zomet Institute, Dr. Mevorach explained that anorexia is actually a psychological disorder which reduces food intake, influences body weight, and is characterized by a fear of gaining weight and an obsession with body weight.
Anorexia typically influences teenage girls. It can be difficult to treat, and if left untreated can be fatal.
According to Dr. Mevorach, anorexic patients fall under the category of "mentally ill for one issue," and their therapy includes both the physical and mental aspects. Initial therapy includes physical treatment to reverse the life-threatening malnutrition. Therefore, patients in this stage are considered "ill and in danger of their lives" and there is no question they should eat. Eating "not via mouth" is not forbidden on Yom Kippur, but it is also not required unless there is a medical reason for it. Eating small amounts at a time should be seriously considered, since there may be physical and mental consequences to such a decision.
Patients in later stages of treatment, during which the focus is on the psychological aspects and creating healthy habits, present a greater challenge in terms of Jewish law, especially when it is not longer clear that there is a risk to the patient's life or that there may be such a risk.
However, Dr. Mevorach suggests several solutions to allow these patients to eat as well, since the price of not eating may come at a high psychological price. He also warns of situations in which the patients believe their situation is better than it actually is, especially if they are eating due to external pressure and not an internal desire to eat.