An Easy Fast...and Beyond
-- Lisa Tuttle
A food column about a fasting holiday? Yom Kippur is not exactly known for its food, so you wouldn't expect it to be the focus of The Kosher Table. Yet, eating is such a big part of the days and hours before and after the Yom Kippur fast that the
Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) states, "it is mandatory to feast sumptuously and to fare generously as it is accounted a virtue to him who eats and drinks on the day preceding the Atonement Day, just as if he had fasted on that day" (Vol.3,81:2).
The Yom Kippur fast is one of the most observed Jewish traditions adhered to even to some extent by Jews who consider themselves nonreligious and even atheist! There are many who have had tried to fast on Yom Kippur and would continue to do so if only they could escape the adverse effects that keep them from making it through the day. Well, help is on the way.
"Fasting is an essential part of spiritual development, intended to purify the body, allowing nonmaterial concerns to emerge. In the best sense, 'we rise from the earth to meet the consciousness of the heavens,' yet many people who fast are plagued by headaches, nausea, and dizziness, rather than enjoying an ascendant moment." So begins the description for a class entitled Fasting and Cleansing Your Diet given this month at Mishkan Shalom in Roxborough. The two-part class, facilitated by Nancy Post, Ph.D. — a certified practitioner of acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, and an organizational development consultant with a mission to help shape healthy workplaces — will cover how to prepare for and break fasts healthfully, and how to let fasting be a springboard into healthier eating. Part 1 is devoted to fasting; Part 2 focuses on dietary shifts we can make to adopt a cleansing approach to diet throughout the year.
First, let's take a look at the whys and wherefores of fasting in our tradition; then we'll explore how to maximize the experience and benefits of our fast.
Eating is one of the great pleasures of life, and Judaism celebrates every conceivable occasion with a festive meal. So it is fitting, then, that to atone for transgression, in the words of the prophets, we "afflict our souls" by giving up this pleasure as did our ancestors.
Moses fasted for forty days and forty nights while he was on the mountain with God (Exodus 34:28); King David fasted when the son of his adulterous union with Bathsheba was struck sick by God, in punishment for the adultery and for David's murder of Bathsheba's husband, Uriah the Hittite. Nevertheless, the son died, upon which David broke his fast (2 Samuel 12:15-25); the prophet Isaiah chastised the Israelites for the unrighteous methods and motives of their fasting, clarified some of the best reasons for fasting, and listed both physical and spiritual benefits that would result (Isaiah 58:3-13); the people of Nineveh, in response to Jonah's prophecy, fasted to avert the judgement of God (Jonah 3:7); and the Jews of Persia, following Mordechai's example, fasted due to the genocidal decree of Haman while Queen Esther declared a three-day fast for all the Jews prior to risking her life in visiting King Ahasuerus uninvited (Megillat Esther 4).
It is a positive command laid down by the Prophets to fast on the days sorrowful events occurred to our ancestors, yet our tradition dictates only the duration and stringency of its major and minor public fast days but provides very little guidance about how to make it an "easy fast."
On Yom Kippur our fasting makes us like the angels — spiritual beings who neither eat nor drink and whose thoughts are totally on the Divine. Fasting is ideally intended to help rid us of material concerns and focus our kavannah (intention) on our spiritual experience. But, if one's focus is on one's headache or physical discomfort, the lofty aims of the fast are greatly diminished or even nullified.
Nancy Post spoke with me recently about the fasting and cleansing philosophy and regimens she advocates and which are the subject of her course. The period just before the High Holy Days is a perfect time for our thoughts to turn to spiritual and physical simplification, fasting, and cleansing. In Chinese medicine, this transition between the seasons is about ten days before and after each equinox or solstice. For spring, this period runs from about March 10 thourgh April 1; for autumn, it is from about September 11 through October 2, coincidentally the time when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur traditionally arrive.
Where should one begin? In preparation for a fast (either a one-day fast of religious observance or an extended fast for health reasons), it is advantageous to take a few days to a week to decrease or eliminate from one's diet less healthy foods and habits. The regimen Nancy advocates, and the philosophy behind it, are well elucidated by Dr. Elson M. Haas, author of
The Detox Diet. Dr. Haas's Nontoxic Diet recommendations are below.
The Nontoxic Diet
- Eat organically grown foods whenever possible.
- Drink filtered (or properly purified) water.
- Eat a natural, seasonal cuisine, focusing on fresh foods as much as possible.
- Include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and, for omnivarians, some low- or non-fat dairy products (particularly organic yogurt), fresh fish (not shell fish), and organic poultry.
- Rotate foods, especially common allergens such as milk products, eggs, wheat, and yeast foods.
- Practice food combining, avoiding mixing too many foods per meal and overeating.
- Cook in iron, stainless steel, glass, or porcelain cookware.
- Avoid or minimize red meats, cured meats, organ meats, refined foods, canned foods, sugar, salt, saturated fats, coffee, alcohol, and nicotine.
In the medical literature there are levels of stringency in fasting for health. These go from the most extreme approach of absolutely no food or water, to drinking juices throughout the day, to selective elimination of foods such as dairy products, baked goods with white flour and sugar and the like. Levels of religious observance also lead to modifications of the edict of "no food, no water." (Author's note: Fasting is not recommended for individuals with a variety health conditions. It is recommended that those with questions about their own situation consult a healthcare practitioner.)
Breaking a Fast
Many of us run from our Yom Kippur fast to a banquet table brimming with rich traditional foods, and gorge ourselves as though we'd just survived a prolonged starvation. Overindulging in this way can leave us feeling worse than we did during our fast! Instead, this year aim to partake of a simpler yet just as festive break-the-fast meal 7mdash; a dinner that includes a hearty vegetable soup, a fish or vegetarian entrée and nourishing desserts is a way of being kind to our bodies while extending the positive impact of the fast.
Dr. Post encourages us to not only break the fast in a more gentle way, but to use this religiously inspired time of fasting to detoxify our bodies and embark on a healthier approach to food. The impact can be far-reaching: not only can we cleanse our soul, but by taking the opportunity to choose more healthy eating habits, we can become more productive and affect the world around us. Over years of applying her expertise in the healing arts to her consulting work with organizations, she has discovered that organizations become healthier when their leaders understand that healthy people with good energy make better workers.
Although fasting is not a prerequisite for healthy eating, it can be a great point of departure toward a healthier way of living into the New Year. Just as our tradition recognizes the power of the Torah reading cycle, so can we derive great benefit and satisfaction — spiritual, mental, emotional and physical — through the seasonal fast of Yom Kippur.
The Fasting and Cleansing Your Diet class at Mishkan Shalom is open to nonmembers, so if you'd like to experience a truly easy fast this year, and leverage it for a jump into healthier eating year round, please call the synagogue office at 215-508-0226, ext. "0."
Until we eat again,
As of September 11, 2008, Maccabeam Restaurant at 128 South 12th Street is under the supervision of Community Kashrus of Greater Philadelphia. The restaurant, which is under new ownership, will be reviewed in the November issue of the Philadelphia Jewish Voice.
Lisa Kelvin Tuttle has professional experience in the gourmet, catering, and
health-food fields, as well as being an experienced kosher camp cook. Her
greatest pleasure, though, is cooking Shabbat dinner for family and friends. She
is Communications Director for the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation and
resides with her husband, Alan, and sons Adam and Jeremy in Wynnewood.
The recipes that follow will help you ease into and out of your Yom Kippur fast and other fast days of the Jewish year, as well as assist in simplifying your diet and autumnal cleaning. All recipes are pareve.
Autumn Rejuvenation Ration
This recipe from The Seasonal Detox Diet by Carrie L'esperance, is a warming, nourishing drink that can be enjoyed throughout the day, either as the sole medium of a one-day or longer fast, or along with light fare, perhaps from the Nontoxic Diet, above.
- 3 cups spring water
- 1 tablespoon chopped ginger root
- 1 to 2 tablespoons miso paste
- 1 to 2 stalks green onion, chopped
- Chopped cilantro, to taste
- 1 to 2 pinches cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
Boil water. Add ginger root. Simmer 10 minutes. Stir in miso paste to taste (do not allow miso paste to boil). Turn off burner. Then add green onion, cilantro, cayenne, olive oil, and lemon juice. Remove from stove and cover to steep for 10 minutes. You may vary ingredient portions to satisfy your palate. Enjoy.
Roasted Vegetable Soup
Oven-roasting the vegetables enhances their flavor, making this soup light yet surprisingly rich. Plus, your kitchen will fill with a wonderful aroma! This soup is lovely as is and also makes a nice base for other soups, stews, pasta or grain dishes.
- 3 large carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 2 parsnips, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 3 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
- 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 large yam or sweet potato, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 5 cloves garlic, chopped
- 4 cups water
- 1/4 cup dried Porcini or Polish mushroom pieces
- 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Place the carrots, parsnips, celery, onion, and sweet potato in a 9 x 13 inch Pyrex or other ovenproof baking dish and drizzle with the olive oil. Toss to coat the vegetables. Bake for 10 minutes.
- Remove pan from oven, add the garlic, and toss again. Bake for another 10-15 minutes until the vegetables are browned.
- Remove pan from oven, add 1 cup of water and stir to loosen any vegetables that may be stuck. Pour this into a pot with the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper
This simple treatment for any kind of fish is a favorite of mine from Annemarie Colbin's
The Book of Whole Meals.
- 3 pounds fresh fish fillets
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
- Parsley sprigs
- Wash and dry the fillets and place in a shallow baking dish. Combine the rest of the ingredients except the parsley, mixing well. Pour over the fish and marinate for 30 minutes or longer,
- . If the fillet is very thick, it may need to be turned over one time. Serve medium-sized portions (3 to 4 ounces) garnished with parsley
Quinoa can be cooked ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. By having quinoa on hand, you can whip up this dish in minutes when you don't feel like cooking. This easy, healthful side dish can be made with any whole grain, such as brown rice, bulgur wheat or millet.
- 2 cups cooked quinoa
- 1 cup fresh or good-quality salsa
- 1/4 cup chopped chopped cilantro
- 1/2 a lemon or lime (optional)
- Minced jalapeno, or fresh chopped tomato, for garnish (optional)
In a serving bowl, combine the cooked quinoa with the salsa and cilantro. Serve warm or cold. If desired, squeeze 1/2 of a lemon or lime over the top for a fresh tangy addition or garnish with some jalapeno or tomato.
Baked Apples Marcel
According to ancient lore, the amount of seeds in the pomegranate is exactly the same number (613) as the mitzvot (commandments/good deeds) found in the Torah. If you're curious, count away! This fragrant dish also contains honey, carrots, and apricots--traditional foods served with hope for a sweet and fruitful New Year.
- 4 medium apples
- 1 tablespoon sherry or rum
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons brown rice syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon mace
- 3 medjool dates
- 8 raw almonds, shelled
- 4 1/2 teaspoons whole flaxseed
- heavy cream, vanilla, and nutmeg for garnish
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
- Wash and core the apples, making sure the bottoms are intact to hold the stuffing. Trim the top of each apple to make a flat surface; so not peel apples.
- In a small bowl, combine the sherry or rum, syrups and spices. Put the dates and mix them into the syrup mixture.
- In a seed or nut grinder, grind the almonds and flaxseed into a fine meal and combine with the date mixture.
- Stuff each apple with date filling. Mound the remaining filling on top of the apples.
- Place apples in a covered baking dish and bake at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes or until just tender.
- Remove from oven but keep the lid on so they stay warm until you serve them.
- Thinly cover individual plates with heavy cream flavored with vanilla, dust very lightly with the nutmeg or cinnamon and place the apple on top. Nice alternatives to heavy cream are vanilla ice cream or almond or soy milk with banana puree.
Yield: 12 servings. Keeps for up to 3 days in the refrigerator; reheats well. Freezes well for up to 4 months.
To view previous editions of The Kosher Table, please click here.
Did you enjoy this article?
- share it with your friends
so they do not miss out on this article,
(free), so you do not miss out on the next issue,
(not quite free but greatly appreciated) to enable us to continue
providing this free service.