Reading the Newspaper on Erev Yom Kippur

This morning, I sat down for a few minutes to read the paper and several articles caught my eye. First, the account of the horrendous, insulting and dangerous words from the President of Iran concerning Israel. Whatever our thoughts are on what steps Israel should or shouldn’t take against Iran, Ahmadinejad’s words remind us of the presence of real dangers to Israel and to our people and those words can not be ignored or taken lightly.

Then, I read two different accounts of attempts by Israeli political leaders to reopen the question of the West Bank and movements towards a Palestinian state. While I do not think that a unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank is a positive step towards the future, at least it is good to know that some people are still talking about the possibility of changes in the West Bank. The continued occupation must end and there must be movement towards a Palestinian state for the good of all.

But, my major focus this morning as I read the paper was a story which concerned Yom Kippur. It seems that in one Orthodox synagogue in New York City, a “clinic” for lack of a better word is going to be set up in the basement over Yom Kippur which will allow those who can not fast to receive intravenous “feeding” of liquids and or nutrients to get them through the day without actually eating.

My first reaction at this was negative to say the least. The commandment to fast on Yom Kippur is cancelled out if there is any health risk and while Rabbis could debate on how serious a health risk merits eating on Yom Kippur, we always should be lenient in matters of “pikuach nefesh”, in matters preserving life. So, I thought, why would one even take any chances of this kind? Why not tell those who can’t fast that they have to eat rather than offer this solution.

But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there is a lesson to be learned here. While I still believe that telling an individual to eat is far preferable, perhaps the point of this effort in this synagogue is based on the reality that the idea of fasting is so dear to many Jews, that they would not take the advice of a Rabbi to eat and would put themselves in danger. Accepting the Rabbinic opinion, and of course there is a debate on this, that intravenous feeding does not constitute eating, there is a real benefit to what is beingĀ  offered as for some, it will in and of itself preserve life.

Occasionally, I find myself too quick to dismiss those who in the Orthodox community for raising observance of the particulars of the law above more important “values” issues. and setting up such an arrangement in the synagogue seemed to be a good example of this. But, in this case, after my initial knee jerk reaction, I realize that helping people to observe a law which brings such meaning to them is to be praised.

If you need to eat on Yom Kippur, you must do so. But, recognizing the deep meaning the fast holds for those of us who can fast, if you can find some kind of a “middle ground”, how much the better. Kol HaKavod to those Rabbis who are helping their congregants do just that.

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