Eating Less than a Shiur on Yom Kippur by Rabbi Chaim Jachter
It is well established that one who is dangerously ill on Yom Kippur need not fast (see Yoma 82a). It is also well known that the dangerously sick individual should try to limit his eating and drinking to very small quantities of food on Yom Kippur. In this essay we will seek to elucidate some of the issues involved, review the dispute as to whether this rule applies to Tishah BeAv as well, and offer some suggestions for pregnant women.
The Torah (Vayikra 23:29) teaches that one who eats on Yom Kippur is punished with Kareit. This punishment takes effect, according to the Mishnah (Yoma 73b), only if he has eaten the volume of food equivalent to the size of a large date (“KaKotevet HaGasa”) or if he drinks an amount of liquid that could fill one's cheek (“Maleh Lugmav”).
The Gemara (Yoma 74a) records a celebrated dispute between Rav Yochanan and Reish Lakish regarding one who ate or drank less than these amounts (“Chatzi Shiur”). Reish Lakish argues that although it is rabbinically forbidden to eat or drink a tiny amount of food on Yom Kippur, he has not violated a Torah prohibition since the Torah does not consider him as having “eaten,” since he consumed such a small amount. On the other hand, Rav Yochanan believes that one who eats or drinks a tiny amount violates a Torah prohibition. He reasons that since the tiny amount of food has the potential to be combined with more food (“Chazi LeItzterufi”) he violates a Torah prohibition. According to Rav Yochanan, one who consumes these tiny amounts is not punished with Kareit, but he violates a Torah prohibition. The position of Rav Yochanan is codified as normative Halacha (Rambam Hilchot Shevitat Assor 2:3).
Eating Less than the “Shiur”
The Gemara (Keritut 13a), though, mentions a circumstance in which one may eat less than the Shiur. The Gemara states, “The Rabbis permitted a pregnant woman to eat less than a Shiur due to the danger.” The Gemara clarifies that, of course, if for emergency health considerations she must eat more than the “Shiur,” she is permitted to do so. It should be noted that the Shiur must be consumed in intervals of less than the time it takes to consume half a loaf of bread (“Kedei Achillat Pras”). Acharonim debate exactly how many minutes this refers to. The Chatam Sofer (Teshuvot Chatam Sofer 6:16) is cited by the Mishnah Berurah (618:21) as ruling that “Kedei Achillat Pras” is the equivalent of nine minutes. The Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 618:14) writes that it is six to seven minutes. For a review of the opinions on this matter (which range from two minutes to nine minutes), see the sources cited in the Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchata (39:18 footnote 71).
The Behag (at the end of Hilchot Yom HaKippurim), the Ramban (in his work Torat HaAdam), and the Rosh (Yoma 8:13) apply the Gemara in Keritut 13a to any sick individual. They rule that every ill individual should try to limit his eating on Yom Kippur to less than a Shiur, as we want the ill individual to avoid violating a transgression that is punishable by Kareit. The Rosh explains, though, that only if the doctor states that eating less than a Shiur will suffice will we require the patient to eat less than a Shiur. If the doctor believes that more than a Shiur is required, the individual should eat more than a Shiur The Shulchan Aruch (618:7) rules in accordance with the view of the Behag, Ramban, and Rosh. See, however, the Netziv (Haamek She’eila 167:17) who demonstrates that the Rif and Rambam do not agree with the ruling of the Behag, Ramban, Rosh, and Ran. The Netziv argues that these Rishonim believe that a sick individual whose life is endangered and who must eat on Yom Kippur to preserve his life may eat on Yom Kippur without any limitations.
Rav Chaim's Understanding of this Rule
Rav Chaim Soloveitchik (cited by his son Rav Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik in his work on the Rambam’s Hilchot Shevitat Assor 2:8 and by his grandson Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, Halachic Man p. 39) greatly limited the applicability of this rule even according to the Shulchan Aruch who follows the opinion of the Behag, Ramban, and the Rosh. Rav Chaim feels that the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling applies only to someone who is not dangerously ill but must eat on Yom Kippur to avoid becoming dangerously ill. However, a “Choleh Sheyeish Bo Sakanah” (dangerously ill person) may eat on Yom Kippur without limiting his eating to less than a Shiur.
This approach is based on the ruling of the Maggid Mishnah (to Rambam Hilchot Shabbat 2:14) and Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 328:4) that one may violate Shabbat in order to take care of even the non-critical needs of a “Choleh Sheyeish Bo Sakanah.” Similarly, explains Rav Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik, once someone is considered dangerously ill to the extent that he must eat on Yom Kippur, all of his needs must be met in an unlimited manner. Thus he need not limit his eating to less than a Shiur even according to the Shulchan Aruch.
Criticism of Rav Chaim's Approach
Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin (Moadim BaHalacha, p.28) notes that the general practice among rabbis is not to rule like Rav Chaim. The Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 618:15) clearly supports Rav Zevin's assertion. Similarly, Rav Yehoshua Neuwirth (Shmirat Shabbat Kehilchata 39:6) and Rav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yechave Daat 6:39) do not rule in accordance with Rav Chaim. Indeed, Rav Moshe Snow (who serves as a Rav in Borough Park and a Rebbe at the Rav Teitz Mesivta of Elizabeth and who is a student of Rav Moshe Feinstein) informed this author that Rav Feinstein did not rule in accordance with Rav Chaim's approach. Dr. Abraham S. Abraham (Nishmat Avraham (O.C. 618:2) records, however, that Rav Yechezkel Abramsky did rule in accordance with Rav Chaim's view. Those who disagree with Rav Chaim point to the plain and straightforward reading of Shulchan Aruch 618:7, which states that a sick person should try to eat less than a Shiur. The Shulchan Aruch does not state that this rule applies only to one who is not dangerously ill. It seems that the Shulchan Aruch believes that this rule applies even to a “Choleh Sheyeish Bo Sakana.”
Furthermore, the Mishnah Berurah (328:14 and Beiur Halacha ad. loc. s.v. Kol) demonstrates that many Rishonim disagree with the aforementioned Maggid Mishnah, which serves as a basis for the ruling of Rav Chaim. The Mishnah Berurah concludes that when Torah prohibitions are involved, the Maggid Mishnah's ruling should not be followed. Hence, since eating even less than a shiur on Yom Kippur constitutes a Torah prohibition, it would appear that the Mishnah Berurah should be added to the list of those authorities that do not concur with the ruling of Rav Chaim. One should ask his Rav for guidance when this issue arises in practice. For a philosophical perspective on Rav Chaim's ruling see Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, Halachic Man p. 39.
Application to Tishah BeAv
Acharonim dispute as to whether this rule applies to Tishah BeAv. While the Mishnah Berurah (Beiur Halacha 554:6 s.v. DiBemakom Choli) rules that it does apply, but the Aruch HaShulchan (554:4) rules that it does not. It would seem, perhaps, that the Aruch HaShulchan's ruling is more persuasive. Only on Yom Kippur is there a reason to distinguish between eating less than a Shiur and a full Shiur. Although eating less than a Shiur is biblically prohibited, one is not punished with Kareit by doing so. Therefore, it is halachically meaningful to eat less than a Shiur.
On the other hand, it seems that one accomplishes nothing by eating less than a Shiur on Tishah BeAv. It is rabbinically forbidden to eat on Tishah BeAv and there is no distinction between eating more or less than a Shiur. One should consult his Rav for a ruling regarding this matter. For further analysis of this dispute see my essay in Ohr HaMizrach (44:3-4:178).
Practical Suggestions for Pregnant Women
Very often a Rav will rule that a pregnant woman may eat on Yom Kippur but only less than the Shiur. I have heard of problems resulting from such rulings, as it is an established fact that fasting triggers the labor process. This could prove disastrous for many women. For example, I was informed of a case of a woman who was twenty-two weeks pregnant and was ordered by her doctor to eat and drink on Yom Kippur. An eminent Poseik told her to eat and drink less than the Shiur, which proved to be insufficient for this woman. She went into labor and was rushed to the hospital where she narrowly missed losing the baby (Chalilah).
Accordingly, women should ask their Rav and physician if they may follow the ruling of Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yalkut Yosef Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 618:5-6) that one should wait nine minutes between eating portions less than a Shiur (in accordance with the aforementioned view of the Chatam Sofer) but one need only wait five minutes between drinking portions less than a Shiur. There is more room to be lenient in regards to drinking since Rishonim and Acharonim dispute whether waiting the span of Kedei Achillat Pras is required in the context of drinking (see Shulchan Aruch O.C. 612:10 and Mishnah Berurah 612:31). Thus in the context of drinking one may follow the opinions that assert a shorter span for Kedei Achillat Pras since many authorities do not require waiting an interval of Kedei Achillat Pras between the acts of drinking less than a Shiur.
Following Rav Ovadia Yosef’s ruling might help pregnant women receive the hydration they need to avoid triggering premature labor. Women must consult both their Rav and doctor to determine if this is both a safe approach and a viable Halachic option. In addition, it would seem proper and prudent for pregnant women to remain at home in an air-conditioned environment to help reduce the risk of dehydration (see Shmirat Shabbat Kehilchata 39:28 and footnote 94). A woman might also consider asking her doctor whether drinking large volumes of water throughout Erev Yom Kippur might help prevent dehydration. It also seems to me that if on Yom Kippur a woman intuits that the minimal amounts of water are insufficient, she should be sure to satisfy her body’s need if she feels that she would otherwise be endangering herself or her fetus (see Shulchan Aruch O.C. 618:1). Finally, if any woman on Yom Kippur who is fasting or eating and drinking limited amounts goes into labor, she should inform her doctor of this fact, as it might be vitally important for medical personnel to be aware of this fact, especially for the physician who administers anesthesia.
We have highlighted only some of the many issues regarding eating less than the Shiur on Yom Kippur; there are many details involved that we have not discussed. Thus, it is imperative for one who finds him- or herself in this situation to consult his or her Rav and doctor for competent guidance on how to safely observe the fast of the great holy day of Yom Kippur.