In last week’s Matzav Haruach, Rabbi Ben-Zion Elgazi’s column is devoted to fasting on Yom Kippur. I liked his approach to breastfeeding so I am translating it here. You can find the original Hebrew text in this article I contributed to for the blog of the Israeli Association of Certified Lactation Consultants.
Rabbi Elgazi teaches at the Kerem Be-Yavneh yeshiva.
The prohibition against eating and drinking on Yom Kippur is more severe than all of the other commandments. One who eats and drinks more than the amount determined by the sages, nullifies the inui and is liable for karet (excision). Therefore, the basic assumption is that pregnant and nursing women fast the entire day of Yom Kippur. (Shulhan Aruch O”H 617)
At any rate, the rabbinic arbiters ruled in the case of pregnant women for whom there is a question of damage to them or to the fetus during the fast, like a risk of miscarriage, or if there were previous miscarriages, in these cases pregnant women could eat and drink in shiurim (specified amounts at set intervals) according to advance consultation with a doctor and an halachic authority. So too breastfeeding mothers, as the Hazon Ish wrote (O”H 59): “A normal baby is endangered when he doesn’t get milk, and whenever there is a doubt that there will be an upset stomach with any constipation or diarrhea or fever whatsoever, by a change in his diet, this is possibly life-threatening, and for this we violate the Sabbath.” We can apply this to Yom Kippur. If through fasting the mother’s milk will diminish or completely cease, and the baby would need supplements, it will be permitted for the nursing mother to drink.”
The most important thing for a nursing or breastfeeding mother is to have a plan in case things go wrong, and not to be stuck at home alone with one or more small children when she or the baby is feeling terrible. As Rabbi Elgazi suggests, there is no substitute for talking to your doctor and rabbi in advance. For mother and baby the rabbi needs to know your fasting history, age of the baby, whether or not the baby eats other foods or takes bottles, and any health issues of mother and baby including allergies.
See the links below for more information and tips.
Let me take this opportunity to ask forgiveness from any reader that I may have harmed through omission or commission. Please be in touch privately if that is the case.
Wishing all of you a safe and meaningful fast.
A Radical Ruling: Fasting and Breastfeeding on Yom Kippur (includes information on why supplementing on YK is not always a good idea)