I’m a huge coffee drinker, and I can’t imagine lasting a whole day without my caffeine. I’m afraid of getting a huge headache and ending up in bed instead of in shul. What are my options?

Tapering Off Prior to Yom Kippur

Hey, you’re not alone. A lot of people just taper off over the week. But for some of us, that’s a major project we’re not ready to take on.

Supplements Prior to Yom Kippur

One of the solutions you’ve probably heard of is the caffeine pill. In fact, there are all sorts of slow-release supplements and even suppositories that people take before Yom Kippur, or even on Yom Kippur. And some of what you’re going to read here will apply equally to appetite suppressants, Tylenol and other pain relievers.

So how do we deal with these? The Torah states that on Yom Kippur you’re supposed to afflict yourself. That’s why some halachic authorities1 argue that you shouldn’t seek ways of minimizing your hunger pains (and presumably your coffee withdrawal). It runs against the whole point of not eating—to cause affliction.

But the overwhelming majority see no problem with eating or taking anything before Yom Kippur to ease your pain.2

They point out that the sages say you must eat on the day before Yom Kippur. In fact, it’s so important to eat on that day that if you eat your fill, it’s like you fasted for two days!3 Why? Because G‑d cares about you and doesn’t want you to suffer more than necessary.

So what’s with the affliction? The Talmud4 explains that affliction only means skipping the five things enumerated by the sages. Nothing more. The Talmud even tells us not to sit out in the sun to become overheated, and things like that.

So taking steps to ease the fast like eating extra or using various pills, especially for those who struggle with fasting, is perfectly kosher.5

(Still, there are those rabbinic authorities who will tell you that if you’re healthy and you fast well, you shouldn’t take these pills because they’re not really so compatible with the affliction theme.6)

Suppositories on Yom Kippur Itself

A suppository is not food. So how could there be a problem with taking a caffeine suppository on Yom Kippur?

But there is. On Shabbat or holidays (including Yom Kippur), the sages of the Talmud forbid the use of medication to treat non-serious illness. That’s because medication is often prepared in ways that are forbidden on these days.

In the case of life-threatening ailments, however, none of this applies. The same with medication to prevent such issues in the future. And the same if you’re in so much pain that you’re bedridden.

So let’s say you suffer from such debilitating migraines that you cannot function on Yom Kippur or you may need to break your fast. In that case, you could use caffeine, Tylenol or another type of suppository on Yom Kippur itself.7

Pills on Yom Kippur

If not taking some medication means you will likely be bedridden or need to eat, you could take a tasteless or bitter pill without water on Yom Kippur. If the pill has a good taste, just wrap it in (pre-cut) paper so you don’t enjoy it.8

But if all you’ve got is a slight headache and you’re not bedridden, you shouldn’t be taking medicine on Yom Kippur. After all, you’re fasting. Feeling somewhat weak or putting up with a slight headache is a normal part of the day’s affliction.

Bottom Line

  • Best is to taper coffee consumption before Yom Kippur or just tolerate the slight headache.
  • If you’re afraid you won’t make it, take pills before Yom Kippur.
  • If you’ll be bedridden or need to break the fast, suppositories or tasteless (or wrapped) pills on Yom Kippur may be allowed.

I wish you an easy and uplifting Yom Kippur!

These are only meant as very general guidelines. As always, consult your rabbi and doctor regarding your specific situation.

If you have a condition that requires daily medication, consult your doctor about fasting on Yom Kippur and skipping the dose. If skipping the medicine could potentially lead to serious health complications, take the pill even on Yom Kippur. If you can't take the pill in the ways mentioned above, you can swallow it with a drop of water.9