Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Yom Kippur Blues

It is so depressing!! Yom Kippur is coming in a few days. I have been going to shul on Yom Kippur for over 50 years and fasting for 47 years (to be totally honest one year in my rebellious youth I sneakingly ate a piece of my mother’s gefilte fish- my mother never figured out what happened to that missing piece) And what have I got to show for it? A gigantic headache. I know some would say you are at least alive. Perhaps. But I have some “modest” suggestions to make Yom Kippur a more tolerable and even more meaningful experience.

Is fasting for 25 hours really necessary? I know it says in the Torah that on Yom Kippur one should be “afflicted”. The Rabbis of the Talmud interpreted that to mean fasting on Yom Kippur. Perhaps two thousand years ago that was the best way to be afflicted. But in the modern age there is so many different ways to be afflicted. For example watching reruns of Hogan’s Heroes or listing to Sonja sing from American Idol.

I can just hear this coming. But fasting enables us to eliminate distractions so we can best pray and contemplate the past year and thus allow us to repent and make amends. That is not my experience for 47 years. The main thing that fasting does is to have us think about food all the time, and more specifically what one will eat after the fast. I never felt that fasting allows me to be nearer to God, unless God is really a very good chef.

In fact Yom Kippur has become another Jewish excuse to become obsessed with food. What to eat before the fast (it is even a mitzvah to stuff one’s face before Yom Kippur), dreaming about food during the fast, and the new in thing, where am I going for the “ Break Fast”? When I was a kid we just ran home after shofar blowing. Now there are parties. The last thing I want to do is to talk to people and socialize after fasting for 25 hours. Some of you may say this is sour grapes because I was NEVER invited to these Break Fast parties. But no, I just want to drink a pot of coffee, take some Advil, and eat schmaltz herring while watching reruns of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Speaking of coffee- I am an addict. I simply refuse to reduce my coffee intake before Yom Kippur. So I get this awful headache by late afternoon. I can hardly stay in shul. I have searched for ways to get around this affliction without reducing my coffee intake before Yom Kippur. One year I thought I found a solution. I took two Excedrin Migraine pills right before I started to fast. These pills contain caffeine. And miracle of miracles I did not get a headache on Yom Kippur. I was so excited that I told Dr. Cliff Nerwin about by discovery. A BIG mistake. Cliff said that it was all in my head. Off course it was in my head- I had a headache. But I knew what he meant. And sure enough the Excedrin tablets did not work the next Yom Kippur. Thank you Cliff. But I have not given up. I am now researching if a coffee enema is halachically permitted. What is your halachic opinion on this Rabbi Katz? Stay tuned.

So I plead with the Law committee of the Rabbinical Assembly to consider changing Halacha from completely fasting for 25 hours to allowing two cups of coffee and 7 ounces of food during Yom Kippur. Alas I doubt this will happen soon: so if you see me in late afternoon on Yom Kippur it is best to stay way from me.

Have a healthy and meaningful year.

Harry Perkal