Friends and family members wishing each other an “easy fast” during Yom Kippur may be missing the point.
After all, there is a reason Jews are commanded to abstain from food for 26 hours on Yom Kippur: the affliction of their souls in atonement for the sins of the past year.
“Fasting isn’t supposed to be easy,” said Rabbi Mark Mahler, spiritual leader of Temple Emanuel of South Hills.
Instead, the process is meant to be “inner-reflective,” said Rabbi Barbara AB Symons, spiritual leader of Temple David in Monroeville.
“After having spoken to Muslims during Ramadan, I don’t think it’s meant to be easy,” Symons said. “Instead, we are supposed to stay focused on what the day is about. If we have down time, then we will feel hungry. But if we are doing inner-reflection, and participating in services, we won’t be as literally hungry, but by extension, we will be hungry for being a better person.”
Still, for some, it is a struggle to get through a day without food and drink, even if one remains focused on the purpose of the fast.
Mahler cautions people to avoid overeating before the fast in an effort to store up food and calories.
“Physicians say that makes the fasts more difficult,” he said.
To help his congregants avoid getting dehydrated, faint or sick while fasting, Rabbi Alex Greenbaum, spiritual leader of Beth El Congregation of the South Hills, recommends ceasing the consumption of foods high in caffeine, sugar and salt, and drinking more water than usual, the day prior to the fast.
The final meal before the fast should have a high carbohydrate content, and low salt, and one should drink lots of water, according to the suggestions Greenbaum offers to his congregants.
While Yom Kippur is one of the longest fasts of the year, it is not the only one, and for some, it is not the most difficult.
“I find the Tisha B’Av fast much more difficult,” Mahler said. “Yom Kippur is busy — all evening and all day in synagogue. Not so Tisha B’Av, at least for me.”
The two fasts that occur in the summer can be good practice for Yom Kippur, according to Mahler.
“Shiva Asar B’Tammuz [the start of the three-week mourning period for the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temples] is a ‘warm up’ fast for me,” he said. “So both Tisha B’Av and Shiva Asar B’Tammuz get me ready for the Yom Kippur fast.”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at tobyt @thejewishchronicle.net.