Shiur 24: Women And the Mitzva of Eating on Erev Yom Kippur

  • Rav Chaim Navon

I. The Mitzva of Eating on Erev Yom Kippur

 

            The Gemara in Berakhot presents a surprising law:

 

It is written: “And you shall afflict your souls, on the ninth day of the month, in the evening” (Vayikra 22:32). Now, do we fast on the ninth? Why, we fast on the tenth! But this teaches you that if one eats and drinks on the ninth, Scripture accounts it to him as if he fasted on the ninth and tenth. (Berakhot 8b)

 

The Gemara establishes that one who eats on Erev Yom Kippur (and fasts the next day) is credited as if he had fasted two consecutive days. This is undoubtedly a strange law. Why is one rewarded for eating on Erev Yom Kippur? Rashi writes that eating on Erev Yom Kippur is regarded as preparation for the fast itself. The Rosh expands on this as follows:

 

“And you shall afflict your souls,” that is, prepare yourselves on the ninth of the month and strengthen yourselves with food and drink, so that you should be able to fast the next day. This comes to show God's love for Israel. It is like a person who has a darling child who he decreed must fast for a day, and he commanded that he be fed and given to drink on the day before the fast, so that he should be able to suffer [the fast]. (Rosh, Yoma 8:22)[1]

 

            According to the Rosh, the mitzva of eating on Erev Yom Kippur is meant to make it easier to fast on Yom Kippur. But if God wants us to afflict ourselves on Yom Kippur, why did He command us to alleviate the affliction by eating and drinking on Erev Yom Kippur? According to the Rosh, we must apparently come to the following conclusion: The purpose of fasting on Yom Kippur – in contrast to the fast on Tish'a Be-Av and the other fasts commemorating the destruction of the Temple – is not actually to add suffering and affliction.

 

            Some Acharonim suggest similar ideas in the framework of a discussion whether it is permitted to take medications on Erev Yom Kippur that will lighten the fast the next day. The Sedei Chemed writes that one should not do this, “both as an act of piety, and also so as not to detract from the essence of the holy day” (Sedei ChemedAseifat Dinim, Yom Ha-kippurim, no. 1, p. 133). But most Acharonim reject his view, arguing that there is no prohibition to engage in some stratagem on Erev Yom Kippur in order to make the fast easier (Chelkat Yaakov, II, no. 58; Tzitz Eliezer, VII, no. 32). Some mention the aforementioned principle in this context: If there is no spiritual benefit from adding suffering and affliction on Yom Kippur, and it suffices merely to desist from eating on the day itself, what do we care if the fast is easy or hard (Mo'adim U-zemanim I, p. 108)?

 

            The Maharit explains the mitzva of eating on Erev Yom Kippur in precisely the opposite manner. His point of departure is a shocking question that was addressed to him regarding penance for a person who committed terrible sins. That person had been guilty of robbery, murder, adultery and heresy, and now he wished to repent. Among other things, he wished to undertake many fasts, and he asked whether he should fast even on Shabbat and the festivals, something that is generally proscribed. The Maharitanswered him as follows:

 

Regarding the question that was raised, whether he should fast and afflict himself even on Shabbat and the festivals, since he had always observed them, it stands to reason that he should not fast and afflict himself. On the contrary, his affliction is twice as great on weekdays if he interrupts his fast, as they said in Ta'anit (4:3): “They did not fast on Sunday in order not to change over [without a break] from the rest and delight [of Shabbat] to weariness and fasting and so [perhaps] die.” It seems to me that this is what they said that anyone who eats and drinks on the ninth, it is as if he fasted on the ninth and tenth. For [people in] Israel fast all those days of repentance, and some are accustomed to fast even on the Shabbat in the middle, and they say that it is a joy for the person since he prepares himself for the atonement of Yom Kippur; nevertheless, he must eat and satiate himself on the ninth, so that he will feel the pain of the afflictions, for the body establishes a custom for itself at times that one conditions himself to it. So it appears to me. But the earlier Sages offered a different reason. (Responsa Maharit, II, Orach Chayyim, 5)

 

The Maharit argues that a person who eats less on Erev Yom Kippur makes it easier for himself to fast on the following day, because he conditions himself to be satisfied with a small amount of food. The Torah commanded that one must eat on Erev Yom Kippur so that the transition from eating to fasting should be a sharp change with respect to what the body is used, thus making the fast even more difficult for him. According to the Maharit, the purpose of the mitzvato eat on Erev Yom Kippur is not to make the fast easier, as the Rosh maintains, but quite the opposite – to make it more difficult.

 

Rabbi Shlomo Kluger also describes eating on Erev Yom Kippur as an act that adds to the affliction and torment (Chokhmat Shelomo, Orach Chayyim, 604). According to him, after a person eats his fill on Erev Yom Kippur, he comes to the synagogue for the Kol Nidrei service and is embarrassed about his gluttony: How could he have eaten so much on the eve of the Day of Judgment? Thus the excessive eating adds to his psychological affliction and spiritual anguish.

 

The Arukh Ha-shulchan (Orach Chayyim 604, 4) tries to reconcile these two approaches. According to him, eating on Erev Yom Kippur eases the fast physically, but the sharp transition from a day of eating and pleasure to a day of fasting and affliction is psychologically difficult.

 

The Perisha, one of the commentators to the Tur, offers an original and entirely different explanation for the mitzva to eat on Erev Yom Kippur:

 

You can suggest a different explanation, that the commandment is that it should be clear and evident that it is God's command, that He commanded us to fast on the tenth. For if he also fasted on the ninth, the command would not be evident, but rather people would say that everyone fasts whenever he wants, and they would not recognize the sanctity of Yom Kippur. (Perisha, Orach Chayyim 604, no. 2)

 

According to the Perisha, the mitzva to eat on Erev Yom Kippur comes to underscore the obligatory dimension of fasting on the holy day. If we fasted on Erev Yom Kippur as well, this would create the impression that we simply don't like to eat, for physiological or spiritual reasons. Only when the fast disrupts proper eating is it evident that we are fasting because of a divine command that forces us to stop eating. It is similarly reported about the Vilna Gaon:

 

On the night following Yom Tov [= the eighth day of Pesach] he would try to eat leavened bread… And after Pesach he would avoid eating matza with which one can fulfill his obligation on Pesach. All this so that it should be recognizable that he was performing a mitzva, that we do not eat [matza] for pleasure, but because of the decree of the Creator, blessed be His name. (Ma'aseh Rav, 185)[2]

 

II. The Mitzva of Eating on Erev Yom Kippur for a Sick Woman

 

The Ketav Sofer, Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer (son of the Chatam Sofer), connected the reasoning behind the mitzva of eating on Yom Kippur to a practical halakhic question: Is a sick woman who was instructed by her doctors to eat and drink on Yom Kippur itself obligated to eat on Erev Yom Kippur?

 

The starting point of his discussion is the Gemara’sassertion (Sukka 28a-b) that women are obligated to afflict themselves on Yom Kippur, because these laws involve not only a positive commandment, but also a negative commandment. While women are exempt from time-bound positive commandments, they are bound by all negative commandments, even those that are time-bound. Since fasting on Yom Kippur is defined (in part) as a negative commandment, women are therefore obligated to fast. Against this background, let us examine an interesting responsum penned by Rabbi Akiva Eiger:

 

Regarding his sick daughter, for whom all food is harmful, and for several weeks has been living exclusively on medications, may God have compassion upon her and send His word and heal her, is she obligated to eat on Erev Yom Kippur?

 

God forbid that she should eat. As for what his Highness says that she is learned and also meticulous about the word of God and with difficulty will she listen to him, my advice is to take a servant or two and tell her that a letter arrived from me decreeing with a severe decree that she must not eat anything over and beyond what she is accustomed to eat every day.

 

Indeed, there is no need to hesitate about the case before us. But I am confused about all women who are healthy, whether or not they are obligated to eat on Erev Yom Kippur, as it is possible that they are exempt, as they are exempt from all time-bound positive commandments. (Responsa of Rabbi Akiva Eiger, 1st edition, no. 16)

 

According to Rabbi Akiva Eiger, one might think that all women are exempt from the mitzvah to eat on Erev Yom Kippur, as it is a time-bound positive commandment. But the Gemara's exposition in Berakhot (with which we opened this shiur) links the commandment to eat on Erev Yom Kippur to the commandment to fast on Yom Kippur itself. If so, it may be that we must view these two commandments as a single halakhic unit. Accordingly, it follows that just as a woman must fast on Yom Kippur, so too she is obligated to eat on Erev Yom Kippur.[3]

 

The Ketav Sofer (Orach Chayyim 132) continues Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s line of thought, but he ties the question of a woman's obligation to eat on Erev Yom Kippur to the reason for the general obligation to eat on that day. If the reason is related to fast of Yom Kippur, it is easier to see the two commandments as a single unit. The Ketav Sofer mentions the Rosh's rationale, that eating on Erev Yom Kippur is meant to ease the fast on the following day. But he could have also mentioned the reasoning of the Maharit, for example, as he too links eating on Erev Yom Kippur to the fast on Yom Kippur itself, even if the connection is in the opposite direction. In any event, if the reason connects the two days, then it seems more logical to obligate a woman to eat on Erev Yom Kippur, because she is obligated to fast on Yom Kippur itself. If eating on Erev Yom Kippur is preparation for the fast, it stands to reason that whoever is obligated to fast on Yom Kippur is obligated to eat on Erev Yom Kippur. The Ketav Sofer pondered to what extent we can rely here on the reason for the mitzva to eat, for we generally do not expound the reasons underlying the Torah's commandments. It should, however, be noted that here we are not dealing with a philosophical or mystical reason, but rather a halakhic reason. And from a halakhic perspective it is reasonable to speak about a connection between eating on Erev Yom Kippur and fasting on Yom Kippur itself.

 

Here the Ketav Sofer suggests a brilliant idea. According to him, if all the logic behind a woman's obligation to eat on Erev Yom Kippur follows from the relationship between this eating and fasting on Yom Kippur, then in a case where the woman will not fast on Yom Kippur, she should not be obligated to eat on Erev Yom Kippur. The Ketav Sofer proposes this connection with respect to a sick man who cannot fast on Yom Kippur. If eating on Erev Yom Kippur is considered preparation for the fast, then perhaps one who cannot fast on Yom Kippur is exempt from eating on the previous day, as he has nothing to prepare for. The Ketav Sofer argues that this idea is too speculative to rely on it in actual practice, as it may be that the mitzva of eating on Erev Yom Kippur is an independent mitzva, not related specifically to fasting on Yom Kippur itself.

 

The Ketav Sofer adds, however, that it should at least be possible to rely on this connection in the case of a sick woman. For, as he argues, a woman is obligated to eat on Erev Yom Kippur precisely because she is obligated to eat on Yom Kippur itself. The entire obligation of a woman to eat on Erev Yom Kippur stems from the relationship between this eating and the upcoming fast. If this relationship does not exist, and eating on Erev Yom Kippur is an independent mitzva, then it is a time-bound positive commandment, from which women are exempt; in that case there is no basis to obligate a woman to eat on Erev Yom Kippur.

 

The Ketav Sofer assumes that if there is a connection between the mitzva of eating on Erev Yom Kippur and the mitzvaof fasting on Yom Kippur itself, we must examine each case separately and see whether the person is fasting or not. If the person does not intend to fast on Yom Kippur, there is no reason to prepare for this day by eating on Erev Yom Kippur. The only alternative that he proposes is the understanding that the mitzva of eating on Erev Yom Kippur is an independent time-bound commandment that is unrelated to preparing for the fast.

 

However, there is also a third option: One can accept the existence of a connection between the mitzva of eating on Erev Yom Kippur and that of fasting on Yom Kippur itself, but at the same time reject the possibility of using this connection to create individual exemptions. Perhaps the relationship is not at the level of the individual person, but rather at the level of the reasons for the commandments. The reason for the mitzvaof eating matza is: “That you may remember the day you left Egypt all the days of your life” (Devarim 16:3). Is a person who, as a result of a brain injury, is incapable of remembering historical events exempt from the mitzvaof eating matza? Clearly not. The reason does not relate to the specific case of each and every individual, but to the fundamental law set down by the Torah. Here, too, it may be that eating on Erev Yom Kippur is a preparation for Yom Kippur, but this is only the reason for the commandment, and not the definition of the commandment. In terms of its definition, the mitzvaof eating on Erev Yom Kippur may be an absolute and unconditional obligation.

 

III. The Yom Tov Meal

 

            To conclude this shiur, let us mention that certain Rishonim and Acharonim have proposed another reason for the mitzvaof eating on Erev Yom Kippur. Rabbeinu Yona writes: “And since there is a fast on Yom Kippur, we are obligated to fix a meal for the joy of the mitzva on Erev Yom Kippur” (Sha'ar Teshuva, IV, 9). According to Rabbeinu Yona, the Erev Yom Kippur meal is in fact a fulfillment of the mitzvato honor and delight in Yom Kippur, which cannot be wholly fulfilled on Yom Kippur itself. The meal is essentially a Yom Kippur meal, which for technical reasons must be advanced.

 

The Beit Yosef writes in greater detail:

 

The mitzvato eat and drink in abundance on this day is to show that he is pleased and comfortable with Yom Kippur, and that he is happy that atonement has been given to Israel. Since he cannot honor Yom Kippur itself with food and drink, in the way that he honors other days of Yom Tov, he must honor it on the day before. (Beit Yosef, Orach Chayyim 604)

 

According to this approach, the mitzvato eat on Erev Yom Kippur is essentially the mitzvato eat a Yom Tov meal on Yom Kippur. According to this, it would seem that there is no reason to exempt a sick person who has to eat on Yom Kippur from eating on Erev Yom Kippur. It may be that according to this approach, even a sick woman who must eat on Yom Kippur is obligated to eat on Erev Yom Kippur. Earlier, we suggested that this eating is considered preparation for the fast on the following day, or a commandment in its own right. Here we offer another connection between the eating and the fast: Yom Kippur is a Yom Tov, and the meal eaten on Erev Yom Kippur is Yom Kippur's festive meal. It is very reasonable to see this mitzva and the mitzvaof Yom Kippur as a single unit, and thus to obligate women in the mitzvato eat on the day before the fast. To this we may add that there is no reason for one who is exempt from the fast, for whatever reason, to refrain from marking the festive nature of the day to the best of his ability – and there may be no better way to accomplish this than through the festive meal of Erev Yom Kippur.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)

 



[1] This explanation is also cited by the Tur (Orach Chayyim 604), who was the Rosh’s son.

[2] For another expression of a similar understanding, see Responsa Rashi, no. 131.

[3] In the specific case brought before Rabbi Akiva Eiger, the woman was forbidden to eat in large quantities for medical reasons, and it is clear that such a woman would be forbidden to do so even on Erev Yom Kippur.