Eating on Erev Yom Kippur
By: Rav Gavriel Saraf
The Gemara in Berachot (8b) states, “And you shall afflict your souls on the ninth of the month in the evening. Is it indeed on the ninth that one fasts? Is it not, rather, on the tenth that one fasts! It comes to teach that one who eats and drinks on the ninth, it is considered as if he afflicted himself on both the ninth and the tenth.” Many authorities derive from here that there is a positive commandment from the Torah to eat plentifully on erev Yom Kippur.
The Ktav Sofer in a responsum (Orach Chaim 212) notes that one need not eat in abundance. Rather, one may fulfill the commandment by eating even a small amount which will strengthen his body. This involves, at minimum, adding one meal which includes bread. Thus, if he usually eats one meal with bread each day, he should add a second one. He can thereby fulfill the commandment to eat plentifully. The mekubalim explain that if one eats this meal for the sake of Heaven, he can correct all his eating throughout the year done out of desire and not for the sake of Heaven. Therefore, one should attempt to eat only for the sake of Heaven on this day.
Rabbi Akiva Eiger in a responsum (Mahadura Kama 16) discusses whether women, too, are obligated in this commandment. On one hand, it is a positive, time-bound mitzvah from which women are generally exempt. On the other hand, the verse derives the obligation to fast from the word “afflict.” Therefore, perhaps it is the case that one who is obligated in affliction is likewise obligated in eating. This is similar to what the Gemara teaches regarding Shabbat – anyone who is prohibited in the negative commandments of Shabbat is likewise obligated in the positive ones. This is also the case with matza – whoever is prohibited from consuming chametz on Pesach is likewise obligated to eat matza. Rabbi Akiva Eiger does not rule conclusively. Many later authorities do rule that women are obligated despite this being a positive, time-bound mitzvah (see Responsa of Ktav Sofer Orach Chaim 112 and others). This is based on the Rosh who writes that the reason for the mitzvah to eat on the ninth is that the Torah is considerate and wants us to strengthen our bodies. This will enable us to remain healthy throughout the fast. According to this – as the Gemara in Kiddushin (34a) rhetorically asks, “Can it be said that men need life but women don’t need life?” – later authorities rule that women, too, are obligated to eat on the ninth.
This presents a difficulty. There is a debate amongst tana’im whether or not a law should be decided based on the expounded rationale. For example, Bava Metzia (115a) discusses the verse “you shall not take the garment of a widow as a collateral.” Rabbi Shimon explains that the reasoning for this prohibition is that it creates a bad reputation for the widow when the lender comes daily to take and return the collateral (which would only apply in the case of a poor individual who would require the collateral returned daily). He thus limits the prohibition to a poor widow. Rabbi Yehuda, on the other hand, does not distinguish and rules that the prohibition applies equally to poor and wealthy widows. The latter opinion is adopted. We are not to use a rationale to decide the law. If this is the case, how can we, based on our understanding of the reason for eating on the ninth of the month, obligate women in the commandment?
The Chatam Sofer in a responsum (Volume II 254) writes that while we don’t use a rationale to provide a leniency, we would in fact employ it to produce a stringency. He cites an example from the writing of a sefer Torah. The Shulchan Aruch rules in Yoreh De’ah (270:1) that there is a commandment, even in contemporary times, for every Jew to write a sefer Torah. Today, however, many do not write a sefer Torah. They rely on the Rema (Orach Chaim 656) who rules that there is no obligation to spend more than one fifth of one’s capital in order to fulfill a positive commandment. Writing a sefer Torah is an extremely expensive prospect that not everyone is able to afford. The Rosh (Hilchot Sefer Torah 1) rules that there is a contemporary obligation to write sefarim. Why? He explains that the reason for the obligation to write a sefer Torah is - based on the verse in Devarim “So now, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the Children of Israel, place it in their mouths…”- to learn and to teach Torah. Long ago, when the primary learning was from the verses of the Torah themselves, the commandment was to write a sefer Torah. However, in contemporary times, the primary learning is from sefarim. Thus, there is now a commandment to write sefarim. How could it be that the Rosh uses this rationale in order to nullify the mitzvah of writing a sefer Torah? The Chatam Sofer explains – the Rosh’s intention was not to replace, but rather to expand upon, the mitzva of writing a sefer Torah. This must be the case because we may only employ a rationale to interpret a commandment more stringently. Including women in the obligation to eat on the ninth is a stringency learned from a rationale, and may, therefore, be mandated.
There is another discussion among later authorities regarding ill individuals who do not fast on Yom Kippur because their doctors forbid it. Are they also obligated to eat on erev Yom Kippur despite their exemption from the fast? The Sde Chemed rules that they are in fact obligated because perhaps Hashem will have mercy upon them and they will ultimately be able to fast on Yom Kippur. Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank cites the Shulchan Aruch (618) who states that an ill individual who can do with eating less than a minimal amount on Yom Kippur must not exceed this amount. This individual is considered to be fasting, for the Gemara in Yoma (80a) teaches that “affliction” also includes one who eats less than this minimal amount. Thus, the mitzvah of eating on the ninth would certainly apply to him as well.
-Translated by Batya Zuckerman
Shiur ID: 8944