Fasting and Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, took place over the weekend. In keeping with the tradition, Justin and I decided to fast for the day--from sunset of the night before Yom Kippur to sunset on the day itself. 

The experience was interesting, both intellectually and physically, and I thought it would be worth it to write a little more about fasting and about why a secular Jew and her non-Jewish husband would choose to fast on this Jewish holy day.

I fasted on this particular day mostly because Justin wanted to do so, and I wanted to join in solidarity.  His reasons seemed largely based on his interest in having the physical experience of a day without food; Yom Kippur (and the attending break-the-fast dinner we'd been invited to) seemed like a better day than most to have this experience.

As for me, although I'm not religious, I still find [or try to find] a place in my life for Jewish traditions, especially for those that have to do with food and community. I like that I'm taking part in this tradition that people all around the world are experiencing, and that has taken place for thousands of years. Fasting is a humbling experience, one that reminds you of the physical limitations of your body, and of how fundamental nourishment is to all the other things we think and do during a typical day. And in being able to make it through the fast, you are reminded of your own strength and sense of determination. 

Yom Kippur, in being called the "day of atonement" encourages Jews to think about the sins they've committed over the previous year, and to atone for them through reflection and asking God's forgiveness. Although I'm not much for the latter part--of asking for God's forgiveness--I am a big fan of reflection. I think setting aside time to consider how you've lived your life, what you're happy about, and what you could do better, is crucial to self-awareness and happiness. I participated in this cool online program, 10Q, in the days leading up to Yom Kippur, which gave me an organized place to do this sort of reflection. (Check it out!)

Another big, important reason that I fast is that going hungry can give me at least some indication of the kind of suffering that many people--in our country and around the world--experience much more frequently than once a year. In an article about a Yom Kippur service at the Occupy Wall Street protests, there was a reference to Isaiah 58:5, a passage that is often read on Yom Kippur. A selection: 

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: 
   to loose the chains of injustice 
   and untie the cords of the yoke, 
   to set the oppressed free 
   and break every yoke? 
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry 
   and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— 
   when you see the naked, to clothe them, 
   and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. 
   “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, 
   with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry 
   and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, 
   then your light will rise in the darkness, 
   and your night will become like the noonday...

Fasting, according to this passage, is not enough. We must couple our fasting with attention to injustice all around us.

And, of course, at the end of the day, that first bite of food after a day of fasting is pretty darn delicious.

the beautiful challah with which we broke our fast


  1. I love this post. Thank you for sharing, Anna! Kindred spirit :)


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