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Shabbat Parashat Vayeilech 5773

Ask the Rabbi: Eating on Erev Yom Kippur

by Rav Daniel Mann

Question:  I understand that there is a mitzva to eat on Erev (the day before) Yom Kippur. Considering that I certainly was not planning on fasting two days straight, what practical ramifications are there of this mitzva?

:  The gemara (Berachot 8b) refers to a mitzva to eat on Erev Yom Kippur, which is either mandated by the Torah or by a rabbinic requirement with a hint in the Torah. It says that one who fulfilled it is like one who fasted for the two days. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 604:1) and many others discuss eating more than usual. One indication of the significance of additional eating is that poskim (Magen Avraham ad loc., Mishna Berura ad loc. 1) derive from the gemara that one should learn less Torah than usual on Erev Yom Kippur in order to leave time for it. Regarding the details, we must distinguish between the minimum and the preferred. Even if one eats only at the seuda hamafseket (the meal directly preceding the fast), he has minimally fulfilled the mitzva, and this is what is suggested for one who wants to fast due to a very ominous dream (Magen Avraham 604:1). However, it is expected that one do much more eating than that.

Let us first look at the main reasons suggested for this halacha, as this will help us find the most appropriate practical approach. The Rosh (Yoma 8:22) and Tur (OC 604) say that we are to eat in order to be able to fast without undue difficulties. Rabbeinu Yona (Shaarei Teshuva 4:9) and the Ritva (Rosh Hashana 9a) mention a different reason: it is appropriate to eat because the proximity to Yom Kippur, the wonderful day of atonement, gives the day a semi-Yom Tov status. Other reasons are given, including kabbalistic ones.

We will present some cases that might depend on which reason is correct and the accepted ruling regarding each one. If the mitzva is to facilitate a good fast, then it should not apply the night before, which is too removed from the fast to make a significant difference. If it is because of a Yom Tov status, it might apply at night as well. The more accepted opinion is that there is no obligation the night before, but that it might be positive to do so (see a ramification in Mishna Berura 604:2).

At first glance, women should be exempt from the mitzva because it is a time-based positive mitzva. However, there is logic to apply the mitzva to women either due to the style of the derivation from the pasuk or because of the logic that anyone who is going to fast needs to eat properly beforehand. The standard assumption is that women are obligated (see Yechaveh Da’at I:58).

Another possible consequence is whether one should eat food that one has a reason to believe will cause him to fast well or whether he should eat food that is festive or otherwise appropriate for a Yom Tov (such as meat and bread). The Minchat Chinuch (#313) assumes that there is no need for any specific type of foods, just that one eats. However, there are strong indications that the minhag was and is to eat meat (see Magen Avrahama 604:1) and have a formal type of meal, one in which there is a feeling of Yom Tov or at least imminent Yom Tov. There seems to be an emphasis on the quality of the food, along with concern that the food make sense for people who are about to fast (it is hard to know if the latter is on practical or religious grounds).

In most of our circles, the only eating that is done as ritual is the seuda hamafseket. Otherwise, it is positive to eat more than usual, but in a format that is convenient. There are significant numbers of people and communities who have a morning or early afternoon meal, which is similar in scope to the seuda hamafseket. It is hard to make a claim that this is an obligation or something that one should try to impose upon the mother of the house or others who find it difficult. The impetus for this practice seems to be along the kabbalistic approach and is not obligatory, unless one is part of a community in which this is a clear minhag.

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