Virtual Talmud

Virtual Talmud

Fast Food for Thought

For Rabbi Stern, fasting on Yom Kippur is sociological and familial. He does it because the people around him are doing it. That may be enough of a reason for him, but it is certainly not for me.

I fast because the Torah tells us to afflict ourselves on Yom Kippur and as far back as we can tell, Jews have understood that to mean fasting.

I fast because it reminds me that I have greater control over myself than I usually give myself credit for. Each year I am reminded that if I can make it through 25 hours of fasting, I also have it within my power to overcome other driving elemental urges, like eating too much chocolate or snapping at my son when I have had a tough day and he is being a teenager.


I fast because it reminds me to be grateful that this fast is by my choice; that I am alive now, and not in 1940s Europe; that I live here in America, and not in Darfur. I express my gratefulness to God, through my fast and by writing checks to Mazon and bringing food to my synagogue’s annual Operation Isaiah food collection.

Finally, I fast because it connects me to the Holy and makes the day Holy.

Rabbi Hayim Kieval, in his book The High Holy Days, suggests that for us to consider something truly “holy,” we must be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for it. He is writing about why the story of Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac (known in Hebrew as the Akedah) is read on Rosh Hashanah. But his observation is appropriate for Yom Kippur and offers another insight into why I fast: Fasting on Yom Kippur provides the opportunity to experience the holy.


Holiness is not something we can pick up on eBay. We can only attain it through personal sacrifice.

Personal sacrifice does not mean suffering. It means self-control and generosity of spirit. The sacrifice of fasting on Yom Kippur provides us a taste (excuse the pun) of what holiness can feel like.

For most of us, that sacrifice is neither great nor insurmountable. (Jewish law obligates the sick to follow doctor’s orders about eating and taking medications.) Nevertheless, fasting can transport us to another place spiritually–a place in which we can find absolution, wholeness, and a sense of closeness to God.

Comments read comments(6)
post a comment

posted September 26, 2006 at 6:14 pm

B”H Rabbi Stern’s comment: ————————————- “Let me be clearer. I don’t care if it’s healthy, I don’t care if it makes me appreciate my food more, I don’t care if it is spiritually moving or not. There are people who have theories about how fasting makes them be more “mindful” of what they consume, but I don’t need starvation to teach me “mindfulness.” I don’t like emotional, physical or spiritual shock therapy. I don’t like fasting or any form of self-mutilation.” ————————————- couldn’t have been much better said regarding fasting on Yom Kipper. The bottom line is, in my opinion, that G-d said we should fast. And even though today may mitzvos are neglected and trampled upon, there seem to be those mitzvos that reach the very inner spark of Jewishness within in even the most alienated Jews: The “Pintele Yid,” as it is called. And Yom Kippur, among the most joyous of days in the Jewish Calendar, the day when G-d grants forgiveness to all Jews for the so-many-times-we-messed-ups, seems to effect that very spark of so many “unaffiliated” Jews! As a Baal Teshuva, the idea of fasting is the only thing that I find troubling in Judiasm that causes me physical problems. However, usually I can handle Yom Kippur without too much difficulty (and medication) becuase, I believe, of the essence of the day. Perhaps that is why, at least in Lubavitch, the davening of the day is so “lebidike” with so many joyous niggunim, and the very awesome and joyous dancing to the singing “Napoleon’s March” that takes place at the close of Neilah. At that time, the Rebbe would hop up on his chair and wave his hands, the entire congregation of thousands at 770 shouting in spiritual extasy, “Good Yom Tov, Good Yom Tov, Good Yom Tov!!” May be, ihte merit of preserving the Mitzvos of Yom Kippur (and in many other merits), merit the true redemption immediately, which will cause all of us to be as joyous as at that auspicious moment, but without the fasting!…Yossel

report abuse


posted September 27, 2006 at 4:57 am

BH for Rabbi Grossman s post. Our tradition says also that the most joyous and holy of ocassions are the moments when we fast… Kippur, the 3 weeks, your wedding day. We will survive, if we weren t to survive the fast, we should just eat. But yes, it is fantastic to live a day without external energy factors, only the energy of your body and your soul. It is fantastic to have something to remind you of your self will. It is fantastic to have a moment to cleanse your body. There are a million and one reasons to fast… and if it is only to know that the entire tribe is “suffering” together, then so be it. Chatima Tova.

report abuse


posted September 27, 2006 at 2:44 pm

I find the rabbi’s comments uplifting and encouraging. Thank you for the article.

report abuse


posted September 27, 2006 at 6:38 pm

Possibly the reading of Isaiah 58:6-14 will answer the reason(s), or not, for fasting. The message is clear to me……I especially like the promises following the definition, for in truth, ‘to be Holy, as He is Holy’, is to do that which He commands.

report abuse


posted September 27, 2006 at 9:31 pm

Thank you for sharing your depth of understanding. I have found fasting to be as you have said. Your words are encouraging and bring a sense of unity that I deeply appreciate.

report abuse

Chana Silverman

posted September 28, 2006 at 4:25 pm

Fasting is a hard thing to do because it really involves a humbling of ourselves. We have ten days to prepare for Yom Kippur. If we used some of that time to get off of caffine and get ourselves physically ready to fast we might be more successful at it. It ain’t easy – but is it supposed to be? Should climbing a mountian to reach a place in HaShem we have yet to excperience be taken lightly or as easy as going to a movie?

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

The Task Is Never Finished
It has been heartwarming to read the warm responses to Rabbi Waxman's post asking Beliefnet to reconsider its decision to cancel Virtual Talmud. Virtual Talmud offered an alternative model for internet communications: civil discourse pursued in ...

posted 12:31:46pm Apr. 03, 2008 | read full post »

Some Parting Reflections
Well, loyal readers, all good things must come to an end and we’ve been informed that this particular experiment in blogging as a forum for creating wide-ranging discussion on topics of interest to contemporary Jews has run its course. Maybe ...

posted 1:00:29pm Mar. 31, 2008 | read full post »

Obama's Lesson and The Jewish Community
There are few times in this blog’s history when I have felt that Rabbi Grossman was one hundred percent correct in her criticisms of my ideas. However, a few weeks ago she called me out for citing a few crack websites on Barak Obama’s ...

posted 12:09:08pm Mar. 31, 2008 | read full post »

The Future of Race Relations
As a post-baby boomer, it is interesting to me to see how much of today’s conversation about racial relations is still rooted in the 1960s experience and rhetoric of the civil rights struggle, and the disenchantment that followed. Many in the ...

posted 4:04:41pm Mar. 25, 2008 | read full post »

Wright and Wrong of Race and Jews
Years ago, as a rabbinical student, I was one of a group of rabbinical students who visited an African American seminary in Atlanta. My fellow rabbinical students and I expected an uplifting weekend of interfaith sharing like we had experienced ...

posted 12:50:11pm Mar. 24, 2008 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.