Religious scholars believe this afflicting of souls written about in the Torah refers to the command to fast. Members of Temple Beth El in Anniston will willingly withhold from eating or drinking from sundown Tuesday to sundown Wednesday. The fasting is part of the collective spiritual practice marking Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for those of the Jewish faith.
The Jewish High Holy Days began Sept. 16 with Rosh Hashanah and will end with the blast of a shofar on Yom Kippur at sundown on Wednesday, when the congregation of Temple Beth El will come together to break the fast.
For thousands of years, and across nearly all religious and ethnic boundaries, people have fasted for faith.
In Exodus 34:28, it is written that Moses “was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.”
Irving Bloom, one of two rabbis serving Temple Beth El, said that fasting on Yom Kippur is a way for the faithful to focus on God. It is a day of introspective prayer and repentance, and fasting helps center the mind on what is important, and away from what is not.
The literal meaning of “Yom Kippur” is “day of atonement.” Broken into syllables, Bloom said the word becomes “at-one-ment,” which to him means “the day when you are to be at one with yourself, with your community, with your God. A unifying, spiritual kind of day.”
One of the motivations for fasting, Bloom said, “is to humble one’s self and to try to shut out outside thoughts, so that one can concentrate on the spirit and the spiritual, rather than the material aspects of life.”
For 24 hours, there can be no food or water, as minds and hearts are turned toward repentance.
In the Jewish tradition, fasting at certain holidays usually begins around the age of 13, Bloom said. But for those who are sick or have a medical problem, “it is imperative that they not fast,” Bloom said, and they are specifically told that they must eat.
Temple member Steve Whitton said fasting is a way to focus on “who we basically are. A lot of times, so much is coming at us that we tend to get away from that often. And this is a very quiet, introspective way to come back to that sort of thinking.”
At sundown on Wednesday, after the contemplative hours of prayer have ceased, the congregation will come together in the synagogue’s social hall and break the fast with a shared meal. It’s that connectedness at the end of Yom Kippur that Whitton said he especially cherishes.
“There is that introspection while you’re worshiping, and then you come back to embracing, both literally and figuratively, others,” Whitton said. “You’ve had your introspection, and then you go back to the world.”