It is a mitzvah in the Torah to fast on Yom Kippur, the 10th day of the Jewish month of Tishrei. The fast begins before sundown on 9 Tishrei (Yom Kippur eve) and finishes after nightfall the following night. This means no eating and drinking at all, not even water.

Who Fasts on Yom Kippur?

Even people who may not fast on other fast days (such as pregnant and nursing women) do fast on Yom Kippur, provided that they can safely complete the fast.

If you feel you must eat due to severe health considerations (in which case eating actually becomes a mitzvah), please consult a doctor and a rabbi and follow the procedure for one who must eat on Yom Kippur.

The good news is that the majority of a Jew’s waking hours on Yom Kippur are typically spent in prayer at the synagogue, which serves as a welcomed distraction from the grumbling stomach. Of course, even those who cannot attend synagogue are equally obligated to fast; it is preferable to remain in bed all day fasting than to eat and attend services.

Children under the age of bat/bar mitzvah (12 for a girl and 13 for a boy on the Jewish calendar) do not fast, but older children (from age 9 and up) should be encouraged to delay their eating somewhat, according to their maturity and strength. If you know your child to be healthy and strong, encourage them to fast from age 11.1

How to Prepare for the Fast

It is a mitzvah to eat and drink well on 9 Tishrei, the day before Yom Kippur. We eat (at least) two large meals, the final one right before the onset of the fast. Throughout the day, one should only eat light foods that are easy to digest, such as fish and poultry. (In the final meal before the fast, we avoid eating fish too.)

In many communities it is customary to eat kreplach, dumplings filled with ground chicken or beef.

No eating or drinking is allowed once candle-lighting time arrives.

Read: Tips for an Easier Fast

Why Do We Fast?

The Torah instructs, “On the tenth day of the seventh month you shall afflict yourselves.”2 This implies (among other things) not to eat or drink.

On Yom Kippur, we rise above the corporeal reality of day-to-day life, focusing solely on the spiritual. This is the day when we get in touch with our inner selves, our angelic side. And just as angels don’t eat or drink, neither do we.

Read: My Body and I: A Fasting Meditation

What Else Don’t We Do?

Food and drink constitute one of five “pleasures” we avoid on Yom Kippur. The other four are:

  1. Applying lotions or oils
  2. Engaging in marital relations
  3. Wearing leather shoes
  4. Washing or bathing

Like Shabbat, no work is to be done on Yom Kippur from the time the sun sets on the 9th of Tishrei until the stars appear the following evening.

Read: How to Observe Yom Kippur