Think you can’t observe Yom Kippur? Not so fast

Like many people with health concerns, Arianna Haut cannot fast on Yom Kippur — in her case, because of low blood sugar. 

“I used to have to sneak out of synagogue to eat a granola bar, which is the fastest way to make a person feel like a shmuck,” said Haut, a Mid-City resident and head of school at Summit Preparatory Charter School in South Los Angeles.

The 34-year-old tried cutting down on the amount she ate, but she still couldn’t make it through the day. 

“I realized that I should eat as I normally would,” she said. “I have to, in order to feel like a whole person and observe the gravity of the occasion.” 

Haut is not alone in facing the cognitive dissonance of trying to balance an approaching fast with a health issue. These people want to fulfill the spiritual mitzvah of repentance through fasting on Yom Kippur but must also uphold the mitzvah of respecting one’s body. 

Tradition says that one’s health must always come before fasting — or even praying — on Yom Kippur. As Maimonides wrote in Hilchot De’ot, “Bodily health and well-being are part of the path to God, for it is impossible to understand or have any knowledge of the Creator when one is sick. Therefore one must avoid anything that may harm the body and one must cultivate healthful habits.” 

For some, the biggest challenge in choosing whether to fast is interpreting the gray area in between serious illness and discomfort. Different areas of Judaism approach the subject in different ways. 

Rabbi Yakov Vann of the Calabasas Shul said, “Jewish law recognizes the need for someone who would become seriously ill to eat even on Yom Kippur. With that said, there are differing levels of eating. Ideally, in this circumstance, they would eat below a certain minimum spread over time, as the Torah’s prohibition is mitigated in this manner and the circumstance warrants it. 

“If they must eat and drink freely to avoid becoming dangerously ill, then they would be allowed, or better yet, required, to eat,” he continued. “In this situation, we are taught that even so, they should limit the amount and type of food to that which is needed and refrain from eating pleasurable foods so that the spirit of the fast is felt even if the technical observance from a fasting perspective is not.” 

The good news for someone in such a situation is that fasting is not the only mitzvah that can be observed on Yom Kippur, according to Rabbi Daniel R. Shevitz of Mishkon Tephilo in Venice.

“Abstaining from bathing, cosmetics, leather shoes and sex are all traditional observances, even if health issues prohibit fasting,” he said.

“As far as that goes, one should eat and drink only what is necessary for protecting health. A restricted diet, in this case, is still an acceptable observance.”

He added that there are other things one could do to make up for an inability to fast completely.

“Isaiah taught us that social justice is an indispensable component of our observance. In the event that health concerns prohibit fasting, giving of one’s resources to alleviate hunger is certainly praiseworthy,” Shevitz said. 

Rabbi Sam Spector of Temple Judea in Tarzana agreed, saying that giving to food pantries is commendable. He also said one key is to understand the point of fasting in the first place.

“When we look in the Haftarah that we read on Yom Kippur (Isaiah 58:3), it tells us that God does not accept insincere fasts — if you are fasting then going out oppressing people tomorrow, the fast doesn’t count. So the key for people who cannot fast is to find an alternative for them to still find the meaning behind why we fast. If they do this, then they are fulfilling the commandment more than people who fast without intention. 

Because Yom Kippur is a day when we do things out of the norm, Spector said he encourages people to find ways to bring that to the forefront of their minds. 

“Even wearing different shoes [that aren’t leather] than usual can help bring you into the mentality of thinking about why Yom Kippur is different, and therefore, how we can act differently in the year ahead,” he said. 

“Mishkan Hanefesh,” the new High Holy Day prayer book for the Reform movement published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis, addresses the issue of those who cannot fast directly. 

It offers multiple prayers and meditations on the topic, including one that states:  “For those unable for reasons of health to participate in the fast, it is a commandment to eat and drink on Yom Kippur. For Torah is not a source of punishment, but an instrument of compassion and loving-kindness, intended to enrich and improve our lives. I honor the diving gift of my life and the sacred imperative to preserve life… “May I experience the spiritual intensive of this day with a whole heart, and may I go forward this year to fulfill many mitzvoth, in life and health, in sincerity and dedication.” 

FAA extends Ben Gurion Airport ban another 24 hours

The Federal Aviation Administration extended for another day its ban on flights to Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv.

The U.S. agency said, however, that it had received “significant new information” from Israel that could influence its decision.

“The agency is working closely with the Government of Israel to review the significant new information they have provided and determine whether potential risks to U.S. civil aviation are mitigated so the agency can resolve concerns as quickly as possible,” the FAA said Wednesday in its announcement on the ban’s extension.

The statement did not outline the “new information.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the FAA for extending the ban, which was launched Tuesday after a rocket landing near the airport led at least two commercial carriers to cancel flights to Israel.

“There’s no reason whatsoever for the mistaken FAA decision to instruct American planes not to come here,” Netanyahu said at an appearance Wednesday with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who flew into Israel to protest the ban. “I think this decision only rewards the Hamas terrorists for nothing.

“You can fly in and out of Israel, and I hope that the FAA rescinds this decision as soon as possible,” the Israeli leader said.

Israeli officials have said they understand the ban is a procedural decision.

“Our aviation officials are in contact with the FAA, and we are confident that after they learn all the facts, they will resume flights,” Aaron Sagui, the Israel Embassy spokesman in Washington, said in a statement.

Such reassurances did not altogether stop speculation that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry initiated the ban to penalize Israel, although there was no evidence of such an animus.

“Was this a safety issue, or was it using a federal regulatory agency to punish Israel to try to force them to comply with Secretary Kerry’s demand that Israel stop their military effort to take out Hamas’s rocket capacity?” Sen Ted Cruz (R-Texas) asked in a release.

Netanyahu has so far accepted U.S.-backed cease-fire proposals; Hamas has rejected them.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations also called for a removal of the ban.

“Hamas wants to destroy Israel, but also the United States and the values both countries share,” the umbrella body said in a statement Wednesday. “We should not encourage them by invoking a ban on air flights.”

Palestinians flock to Jerusalem as Israeli restrictions eased

Israel has unexpectedly eased restrictions on Palestinians looking to visit Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, saying improved security meant it could let in thousands more from the West Bank.

Israeli officials said on Wednesday they had lowered the age limit for men wanting to visit al-Aqsa mosque in the old city to 40 from 50 and had also handed out seven times more permits to Palestinians between the ages of 35 and 40.

Religious authorities said up to half a million people visited the third holiest site in Islam on Tuesday night, many of them from the nearby West Bank, as visitors and pilgrims flowed through the checkpoints on Jerusalem’s Eastern flanks.

“I’m rejoicing and so happy to be in Jerusalem after 10 years of not visiting,” said 42-year-old Mohammed Rashid, from the West Bank town of Yatta, sipping a midnight coffee in a brightly lit old city arcade.

The Israeli Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories’ (COGAT) said that whereas last Ramadan it had handed out just 16,700 entry permits, this year it had distributed 123,514, and had also slashed the age limit.

A COGAT spokesman said the change was “due to the security situation”, adding that Israel wanted “to support and strengthen the economy and allow Palestinian’s freedom of religious worship in the maximum”.

However, the new rules only apply for the last few days of Ramadan, after which the old restrictions come back into force. “Why am I allowed in now, but next week I’m not?” Rashid asked.

The Old City’s stone streets, normally echoing caverns hinting at isolation and hard economic times by night, were a thick flow of pilgrims on Tuesday night, coursing past stalls of traditional cross-stitched dresses, prayer beads, spices and sweets.

“It’s not a question of the number of permits, but why permits are needed at all,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s executive committee.

Israel imposed a network of checkpoints and built a broad separation barrier across the West Bank after the eruption of Palestinian uprising beginning in 2000, preventing most West Bankers from entering the country.

Over 1,000 Israelis and several thousand Palestinians died in the violence which petered out mid way through the decade.

Reporting By Noah Browning