The Idol of Fasting: Yom Kippur
“Why, when we fasted, did You not see?
When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?”
Because on your fast day You see to your business And oppress all your laborers!..
On Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of introspection, fasting is one of the many
rituals we use in order to go deeper within and reach further out to the expansiveness of divinity. Yet, over time, this ritual has became, it seems, primary. Many will choose to fast and not go to Synagogue. The ritual, practised in this way, cannot only block the spiritual invitation of his immense time but is futile, as the Isaiah pasuk/verse states, when our unjust outer actions are not transformed. Below I share a personal relationship to this fast. You can listen to the piece here at 1hr 14 mins in to the BBC Radio 2 Good Morning Sunday programme, or read below. You can also listen here to a small piece I recorded more generally for BBC Radio Manchester about Yom Kippur at 3hr 45mins in.
Here are some fab resources (shout out to Rabbis Debbie Young-Somers and Deborah Blausten for helping to draw my attention to them). And a gentle reminder that Jewishly we are alway obligated to ensure our health is not adversely affected by ritual (the principle of pikuach nefesh - saving a life). And as the Talmud (bYoma 83a) states - we always listen to the 'ill person' when it comes to their bodies and their decisions regarding fasting.
My one abiding memory, as a young adult, of the solemn Jewish festival of Yom Kippur, which starts tonight, is sitting in Synagogue, hours away from the end of the 25 hour fast whilst everyone around me was praying, and I instead was imagining the moment when I would bite into the most succulent cheese sandwich I could think of!
Yom Kippur is the one time of year, in the Jewish calendar, that the liturgy focuses on repentance/teshuvah. I stand, face to face, with the rawness of who I am - the mistakes I made during the year, the frailty of being a human on this broken planet, and connecting to divinity (that which is greater than myself). The rituals of Yom Kippur are there to aid a connection to this spiritual enterprise by taking attention away from the physical - wearing white clothes, no washing, fasting. But for me, fasting is like a demon, an idol, threatening to disconnect myself from all that is holy and divine.
Having, like so many, suffered with disordered eating over the years, fasting feels far to close to the yo-yo dieting years beginning at the age of 16. Large stretches of time when my mood was determined by what the scales reported that morning. Relentlessly measuring food. Calculating what I could eat for the rest of the days. Although I have a healthier relationship to food and to my body today I can still find myself in the dark hole of body and food image and issues. Fasting, therefore, brings me back into a space where everything becomes smaller and destructive. I am not able to connect with the expansiveness of divinity. Today I choose rituals which help me engage deeper and wider - rituals which enable me to live a better life, to do my bit to repair the brokenness around me and to have the strength to do so. As one of my teachers used to say - Judaism/religion should be a home, not a prison. As we enter this new Jewish year I hope that the self-care and attentiveness I show myself can flow out into the world for a good and sweet New Year ahead.