Contact Us

What is the procedure for one who must eat on Yom Kippur?

What is the procedure for one who must eat on Yom Kippur?


General Information:

One who is required to eat on Yom Kippur1 due to medical reasons, should not attempt to fast against the doctor's orders. The same Torah which commands us to fast on Yom Kippur tells us that guarding our health is far more important than fasting on this holy day. Just as a healthy person fulfills a mitzvah by fasting; an ill person does a mitzvah by eating.2

A rabbi should be consulted in advance to receive specific dispensation from fasting. However, in case of a medical emergency, or even if there is any question whether the condition is a medical emergency or not, the patient should be given food or medicine immediately.

A person who is required to eat or drink due to illness, but afterwards feels strong enough to fast, must resume fasting.

One who is weak and can only fast if he remains in bed all day, should not attempt to go to synagogue or pray, rather he should fast and remain in bed. Attending synagogue and/or praying are of secondary importance in comparison to the biblical obligation to fast.

Eating Procedure:

According to the Torah, one is only "culpable" when eating at least 1.26 ounces3 of food, or drinking at least a cheekful of liquid, within a short period of time.4 If possible, the ill person who must break the fast should eat and drink less than the abovementioned amount at intermittent intervals. Preferably, one should wait nine minutes between these snacks. Obviously, if the medical condition does not allow for this intermittent snacking, the patient must follow the doctor's orders.

In an ancient Machzor (High Holiday prayerbook), it is suggested for an ill person to recite the following prayer before partaking of food on Yom Kippur:

Behold I am prepared to fulfill the mitzvah of eating and drinking on Yom Kippur, as You have written in Your Torah:5 "You shall observe My statutes and My ordinances, which a man shall do and live by them. I am the L-rd." In the merit of fulfilling this mitzvah, seal me, and all the ill of Your nation Israel, for a complete recovery. May I merit next Yom Kippur to once again fulfill [the mitzvah of] "you shall afflict yourselves [on Yom Kippur]."6May this be Your will. Amen.

Technical Considerations:

When one is required to eat, no Kiddush is recited on Yom Kippur. (This applies even when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbat.)

Before eating bread one must wash hands as is done throughout the year. There is no need to have two complete challahs, as is required on all other festivals.

There is a difference of opinion whether the holiday ya'aleh viyavo is reciting during the Grace after Meals.


Pregnant or nursing women — who are exempt from fasting on all other public fast days (with the exception of Tisha b'Av) — must fast on Yom Kippur. A rabbi should be consulted if extenuating circumstances exist.


Similarly, one who has no strength to pray on Yom Kippur need not be upset. The chazzan's prayers cover for all those who cannot pray due to circumstances that are beyond their control.


2/3 of the Talmudic measurement called "k'beitzah".


It is biblically forbidden to eat or drink even less than this amount, but such an offense is not punishable by Torah law.

Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Chaya Mushka, and their three children.
The content on this page is provided by, and is copyrighted by the author, publisher, and/or You are welcome to distribute it further, provided you do not revise any part of it and you include this statement, credit the author and/or publisher, and include a link to
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with's copyright policy.
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
1000 characters remaining
Anonymous October 1, 2017

Does the Cantor fast on Yom Kippur? I heard that he is allowed to have a candy or something small. Is that true? Reply

Rivka Ormond Beach FL September 27, 2017

Why do people with all kinds of diseases fast before surgery or certain tests as directed, with trust in their doctors, yet when G-d tells us to fast, we have all kinds of worries and fears? Reply

Anonymous Camarillo, CA, USA via September 28, 2017
in response to Rivka:

1. Those fasts are usually much shorter than Yom Kippur.
2. At the hospital or surgery center, they have equipment to inject saline directly into your bloodstream to counter the effects of not drinking water. This is not done at Yom Kippur services, except on rare occasions when the paramedics are called because someone loses consciousness.
3. When you are going to be having surgery, the doctor should say that it is dangerous and there is some risk. If a doctor says that getting surgery is ever completely safe, you should not use that doctor. Reply

Yehudit UK September 28, 2017
in response to Rivka:

I think (as a Nurse not a Rabbi) a General Anaesthetic stops your muscles working, your breath is maintained by a machine for the duration of the operation, & the fasting is only 12 hours before surgery not 26 hours in Yom Kippur.

If you have eaten within 12 hours of "surgery that is known" (as in you have been notified, agreed etc. & it is not due to a sudden life endangering operation) you may end up bringing up items from your stomach which then will go into your lungs (Muscles that stop you inhaling your food, are non responsive under a GA)
I hope this helps you with your question. Reply

Eliezer Zalmanov for November 3, 2016

Re: Serious illness Please see the second paragraph above which states quite clearly:

"However, in case of a medical emergency, or even if there is any question whether the condition is a medical emergency or not, the patient should be given food or medicine immediately." Reply

Anonymous uk October 29, 2016

Serious illness Why should a very sick person have to receive dispensation from a rabbi, if a medical doctor has already said it would be extremely dangerous to fast. A rabbi might not be available or contactable - and could delay a decision that is a matter of life or death. Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for October 15, 2015

Re: Military Service First, I would like to thank you for your service...secondly, if not eating or drinking would "kill you" than one would need to eat or drink. After all, the laws of the Torah are meant to be for the living, and the saving life overrides almost all mitzvot. That said, as noted in the article, a rabbi should be consulted about any specific situations. Reply

Uri Shamir Jerusalem, IL September 22, 2015

Fasting and being diabetic I am diabetic and have been since 1971. I take multiple insulin shots daily. On Yom Kippur I only take a regular dose of Lantus insulin (a long lasting insulin) but I do not take the short acting insulin which requires that I eat something. I have experienced no problems with fasting all day and at the end of the day when I check my blood sugar levels it is usually normal. I have told my doctor about what I do and he has not told me not to follow this procedure. It seem to work. and it allows me to fast all day with ill effects. Reply

Anonymous September 18, 2015

Military Service Being in the military, I'm in the extreme heat all day long and dehydration would kill me and not eating would hinder my ability to execute my job, does this fall under Torah law as a commandment to eat? Reply

Anonymous Camarillo, CA via September 22, 2013

Re: Not "ill" but on medication & Donna Friedman There is no conflict and nothing to forgive.

You are commanded to fast only if it won't kill you.

If fasting would kill you, then you are commanded not to fast, so there is no conflict, and you do not need to ask forgiveness for not fasting.

On the other hand, if you are commanded not to fast, but do it any way, then you have to ask forgiveness for the sin of suicide. Reply

Anonymous NJ September 13, 2013

Not "ill" but on medication. I take medications that regulate my blood pressure and anxiety. My mental health doctor stated a couple of years ago firmly that I cannot fast. I did not listen to him for a couple of years, but then I did not on Tisha B'Av 2013 for the first time in YEARS and felt awfully guilty. Then another complication arose and I'm supposed to drink water. I really don't want to eat or drink. This year, I ran out to shul before Rosh Hashanah and fainted during services from my blood sugar plunging. I feel like I'm getting old, and don't want to have this conflict. Reply

Donna Friedman Los Angeles, CA September 26, 2012

fasting I am a breast cancer survivor and I am required to take meds every day that require fluid to take them. I will not eat but I will take my meds. I hope G-d will forgive me. Reply

Anonymous Chapel Hill, NC USA September 16, 2010

As someone who cannot fast for medical reasons I've often felt separated from the rest of the Jewish people who can observe this mitzvah. We're told in U'Netaneh Tokev that teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer), and tzedakah (charity) may help to "avert G-d's harsh decree." Teshuvah is represented by the fast; not being able to observe the fast is hard, yet how fortunate we are that even if we have to eat, we still can do tefillah and tzedakah. And since eating is a mitzvah--by preserving life--may the Almighty nonetheless look kindly and mercifully on our efforts to come close to him. Reply

Faygel Kingston, N.Y. USA September 16, 2010

Fasting My husband and I are members of our local Chabad.
I am Diabetic. Yes, I do fast. Have been since the age of 12. I do feel 'fuzzy headed' sometimes, due to being Diabetic. I go outside of Shul and get some air. My Rabbi told me, prior to Yom Kippur, when I told him I was Diabetic a few years back, to get some Orange Juice if need be. So far, I have been able to shake off. We all have to do what we feel we can. To me it is important to fast on this day.
Shana Tova to one and all. Reply

Naomi Jerusalem, Israel September 15, 2010

Fasting when pregnant In response to other posts, I am a pregnant mother of 3 who will be fasting this YK. I am due close to YK and fasting will not endanger my life or the newborn's. If it causes me to start having contractions, then I was told to drink less than a certain amount at 9 minute intervals. Health is a means to an end, and is determined by G-d. Reply

Anonymous Jerusalem, Israel September 27, 2009

sick I am sick, but I don't have a Rabbi to consult and I have not been to a doctor. I have been drinking a lot of fluids but can't quench my thirst, so fasting is going to be difficult...I haven't decided what to do. Maybe I won't eat, but I will drink. Reply

Laura Mushkat schenectady, new york October 29, 2007

re eatting on Yom Kippur Besides the young there are people who should not fast regardless of religous edicts.

For exmple, they mention pregnant woemen and nursing mothers should fast! I never heard of this and it is, in my opinion, uttlerly without merit. Women who need the strength and nourishment to feed the unborn and the newborn should eat.

If you are sick with something cntagious, like a cold, you have no right going to shul and making others ill.

G-d gave us the brains to use common sense and that is what should be your criteria as well as doctor's orders!

Health comes first. Reply

Stephen Weinstein Camarillo, Ca via August 15, 2007

Someone else's life? What if the person's own health is fine, but not eating would endanger another person's life. For example, a doctor who has to perform a surgery that he cannot do correctly if he is nearly fainting. A doctor is allowed to work on Shabbos to save a patient's life. Reply

Gary Farkas Chicago, IL June 16, 2007

What the? if he/she is sick let them eat whatever. not allowing them to eat is going to make them worse. Health over rules religion Reply

Related Topics
Find Services
Audio Classes
Holiday Shopping Kids Zone
Free Greeting Cards