Do you need to fast or not on the Monday following Rosh Hashana (September 21)? Like everything else in the Jewish world, it depends on who you are. We have had three Rabbinic fasts since the Pandemic has started (Fast of Esther (Ta’anit Esther), Seventeenth of Tammuz (Shiva Asar B’ Tammuz) and Tisha B’Av This will be the fourth one, so we have had some guidance before.
Only a Jew has to keep 613 mitzvahs, a Gentile does not, just the Noahide laws. A woman keeps fewer stringencies than a man about many religious practices as she is not obligated in many (some she is) time-bound mitzvah, and a Slave (though we don’t have anymore) even less.
Now we have a new fourth class of people. Those over 60 years old. The Pandemic distinguishes between those under 60 and those over.
Judaism is the world’s oldest monotheistic religion, dating back nearly 4,000 years. Followers of Judaism believe in one God who revealed himself through ancient prophets. The history of Judaism is essential to understanding the Jewish faith, which has a rich heritage of law, culture and tradition.
Over the 4000 years, we have had many times questions about whether a fast is canceled or not either for medical conditions or over the safety of the Jewish People as other nations like to threaten us with either loss of our lives or property.
Judaism believes in the principle that life comes first in most instances (not all as there are three primary exceptions–violating beliefs in Idolatry, Harming others, or sexual immorality may supersede life).
So when life is at stake, the fast may have to go. The fast of Tzom Gedaliah is a Rabbinic Fast, not a Torah Fast, (Only Yom Kippur is a Torah fast), so since it was created by the Rabbis, the Rabbis have the right to make the rules about who has to keep it.
Rabbis and doctors have always considered the weighty issue of fasting.
Whether an elderly person or sick person should eat or drink on Yom Kippur or the lesser fasts, depends on whether he is healthy or fragile.
Although religion should promote good health, sometimes the two can clash. In such cases – for example, religious fasts – Rabbis and Doctors should intervene to ensure that patients are not harmed.
“The fast was initiated by the G-d (or in the case of Tzom Gedaliah the Rabbis), “but it is meant for healthy adults, not for the sick or for children or pregnant or lactating women. If you can’t fast for health reasons, it’s just as good to give charity instead.”
One well known Orthodox Rabbi, RABBI YOSEF Zvi Rimon, the rabbi of JCT (The Jerusalem College of Technology, an Orthodox Jewish educational institution in the Givat Mordechai neighborhood of Jerusalem) and head of its Beit Midrash, noted that “medicine develops all the time. Doctors may have said something 20 years ago, and rabbis gave halachic rulings on the basis of that, but maybe the information is obsolete. The principles of Jewish law are the same, but conclusions may be wrong because doctors made statements based on medical evidence and research at the time.
One has to go deeper.” The rabbi produced a pamphlet with guidelines for patients on Yom Kippur fasting.“It there is doubt, one must consult with a rabbi. If it is impossible and there is a real doubt [about whether the fast will cause harm], one should not fast and not endanger life, even if there is no immediate danger but only one that is distant. A patient must not risk his or her health and fast in contravention of doctor’s orders.”
We are in such a time, with the Pandemic. There has always been a way to avoid the issue of fasting in the past, for those who are sick, by a technique called “sherim” Eating or drinking a small amount over a period of time is not defined by the Rabbis as eating or drinking. A sick person, who, in the doctor’s opinion, fasting for a few hours will cause him to require eating regularly, later on, should begin eating “shiurim” from the beginning of the fast. Now we move to the question of eating regularly or via an IV. The prohibition to eat on Yom Kippur or the other Rabbinic fasts is only when the food intake is via the mouth and throat. Nutrition introduced intravenously or via a nasogastric tube etc. is, strictly speaking, also not prohibited. Nevertheless, a healthy person should not use this technique to avoid fasting. Having said this, a sick person who does need to eat on Yom Kippur is not required to receive his food via an IV in order to negate the necessity to eat regularly; rather he may eat in a normal fashion. There are opinions that state that a sick person, who is not currently in danger and is eating only to prevent potential danger, should begin receiving nutrition via an IV from before the onset of Yom Kippur, thereby not introducing something new on Yom Kippur.
“Shiurim” as we said above is to drink small amounts of water every nine (or even six) minutes. The permitted amount of water is easy to measure. Fill your mouth with as much water as you can and then spit it out into a cup. Half of that amount can be drunk every nine minutes by chronic patients who need to hydrate themselves. The average amount is 38 milliliters and should be less than 44 milliliters. Similarly for food. This is not called eating or drinking.
A sick person is also allowed to take a shower on Yom Kippur to refresh himself (it is forbidden to healthy people).
It is preferable to stay home, pray and fast, if permitted by a doctor or rabbi, rather than go to synagogue and forgo the fast. Pregnant and lactating women who are healthy usually are bound to fast (unless the new mother cannot produce enough milk for the baby), but pregnant women should consult with authorities on whether going without food and drink would harm them or the fetus. Chronically ill patients who must take pills during the fast are advised to take them without water, but if this is impossible, they should do so in a different way, such as adding a bit of salt or something bitter, the rabbi suggested.
DR. EPHRAIM Jaul, director of complex geriatric nursing at Jerusalem’s Herzog Hospital, said that ironically, there were many recommendations for vaccination for babies and children up to the age of 18, but only one recommended vaccination (against pneumonia) for those over 65.
“Old age is the most heterogeneous condition, but it is treated as homogeneous.” He urged pensioners to walk fast to improve their heart, brain, and gastrointestinal systems, as well as to do mental exercises.
Before this Pandemic, calling a person “old” should not be determined by his chronological age but more exactly by his biological age, said Prof. Tzvi Dwolatzky, an expert in geriatrics and internal medicine at Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center. “It used to be that kidney-failure patients were not sent to dialysis after the age of 75. Today, one can be 85 or more and still undergo it. The decision is made according to the biological age of the patient,” he said, showing a photo of an 89-year-old woman who piloted a plane, and of Jeanne Louise Calment, a French woman who lived to the age of 122 and of a Holocaust survivor and Israeli named Yisrael Kristal, who died recently at the age of 113.
Before this Pandemic or on Yom Kippur where there are different rules than for Tzom Gedolia, whether an elderly person should eat or drink on Yom Kippur, said Dwolatzky, depends on whether he is healthy or fragile (living at the edge of his abilities and could fall at a slow walking speed). “From my experience, most old people fast better than young people.
”DEHYDRATION FROM fasting is a significant risk in elderly patients, noted Dr. Ephraim Rimon of the Hartzfeld Geriatric Hospital in Gedera, who happens to be the older brother of Rabbi Rimon.
“One should drink three liters of water during the 24 hours before a fast, but it’s hard for the elderly to drink so much. If a patient is dehydrated, the risk of a heart attack or stroke is higher. An elderly person who wants to fast and drink at intervals may forget to drink water and then harm himself.
”He told the story of Rabbi Chaim Sonnenfeld of the Eda Haredit who learned of a blind woman who was fasting and endangered her health. “He came to her and blew the shofar during the fast and told her it was night and the fast was all over.
But every case is different.”Dr. Rabbi Mordechai Halperin, head of Jerusalem’s Schlesinger Institute for Medical-Halachic Research, added that a patient with irregular heartbeats can even die if he fasts.
“If we make an error in our guidelines, we are spilling blood. If a person is sick and at risk, he doesn’t need to drink at intervals. He should eat. If based on medical evidence, a person could be harmed by the fast, he must eat.
”THE ONLY part of the body that needs carbohydrates is the brain, said Prof. David Zangen, a senior endocrinologist at Hadassah University Medical Center.“When you haven’t eaten for hours and the blood sugar level is low, the liver will release sugar from the liver to reach the brain rather than to remain in storage.
If there isn’t enough, a patient can fall and be seriously hurt.”Working with observant adolescents with type-1 diabetes, Zangen asked if they intended to fast on Yom Kippur. Thirty-nine of 190 said they would fast no matter what the doctor said.
“They want to be like all the others, but it could be dangerous. Those who nevertheless insist on fasting are advised to check their blood sugar every 2.5 hours and to start eating if they have nausea, vomiting, or hyperglycemia. A diabetic should always consult their personal physician, as he or she knows the medical condition well.”
Now let us turn to the current issue, not just of health, but of an epidemic condition. During the Holocaust, for the sake of life, one ate or drank, and there was no dispute, but we turn to an epidemic many years before the Holocaust for guidance as that is more similar to the current time.
So to answer the question, about keeping the fast we turn to history. The Place we start is a famous story about the most serious Torah Fast, Yom Kippur. If that fast can be put off, because it is the Torah fast, then certainly a less serious Rabbic fast can be put off, as part of the Rabbi’s job is to make that decision of who must fast, with the help of Doctors.
Following Shacharit on Yom Kippur of 5610, in September 1849, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, the famous and pious Vilna rabbi -founder of the Mussar Movement, dedicated to injecting the pursuit of ethical excellence into traditional Jewish observance, ascended to the bimah of the Vilna synagogue.
He explained to the congregation that because of the raging cholera epidemic in Vilna, they must not spend the day gathered together in the synagogue, but should leave the building and walk outside -fresh air was believed to prevent the spread of the disease. Furthermore, he said, it was imperative that everyone maintains their strength so that they would not fall, victim, to disease. And so, on that Yom Kippur, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter explained, everyone should break their fast, eat and drink so that they could protect their health and survive the disease. And his whole point was to break the fast not in the permitted way of “sherim” but literally to eat and drink, because he was afraid people might take the restrictions of “sherim” to literally and endanger themselves.
It was for this reason, even on Yom Kippur, which is not a rabbinic fast but a biblical one, Rabbi Salanter CANCELED YOM KIPPUR FAST.
Cholera is a horrific disease. It is painful, terrifying, and deadly. The Hebrew word for cholera- חולי רע sounds similar to “cholera” but more literally can be translated as “evil disease. ”Over the course of the 19thcentury, modern medical science learned how to prevent the spread of cholera, and also how to effectively treat cholera. However, in 1849, in Eastern Europe, nobody knew how the disease spread and there were no effective treatments.
Rabbi Yisrael Salanter was one of the most famed rabbis of Vilna. He threw himself into the fight against the disease. He volunteered to care for the sick, and was instrumental in organizing the Jewish community to take care of the sick and to watch over orphans left behind in the wake of the disease
Today during our current epidemic, Doctors and Rabbis have stated that anyone over 60 is at great risk from this new flu (younger people don’t seem to be as affected). It is not much of a stretch than using common sense, that even if you are in good health, anyone over 60 should not fast, and of course, if you are not in good health, no matter what your age you should not fast.
It will be very strange for people who are in jeopardy (and the medical experts say that anyone over 60 is at much higher risk as well as younger people with pre-existing conditions) to skip the fast of Tzom Gedolia this year, but they must to protect their health. Someone can be machmir (strict) on something that doesn’t affect their health, like reading more Tehillim or doing more prayers, but if they put themselves at risk by reducing their resistance, they are breaking the Torah not keeping it.
Either go to the synagogue or not (some are afraid of the potential virus in crowds), but as my Grandfather who lived to a ripe old age used to tell me, Stay home, take a bath, save money and be healthy!