Progressively Speaking: Why fast on Yom Kippur?

Progressively Speaking: Why fast on Yom Kippur?

Ahead of the annual Jewish fast of Yom Kippur, Rabbi Danny Rich asks why we refrain from eating?

 The purpose of Yom Kippur is to give each of us the ability to honestly and openly self-reflect and examine our past, present and future conduct.

Leviticus (16:29 and 30) tells us we are to use the day ‘to afflict our souls’ in order that ‘… atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you of all your sins before the Eternal One’.

Jewish tradition has come to understand that ‘afflicting the soul’ involved depriving oneself of pleasures: leather shoes, sexual intercourse, anointing the body with oil, bathing and, above all, the consumption of food and drink.

But is it really necessary
to fast?

That choice should be made by the individual, reflecting on the very purposes of Yom Kippur itself.

Yom Kippur is the culmination of a process of teshuva (returning or atonement) which begins at the outset of the month of Ellul and intensifies over Rosh Hashanah.

It marks a period in which each and every Jew is called upon to acknowledge that they are not all they might have been.

In this time of self-reflection and introspection, we are encouraged to approach and apologise to those we may have wronged, forgive those who might have wronged us and
to vow to do better in the
coming year.

If being in a synagogue all day and fasting helps achieve this, then it is important.

If being in synagogue all day and fasting does not, then
one should investigate other means.

When we greet someone on Yom Kippur we often wish them a ‘meaningful fast’.

For me a truly meaningful fast is one where food, or the lack thereof, doesn’t distract from the true purpose of the day.

  •  Danny Rich is Senior Rabbi of Liberal Judaism
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