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September 12, 2013 / Rabbi Laura

A Yom Kippur confession

I have a confession to make.  I suppose, given that Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, begins tomorrow night, it is appropriate that I do so.  Much of our Yom Kippur liturgy involves confessing for sins we have committed in the past year.

But, my confession isn’t really for a sin.  Rather it’s probably more of an admission.  Here goes…

I don’t fast on Yom Kippur.


You’re probably thinking that’s not a big deal – lots of people don’t fast. Pregnant women and aren’t supposed to fast.  People who are required to take medications on a full stomach don’t fast. The elderly really shouldn’t fast. Well, I don’t fit into those categories.

But it is actually quite a big deal.  The tradition of fasting on Yom Kippur dates back to the Torah.

Leviticus 23:27-29: “Mark the tenth day of the seventh month as the Day of Atonement. It shall be a sacred occasion for you; you shall practice self-denial… For it is a Day of Atonement, on which expiation is made on your behalf before the Lord your God. Indeed, any person who does not practice self-denial throughout the day shall be cut off from his kin.”

We are supposed to fast in order to show our full remorse and to be cleansed for the sins we have committed in the past year. And if we don’t fast, as Torah says, we should be cut off from our community. That’s pretty serious.

I don’t fast because I don’t believe in it.

Granted fasting is not an easy endeavor.  Twenty-five hours without food or water is not easy.  But does it really cleanse my soul of the errors and dreck of the past year?  No.  For me true cleansing comes from admitting to myself, to those I have wronged and to God the mistakes I have made.  True repentance comes when committing not to make those same mistakes again – and when faced with the opportunity to do them, not.

On Yom Kippur we read from Isaiah 58, where the prophet redefines the fast we should be doing:

No, this is the fast I desire:
To unlock the fetters of wickedness
And untie the cords of the yoke 
To let the oppressed go free;
To break off every yoke.
It is to share your bread with the hungry,
And to take the wretched poor into your home;
When you see the naked, to clothe him,
And to not ignore your own kin.

Isaiah teaches us that our spiritual work should be focused outward – toward those in need. From there will come our cleansing and healing.

As a Reform Jew, I make informed and thoughtful decisions about my Jewish observance. After years of reflection, experimentation with fasting, I know it doesn’t work for me.  So, as Yom Kippur arrives tomorrow night,  while I will not be fasting, I will pray and I will meditate. I will join together with my community in communal confession. I will contemplate how to make this world a better place and myself a better person. And as Yom Kippur ends, I will take action.


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