How do I get my mom to not fast on Yom Kippur?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My mom is 74 and frail. She's always been quite little but she's gotten smaller in the last ten years and she doesn't eat much. I try to plump her up with protein powder and by giving her good fats, but there's one argument I can never win. We're Jewish and she refuses to stop fasting. I just don't think it's healthy for her, but how can I get my mom to realize that she should not fast on Yom Kippur?

Expert Answer

Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min., serves as the consultant/specialist for Union for Reform Judaism in North America in congregational programs concerning aging and spirituality and their impact on families. In that capacity he created the award-winning program Sacred Aging for congregations. He has written for numerous publications. He founded and edits and writes for other websites such as

The issue of "fasting on Yom Kippur" will become more prevelant in the coming years as we live longer and, for many of us, deal with chronic medical issues and types of disabilities. I have had this conversation with my own 94 year old mother. Fasting on Yom Kippur is an important statement. However, there is a higher value involved (and Judaism always will go tot he higher value). The value is that we are not called upon to place our own life in jeopardy. The concept of "p'kuach nefesh" (saving of life) is involved here. Frail elders and anyone else who may be dealing with a medical situation where missing a meal could endanger their well being are not requiered to fast. A person's life is more valuable that the ritual. Sometimes a compromise can be discussed. For example, abstain from food for half a day. This can be a balancing act between the safety of the person and that person's desire to adhere to what he or she may feel is "the right thing to do". The psychological and spiritual parts of a person are always a factor in how we make decisons. However, Jewish tradition is clear that in cases where fasting could create a negative result, the person is allowed to refrain from the act so as not to do anything that would endanger theor own health and safety. Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min