In Judaism, the concept of Pikuach Nefesh teaches us that saving a life or preserving one’s health takes precedence over all Mitzvot (commandments).

Pikuach nefesh
Pikuach nefesh (Hebrew: פיקוח נפש, IPA: [piˈkuaχ ˈnefeʃ], “saving a life”) describes the principle in Jewish law that the preservation of human life overrides virtually any other religious rule. When the life of a specific person is in danger, almost any mitzvah lo ta’aseh (command to not do an action) of the Torah becomes inapplicable. [Wikipedia]

“The Talmud emphasizes this principle by citing the verse from Leviticus [18:5]: “You shall therefore keep my statutes…which if a man do, he shall live by them.” The rabbis add:That he shall live by them, and not that he shall die by them.” (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 85b) [My Jewish Learning]”

Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers at Ritualwell shares how one can create a spiritual and meaningful Yom Kippur Seder (traditional meal) when fasting would be detrimental to their health.

Here’s what you will need!

    1. A plate or lunch box →   (perhaps one painted specially for this purpose, i.e., a seder plate)
    2. A bottle of water →  the source of life,  refreshing my body and comforting my soul.
    3. Dates →  a symbol of righteousness to acknowledge that the right path for me may not always be the easiest
    4. Bread → an offering to God, and so today my humble offering is to eat this bread in my attempt to return to you, God. 
    5. Hummus →  a product of the earth that reminds me that my hunger is natural and helps me “eat and be satisfied” (Deuteronomy 8:12).
    6. Prayersclick to read Rabbi Debbie’s full article and the prayers she has compiled for this special Seder.

How can we support our friends who aren’t fasting?

  1. Don’t Judge:  Everyone connects to Judaism in their own way, let’s try to not ask people if they are fasting to keep everyone feeling comfortable. 
  2. Be helpful: If your friend needs to leave services in the middle to grab a bite, offer to save their place in the Machzor (prayer book) for when they return. 
  3. Be kind: Let your friend know that you are here for them, and maybe offer to help them prepare their meal before the holiday!

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