Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Food

The Meaning of Not Eating

When I started telling people that I’m going to New York City for Yom Kippur, my friends and colleagues declared: “But you won’t be able to eat. What a pity!” Though, with almost a week in New York I will get in plenty of fressing (or intense eating) and food shopping in.

I love food, especially in its ability to bring human and Divine labor together to please, in every way, as well as nourish. This is why I spend my days and often nights, immersed in tasting, procuring, cooking, learning and writing about it.

Still, the Yom Kippur fast is among the most meaningful Jewish rituals that I faithfully observe. From the completion of the simple meal before Kol Nidre until breaking the fast with more elaborate fare after the holiday ends, I just stop. No eating or drinking, farmers’ market stand perusing, recipe formulating, ordering, baking, freezing or menu planning for that matter, either.

The more immersed we are in food culture – ethical, kosher, sustainable, gourmet – the more we may need the Yom Kippur fast. Food and drinking water are the ultimate valuables, as the travails of the Israelites in the wilderness and the worldwide scourge of food insecurity today amply demonstrate. Easy access to abundant supplies can encourage complacency, as well as a sense of entitlement. That’s not really why I fast; though awareness of my thirst and later hunger can act as a reminder of others’ severe plight. It’s not simply a matter commitment to Jewish law or tradition, either.

Yom Kippur is in many ways a day of words, more words than on any other day of the Jewish year. We confess, we plead, we recount the ancient practices of the sacrificial cult. But more than anything else we do on Yom Kippur, fasting with our bodies defines who we are. We can feel disconnected from the words we say and hear, observing as they disappear into the air.

Fasting is different. As long as we’re conscious and not eating or drinking, there’s no escape. We accept that we are Jews, a people with a history and a purpose, whatever that means to us and however it makes us feel. Acceptance is the first step toward return, the purpose of this season.

Each year, it pleasantly surprises me that not only can I leave food and drink alone, but that I embrace and enjoy the full fast on Yom Kippur.

Rabbi Rebecca Joseph is founder and owner of 12 Tribes Kosher Foods in San Francisco and creator of The Parve Baker, the original dairy-free baking blog.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.