Medication, fasting and Yom Kippur.

13 September 2021

Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day in the Jewish year. This year, it's being marked on Thursday 16 September.

Matty explains it's significance and sat down with Rabbi Schochet to find out more about how people with Crohn's or Colitis can mark the occasion.

According to Jewish tradition, Yom Kippur is when a person’s fate for the coming year is sealed into the ‘Book of Life’.

Living with Crohn's

In the days leading up to Yom Kippur people ask for forgiveness for any wrongdoing they have done in the previous year. By the end of Yom Kippur, we hope to have been forgiven.

The festival is observed by a 25-hour fast and intensive prayer.

For people with Crohn’s or Colitis, this can be challenging due to medication we take or the effect that a lack of food can have on our symptoms.

Personally, it is vital I take my azathioprine tablets once a day. Therefore, during Yom Kippur, I will have a little bit of water to take down the pills and then fast for the remainder of the day.

To understand more about this in the context Jewish law, I spoke to Rabbi Schochet who is the Senior Rabbi of Mill Hill United Synagogue. He himself was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in December 2001.

Have you ever found it difficult to keep fulfilling all the traditions a Jewish person keeps due to your condition, and if so, how have you overcome it?

The primary issue at the outset was wheat-based products (as well as dairy) which affect me considerably. This meant no challah, a special bread eaten on a Shabbat. However, someone was able to arrange gluten free challah for me, which, while not very tasty, did the trick. Over the years I have reintroduced wheat and gluten back into my diet – but no dairy.

How does your condition impact your day-to-day life and your work in the community?

Stress worsens my condition and my work in the community is always stressful.

I manage the stress with a regular exercise routine which helps immensely.

How can someone continue to take medication while fasting on Yom Kippur, if they need to take it with food or drink?

Initially I was on medication for some time and have subsequently been on medication for other conditions, primarily prostate. Discuss fasting with your medical team and they will be able to advise the best approach. If you must take medication during a time of fasting, then there is a process for taking medication, food, and drink on Yom Kippur. Essentially, this involves small quantities at certain time intervals and is allowed by our laws, Halacha.

How can we prioritise our health when marking Jewish events, even at a time of high religious importance like Yom Kippur?

Judaism puts absolute importance on wellbeing over all else. 

To that end, a person must feel free to judge their own situation, along with medical advice. As a case in point, my 12-year-old daughter was very recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. This means that she can’t fast on Yom Kippur as she is insulin dependent and the consequences of missing this can be very serious.

My daughter's health comes first, as does yours, and as should everyone’s.

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