What to Eat Before and After Yom Kippur

A basket of bagels often makes an appearance at pre-fast or Yom Kippur break fast meals.
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Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur, literally the "Day of Atonement," is the holiest day of the Jewish year. It is observed eight days after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Many believe that on Rosh Hashanah God determines our fate for the coming year, inscribing all of our names in the Books of Life and Death; on Yom Kippur the judgment entered in these books is sealed. (Hence the holiday greeting "Gmar Chatimah Tova" -- May you be sealed for good.)  

The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are called the Ten Days of Repentance or the Days of Awe. Yom Kippur is, essentially, our last chance to demonstrate repentance so God will seal us in the Book of Life in the upcoming year. As repentance is the theme of the day, Yom Kippur is a day of "self-denial" (Lev. 23-27) with the goal of cleansing ourselves of sins. Prayer services on Yom Kippur are lengthy and solemn, and a 25-hour fast is kept.

Preparing to Fast

While hunger pains and weakness are an expected consequence of fasting, one need not dehydrate, faint or get sick while fasting. Moreover, there are situations in which it is considered a greater mitzvah to eat than to fast. If fasting would endanger a person's health or safety, they are typically exempt from doing so. There are also halachic (legal) workarounds for those who may be able to safely get through the day with certain modifications to a traditional complete fast.

For example, people with conditions like diabetes, those who require certain medications that must be taken with food, or those who are pregnant may be advised to eat and drink in shiurim -- small quantities consumed incrementally. And for anyone able to fast to whatever extent, there are several ways to prepare for a safe, healthy, and relatively comfortable one.

Yom Kippur Pre-Fast Menus and Recipes

Jews traditionally eat the Seudat Mafseket -- Meal of Cessation, or pre-fast meal -- before the Yom Kippur fast. My family eats a meat meal for lunch, and then we eat a hi-carb dairy dinner directly before the fast. The meat menu includes low-salt vegetable soup, breaded chicken, potatoes and dessert. The dairy menu includes egg souffle, whole wheat bagels with various spreads and fruit salad.

Yom Kippur Post-Fast Menu and Recipes

At the end of Yom Kippur, Jews traditionally share a joyful Break Fast meal with family and friends. Ashkenazic Jews in America and Israel often favor a festive brunch-style menu, like this No-Cook Bagel and Lox Brunch.  Many Sephardic families prefer to follow a light bread or cake-based snack with a savory meat meal. 

Edited by Miri Rotkovitz