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The Afflictions of Yom Kippur: What is Forbidden and to Whom?

Rav David Brofsky
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[Note: Rav Brofsky’s new book, Hilkhot Moadim: Understanding the Laws of the Festivals (Maggid, 2013), is available from Koren Publishers Jerusalem.]


The mishna (Yoma 73b) mentions five afflictions observed on Yom Kippur: the prohibitions of eating, washing, anointing, wearing leather shoes, and engaging in marital relations.  In our previous discussion of the afflictions (inuyim), we noted the discrepancy between eating and drinking, for which one incurs the punishment of "karet," and the other inuyim, for which one does not. We also noted that the gemara implies in numerous passages that these other afflictions are more lenient than the prohibition of eating and drinking; under certain circumstances, they may be lifted (for a king, bride, or new mother, according to R. Eliezer, or for dirty hands).  We also discussed whether these other afflictions are mi-derabbanan, of rabbinic origin, as the above exceptions might imply, or mi-deoraita, of biblical origin. In this shiur, we shall study the practical details of these afflictions.

Eating and Drinking on Yom Kippur

The mishna (Yoma 73b) discusses the amount that one must eat or drink in order to be culpable on Yom Kippur.

One who eats the equivalent of a large date (ka-kotevet ha-gasa), i.e. the equivalent of it and its pit, or drinks a quantity of liquid equal to the fill of his cheeks (melo lugmav), is liable. All foods combine for the [volume] equivalent of a large date, and all beverages combine for the [volume] equivalent of the fill of his cheeks. But eating and drinking do not combine.

While generally one defines eating or drinking by the volume of an olive (ke-zayit) or a revi'it of liquid, the measurements of Yom Kippur differ. The gemara (79a) explains:

Rava said in the name of R. Yehuda: The "large date" of which the Sages spoke is larger than an egg. [This unusual measurement has been accepted] as the Rabbis are sure that with this amount one's mind is put to ease, and with less than that one's might is not at ease.

A ka-kotevet, an ordinary date, is slightly smaller than the volume of an egg. Modern authorities (see Shemirat Shabbat Ke-Hilkhata 39:18; see also here) estimate the volumetric measurement of a kotevet gasa at about 1.5 fl. oz. (44 ml).

Similarly, regarding drinking, the gemara explains:

R. Yehuda said in the name of Shmuel: The mishna does not mean the actual fill of his cheeks, but rather any amount that were he to remove it to one side [of his mouth], it would appear as if his cheeks were full.

The gemara is aware of the subjective nature of these measurements, and concludes:

What is the difference between eating, [in the context of which] the measure for everyone is a ka-kotevet (the volume of a date), and for drinking everyone [measures according to] his own [cheek-full]? Abaye said: It has been accepted by the Rabbis that with such [a volume of food] one's mind is put at ease, and with less than that one's mind is not put at ease. But with regards to drinking, with one's own cheek-full his mind is put at ease, but with the cheek-full of his friend, his mind is not put at ease.

Finally, the gemara (80b) concludes that just as regarding prohibited foods one must consume a ke-zayit (an olive's volume) within the amount of time it takes to eat half of a loaf of bread (be-kedei akhilat peras), one must similarly eat the date's volume of food in this time span in order to incur karet, as "it has been accepted by the Rabbis that when a date's volume is eaten in such a time span, one's mind is put at ease." The Rishonim debate whether this refers to the time it takes to eat the volume of three eggs (Rambam) or four (Rashi).

The Acharonim attempt to define this time period. The Chatam Sofer (Teshuvot Chatam Sofer 6:16), for example, rules that "kedei akhilat peras" is the equivalent of nine minutes. The Mishna Berura (618:21) cites this ruling. R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi, author of the Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav, reportedly estimated this time at eight minutes. The Arukh Ha-Shulchan (Orach Chaim 618:14) suggests that this period may be between six to seven minutes. Others even accept shorter periods, from four (R. Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor, as cited by R. Moshe Sternbuch in Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot 2:289), three (Marcheshet 14), or even two minutes (see Chatam Sofer 6:23).

Regarding drinking, the Shulchan Arukh (612:10) cites two opinions. While some say that the time frame for drinking is identical to that of eating, i.e. kedei akhilat peras, some say that it is much shorter, kedei shetiyat revi'it, the amount of time it takes to drink a revi'it (roughly 4 ounces) of liquid.

These details are not on the whole practically relevant, as these measurements determine when one is worthy of Divine punishment. Optimally, however, one may not eat even a smaller amount of food, or the same amount eaten over a longer time span.

Indeed, the Talmud (Yoma 73b–74a) cites a debate whether "chatzi shi'ur," that is, eating less that the proscribed amount, is prohibited mi-deoraita or mi-derabbanan.

Regarding "chatzi shi'ur" – R. Yochanan said that it is Biblically prohibited. Reish Lakish said that it is Biblically permitted. R. Yochanan said that it is Biblically prohibited, for since the half measure is fit to combine with more of the same forbidden food, he is considered to have eaten prohibited food. Reish Lakish said it is Biblically permitted, as the Torah referred to "eating," and there is no eating.

The gemara (ibid.) concludes, however, that even Reish Lakish agrees that there is a Rabbinic prohibition. Interestingly, the Yerushalmi (Terumot 6:1) suggests that Reish Lakish, who generally rejects the concept of chatzi shiur, would concede that it is forbidden on Yom Kippur. Apparently, the Yerushalmi believes that on Yom Kippur, any experience which prevents inui is forbidden, even less than a shiur.

            As we shall see, this discussion may be significant for one who must eat on Yom Kippur due to illness.

The Sick, Infirm, and Pregnant on Yom Kippur

The Tosefta (Shabbat 9:22) teaches, "Nothing stands in the way of saving one's life (pikuach nefesh)." While the Talmud does discuss limitations to this principle, as a general rule, pikuach nefesh takes precedence over other mitzvot and prohibitions.

The gemara (Yoma 85a) searches for a source for this principle:

It once happened that R. Yishmael, R. Akiva, and R. Elazar b. Azarya were traveling on the road with Levi the organizer and R. Yishmael, the son of R. Elazar ben Azarya, following behind them, when the following question was asked before them:  From where do we know that saving a life overrides the law of Shabbat?"

After citing numerous possibilities, the gemara cites a final opinion:

R. Yehuda said in the name of Shmuel: Had I been there I would have said that mine [source] is better than theirs. [It is written] "[You shall guard My decrees and My laws that man shall carry out] and he shall live by them (Vayikra 18:5)" – but he should not die on their account.

Regarding Yom Kippur, the Talmud (Yoma 82a) explicitly permits one who is dangerously ill to eat and drink. Just as one violates the Sabbath or any other commandment in order to preserve one's life (except for the three cardinal sins of murder, illicit sexual relations, and idolatry), one may, and is even required to, eat or drink on Yom Kippur in order to preserve one's life.

The Ran (Yoma 3b in dapei ha-Rif, s.v. chutz) writes:

A sick person who has been instructed by experts to violate the Shabbat, it is not an act of piety to refrain, but rather this person sheds blood. The Talmud Yerushalmi says, "[When it comes to life-saving] the hasty is praiseworthy, the one who is asked a question [about life-saving] is a disgrace, and the one who asks a question is a murderer."  

How much may one eat on Yom Kippur in order to preserve one's health? The gemara (Keritut 13a) states, "The Rabbis permitted a pregnant woman to eat less than a shiur due to the danger." In other words, she may consume less than the volume of a date (ka-kotevet) in the time it takes to consume half of a loaf of bread.

Many Rishonim (Behag; Ramban, Torat HaAdam; Rosh, Yoma 8:13) apply the above gemara to all sick individuals. They rule that a person should preferably try to limit his eating, when possible, to less than a kotevet gasa be-kedei akhilat pras, or less than a melo lugmav in that period, or according to some, in less than be-kedei shtiyat revi'it. The Rosh explains that if a doctor insists that the choleh must eat more than that amount, than he should eat normally.

The Shulchan Arukh (218:7) rules accordingly, writing that one should eat two thirds of the size of an egg, slightly less than the volume of ka-kotevet. Based on the above, one who is ill and must eat on Yom Kippur should eat approximately 1.5 fl. oz. of food every nine minutes. R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, Orach Chaim 4:41) recommends, when necessary, waiting four and a half minutes between each portion.

Interestingly, the Netziv (Ha’amek She'eila 167:17) insists that the Rif and Rambam do not accept the ruling of the Behag, Ramban, Rosh, and Ran. The Netziv argues that the gemara (Keritut 13a) only instructed a pregnant women to eat small amounts, as the concern is to reduce her hunger cravings and ensure the safety of her fetus. However, the gemara never meant to limit the eating of a dangerously ill person.

R. Chaim Soloveitchik (see his son's Chiddushei Ha-Griz, Hilkhot Shevitat Ha-Asor 2:8, as well as R. Moshe Shternbuch's Moa'dim U-Zemanim 1:60 and Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot 2:288) also rules leniently. He explains that one who must eat in order to avoid become seriously ill should eat in small amounts. However, one who is already dangerously ill should eat normally. He bases this ruling upon the Maggid Mishna's comments on the Rambam (Hilkhot Shabbat 2:14) that one may violate the Sabbath even in order to care for the non-critical needs of a personal who is dangerously ill (choleh she-yesh bo sakana). Indeed, he ruled accordingly in Brisk. When challenged, he would often respond, "I am ruling leniently regarding Yom Kippur, but rather strictly regarding pikuach nefesh (saving one's life)" (R. Shlomo Yosef Zevin, Ha-Mo'adim Ba-Halakha).

While R. Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (see R. Chaim Jachter, Gray Matter, p. 43), as well as R. Yechezkel Abramsky (see Nishmat Avraham I, p. 310), rule like R. Chaim Soloveitchik (see also R. Moshe Shternuch, Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot 2:288), the Arukh Ha-Shulchan (Orach Chaim 618:15), Shemirat Shabbat Ke-Hilkhata (39:6), and Rav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yechave Da'at 6:39) do not.

One should consult with one's doctor and a halakhic authority, when possible, before eating or drinking on Yom Kippur to avoid being unnecessarily lenient or stringent.

A "choleh sh-ein bo sakana," a sick person whose life is not in danger, who must continue to take medications, such as antibiotics, or one who suffers from a chronic condition but is not presently sick and therefore must fast, should try to swallow his medicines without water. Some suggest that one who is unable to swallow medicines without water should mix a bit of water with a bitter substance and take the medicine with that water (Shemirat Shabbat Ke-Hilkhata 39:8). Swallowing a pill with a bit of mouthwash should also suffice. Some suggest wrapping pills, especially pleasant tasting pills, in thin paper and then swallowing them (ibid.).

R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, Orach Chaim 3:91) permits one who must take medicine in order to prevent the development of a serious medical condition, and certainly one who suffers from a potentially life-threatening situation, to swallow his pills with a bit of water.

Anointing on Yom Kippur

As mentioned previously, the Torah never explicitly specifies the afflictions of Yom Kippur. In fact, the Rishonim debate whether the other four afflictions that appear in the mishna (Yoma 73b), washing, anointing, wearing leather shoes, and engaging in marital relations, are of biblical or rabbinic origin.

The gemara offers two sources from the prohibition of anointing. In one place (Yoma 76b), the gemara asks:

From where do we know that [abstaining from] washing and anointing are considered acts of affliction? For it is written, "I ate no desirable bread, and meat and wine did not enter my mouth, and I did not anoint myself with an anointing" (Daniel 10:3). And from where do we know that this is considered an affliction? For it is written, "And he said to me, 'Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and to afflict yourselves before God your words have been heard; and I have come because of your words'" (ibid. 12).

Elsewhere, the mishna (Shabbat 86a) provides another source prohibiting anointing on Yom Kippur, comparing it to drinking.

How do we know that anointing is the same as drinking on the Day of Atonement? Though there is no proof of this, yet there is a "remez" (suggestion) thereof, for it is said, "And it came into his inward parts like water, and like oil into his bones" (Tehillim 109:18).

Tosafot (Shabbat 86a, s.v. af al pi) question the necessity for two sources prohibiting anointing on Yom Kippur, especially since the gemara admits that one of them is not more than a "remez." The Gra (Shenot Eliyahu, Shabbat 9:4) suggests that the mishna in Shabbat comes to prevent a mistaken conclusion that anointing is literally akin to drinking; anointing is similar, but not identical, and therefore on Yom Kippur one who anoints does not incur "karet."

R. Soloveitchik, as cited in Sefer Harerei Kedem (50), offers a different approach. He suggests that there may be two type of "anointing" prohibited on Yom Kippur – anointing which is akin to drinking (sikha ke-shetiya), and anointing done for pleasure (sikha shel ta'anug). If so, it would seem that even sikha done not for the purpose of pleasure should be prohibited on Yom Kippur!

Indeed, the Rambam (Hilkhot Shevitat Asor 3:9) rules:

One may not anoint even part of one's body on Yom Kippur, regardless of whether the anointing is done for pleasure or not, although one who is sick, even though he is not in danger, or a person with scabs on his head may anoint normally.

The Rambam delineates three types of anointing: anointing for pleasure, anointing not for pleasure, and anointing for a sick person. He prohibits the first two types and permits the third. Interestingly, Tosafot (Yoma 77b, s.v. minayin) disagrees and prohibits only anointing for pleasure.

This distinction may yield a practical ramification. The Shulchan Arukh (618:1) writes:

It is prohibited to anoint even part of one's body, even if he only intends to remove filth. However, one who is sick, even if he doesn't face any danger, or one who has scabs on his head, may [anoint].

The Bi'ur Halakha (554:15) notes that while on Tisha Be-av the Shulchan Arukh only prohibits anointing for the purpose of pleasure, on Yom Kippur all anointing is prohibited. Some Acharonim thus deduce that one may apply deodorant, whose purpose is to "remove filth," on Tisha Be-Av, but not on Yom Kippur.

Washing on Yom Kippur

The gemara (Yoma 76b) continues by searching for a source to prohibit washing on Yom Kippur.

We have found anointing, from where do we know washing?… R. Ashi said: Washing is derived from the verse itself, as it says, "And I did not anoint myself with anointing."

This passage, as well as the gemara elsewhere (Mo'ed Katan 15a), views washing as a form of anointing. However, unlike anointing, the gemara (77b) seemingly only prohibits washing for the purpose of pleasure.

The rabbis taught: It is forbidden to wash part of one's body just as it is forbidden to wash all of one's body. But if he was soiled with mud or excrement, he need not be concerned.

The Rishonim debate the extent of this prohibition and the definition of "washing for the purpose of pleasure." As we saw regarding anointing, there may be three types of washing: washing for pleasure, not for pleasure, and to remove dirt or for medicinal purposes. May one wash not for the purpose of pleasure, but not necessarily to remove dirt?

The Rishonim, for example, discuss whether one may wash one's hands in the morning upon rising, as one does every morning. The Rambam (Hilkhot Tefilla 7:8) rules that since washing is prohibited on Yom Kippur, one does not recite the blessing of "al netilat yadayim" in the morning. The Ran (Yoma 2a, s.v. va-hevi) disagrees, and rules that for the sake of a mitzva (see Yoma 88), such as washing one's hands upon rising, one may wash and recite the berakha. Rabbeinu Tam (Tosafot, Yoma 77b, s.v. mishum) and others concur. The Shulchan Arukh (613:3) rules that one should wash his hands in the morning up to the knuckles and recite the blessing.

Similarly, the Shulchan Arukh (613:4) rules than an "instinis," one who is extra sensitive, may wash his face. The Rema records that it is customary to be stringent. 

Finally, the Rema (613:4) writes that it is customary not to rinse one's mouth on Yom Kippur. Some Acharonim (Mishna Berura 11, for example) express concern that one might accidentally swallow some of the water. This might lead us to the conclusion that a liquid not fit for consumption may be used for rinsing one's mouth on Yom Kippur. In a previous shiur regarding Tisha Be-Av, we noted that R. Moshe Feinstein (see R. Shimon Eider's Halachos of the Three Weeks, p. 19) suggested that washing out one's mouth on Tisha Be-Av may be prohibited because of "rechitza" (bathing). The Minchat Yitzchak (4:109), who prohibited rinsing one's mouth on Tisha Be-av, permitted brushing teeth with "powder" in order to reduce discomfort. What about rinsing one's mouth with a liquid unfit for consumption, like vinegar, or even mouthwash, on Yom Kippur?

R. Efraim Zalman Margolis (1762-1828), in his Matteh Efraim, a sefer devoted to the ritual laws to be observed from the beginning of the month of Elul until after Sukkot, writes that one should not even rinse one's mouth with a liquid unfit for consumption on Yom Kippur. Brushing one's teeth with a dry toothbrush, however, is permitted. 

Wearing Shoes on Yom Kippur

The mishna (Yoma 73b) lists "ne'ilat ha-sandal," wearing shoes, as one of the five inuyim of Yom Kippur. What type of shoes does the mishna prohibit? Does the mishna prohibit shoes of certain materials specifically or a certain level of comfort? The Talmud (78b) reports that many Amoraim would wear non-leather footwear on Yom Kippur.

And they inquired further: What is the law regarding going out with a sandal made of cork on Yom Kippur? R. Yitzchak ben Nachmani rose to his feet and said: I once observed R. Yehoshua ben Levi going out with a sandal made of cork on Yom Kippur… R. Yehuda went out with [sandals made from] hitni. Abaye went out with [sandals made from] palm leaves. Rava went out with [sandals made from] grass. Rabba bar R. Huna would wrap a kerchief around his foot and go out.

The gemara then questions:

Rami bar Chama retorted: An amputee may go out [on Shabbat] with his wooden foot;" these are the words of R. Meir. R. Yosi prohibited. And a baraita taught in reference to this: But they both agree that it is forbidden to go out [with a wooden foot] on Yom Kippur!

In other words, the mishna prohibits an amputee to wear his wooden prosthetic on Yom Kippur, despite the fact that it is not made from leather.  The gemara cites Rava, who refutes an answers offered by Abaye, and concludes: "In truth, all agree that a [wooden foot] is considered a 'shoe.'"

The Rishonim debate how to understand Rava's conclusion, especially in light of another Talmudic passage (Yevamot 102a). R. Zerachya Ha-levi Gerondi (1125-1185), the Ba'al Ha-Ma'or (Yoma 2a), explains that all footwear that provides protection, including those worn by the Amoraim mentioned above, except for the kerchief worn around one's foot, is prohibited.

Rashi disagrees, explaining that the gemara prohibits shoes made from leather and wood, similar to the amputee's prosthetic, but permits footwear fashioned from other materials, in accordance with the Amoraim noted above.

The Rif (Yoma 2a) and the Rosh (8:7) rule that only wearing leather shoes constitutes "ne'ilat ha-sandal." Therefore, one may wear all other types of footwear, even shoes made from other comfortable materials.

Interestingly, the Rambam (Hilkhot Shevitat Ha-Asor 3:7) writes:

It is permitted to wear on Yom Kippur shoes made from cork or from rubber, and a person may even wrap a cloth around his feet and go out to a public area, as the firmness of the ground reaches his feet and he feels as if he is barefooted.

The Rambam seems to permit shoes made from other materials only if one can still feel the hardness of the ground.

The Shulchan Arukh (614:4) rules in accordance with the Rif and Rosh, permitting all shoes that are not made of leather. R. Moshe Shternbuch, in his Moa'dim U-Zemanim (6:28), suggests a distinction between leather and other materials. He argues that in the olden days, when people walked on dirt, and not asphalt, it was customary to wear leather shoes all year round. Therefore, he argues, leather shoes represent the standard shoes that people wear outside. Nowadays, many wear comfortable sneakers (or even crocks!), and one should therefore refrain from wearing these shoes on Yom Kippur.

Similarly, some Acharonim discourage wearing comfortable shoes through which cannot feel the ground. R. Meir Eisenstadt (1670-1744), for example, writes in his Panim Me'irot (2:28) that a God-fearing person should not even wear non-leather shoes that are both protective and comfortable. The Chatam Sofer (Hagahot to Shulchan Arukh 614) concurs. The Bach even writes that one should refrain, when possible, from wearing a cloth around one's feet, and he reports that his teachers were accustomed to walk barefoot on Yom Kippur. The Mishna Berura (5) cites those Acharonim, such as the Eliya Rabba, who rule stringently, and concludes that it is proper for one to be stringent and to wear a soft cloth slipper, and not a comfortable shoe (see also Arukh Ha-Shulchan 614:5).

R. Ovadia Yosef (Chazon Ovadia, Yamim Noraim, p. 315 and R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Shalmei Mo'ed, p. 77) permit wearing all shoes not made of leather, in accordance with the popular custom. Similarly, R. Shimon Gruenfeld (1860-1930), known as the Maharshag, writes (Sefer She'elot U-Teshuvot Maharshag 2:110):

In my opinion, it seems that even from the strictest point of view there is no reason to be stringent … There is no great level of piety and one who is stringent in order that it should be more of an "affliction" and so that he should suffer more is a "foolish pious man," and he has no capability of understanding the depth of our holy Torah… It is clear to me that one who walks on Yom Kippur while suffering due to not wearing shoes, [such as one] who walks in a cold area in order to suffer more through walking barefoot, does not receive additional rewards and is only considered a fool and simpleminded… In addition, it seems to me that one who does an action in order to suffer on Yom Kippur, even involving one of the five afflictions, in a way that the Torah would permit, and he would to be more stringent in order to increase his discomfort, will be punished because for denigrating the festival…

This position stands in sharp contrast to the Mishna Berura cited above.

Some Acharonim (Mateh Efraim 614, Maharam Shik 316) point out that many shoes are made of many materials; even if the leather is used only for the soles or for other parts of the shoe, they are still prohibited. The Kaf Ha-Chayyim (614:10), however, permits wearing shoes which are merely laced with leather shoe laces.

At times, one is permitted to wear leather shoes. For example, the gemara (Yoma 78b), explaining the mishna (73b), teaches that "a new mother may wear shoes because of the cold." Similarly, the gemara continues: "Shmuel said: Because of the danger of a scorpion, it is permitted [to wear leather shoes]." The Sefat Emet (78b) points out that Shmuel's leniency does not refer to a life threatening situation, in which case this would certainly be permitted. Rather, Shmuel allows one to walk in an area where they may potentially be scorpions and wear leather shoes; he does not require one to remain at home.

The Rema (614:4) writes that if it is raining and one wishes to walk to synagogue, or to return home, and he is an "istinis" (an extremely sensitive person), he may wear shoes until he reaches his destination. The Mishna Berura (12) writes that one who knows that his feet will become soiled may walk out in shoes, but he should remove them immediately upon arriving.

Marital Relations on Yom Kippur

The mishna (Yoma 74b) prohibits engaging in marital relations on Yom Kippur. Some Rishonim write that one should observe the precautionary prohibitions of the laws of nidda (harkhakot) as well. For example, the Beit Yosef (614) cites the Mordekhai (Mo'ed Katan 934), who writes that on Tisha Be-Av and Yom Kippur it is prohibited for a husband and wife to sleep in the same bed. Similarly, the Sefer Agudda writes that spouses should avoid all physical contact on the night of Yom Kippur.

The Shulchan Arukh (615) concurs. The Taz (1) says the harkhakot, aside from sleeping in the same bed, do not apply during the day, while the Mishna Berura (1), citing the Maharil, writes that one should observe all of the harkhakot of the laws of nidda (see Yoreh De'ah 195) for the duration of Yom Kippur.  


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