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In instructions for keeping the Day of Atonement, Leviticus 23:32 1 states:

It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict yourselves. On the ninth day of the month beginning at evening, from evening to evening shall you keep your Sabbath.” (ESV)

It will be a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you must practice self-denial. You are to observe your Sabbath from the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening. (CSB)

Most translations state this requirement in general terms like "afflict yourselves" or "self denial."

Some specifically call out fasting:

This is a time of complete rest just like the Sabbath, and everyone must go without eating from the evening of the ninth to the evening of the tenth. (CEV)

It shall be to you a sabbath of rest, and you shall afflict yourselves [by fasting in penitence and humility]. On the ninth day of the month from evening to evening you shall keep your sabbath (AMPC)

Fasting seems to be both a logical and necessary component of "self denial" and eating would seem contrary to the requirement and a violation of the instructions.

Is fasting required on the Day of Atonement?


1. A similar instruction is given in Leviticus 16:31

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    Isaiah 58:4 - "Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself?" I think there are two sides of this question, Historical-Interpretation, and "Divine Intention". Commented May 12, 2017 at 16:08

2 Answers 2

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As noted by Nahmanides to Leviticus 16:29, this was at some point an argument between Rabbinic Jews and Karaites, based on whether or not ענוי נפש specifically means abstaining from food and drink. Rabbinic Jews felt that it implied fasting, Karaites felt that it didn't necessarily mean that.

Luzzatto (Leviticus 16:29) points to Deuteronomy 8:3 and Isaiah 58:10, both of which indicate that ענוי refers to fasting.

Deuteronomy 8:3:

וַֽיְעַנְּךָ֮ וַיַּרְעִבֶךָ֒ וַיַּֽאֲכִֽלְךָ֤ אֶת־הַמָּן֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר לֹא־יָדַ֔עְתָּ וְלֹ֥א יָדְע֖וּן אֲבֹתֶ֑יךָ לְמַ֣עַן הוֹדִֽעֲךָ֗ כִּ֠י לֹ֣א עַל־הַלֶּ֤חֶם לְבַדּוֹ֙ יִחְיֶ֣ה הָֽאָדָ֔ם כִּ֛י עַל־כָּל־מוֹצָ֥א פִֽי־יְהוָ֖ה יִחְיֶ֥ה הָאָדָֽם׃

And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live. (KJV)

Isaiah 58:10:

וְתָפֵ֤ק לָֽרָעֵב֙ נַפְשֶׁ֔ךָ וְנֶ֥פֶשׁ נַעֲנָ֖ה תַּשְׂבִּ֑יעַ וְזָרַ֤ח בַּחֹ֙שֶׁךְ֙ אוֹרֶ֔ךָ וַאֲפֵלָתְךָ֖ כַּֽצָּהֳרָֽיִם׃

And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon day. (KJV)

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  • Maybe write out the verses in Deuteronomy 8:3 and Isaiah 58:10 in Hebrew and English to show how it indicates that ענוי נפש refers to fasting. Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 16:03
  • @conceptualinertia good idea!
    – user22655
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 16:17
  • I like your response but could you state your conclusion more definitively? Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 20:39
  • @Ruminator who mentioned Rashi? Nahmanides is here: mg.alhatorah.org/Dual/Ramban/Vayikra/16.29#m7e0n7
    – user22655
    Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 0:32
  • @user22655 - Thanks for the info from Nahmanides. I had a chance to meet a community of Karaites in Lithuania a few years ago... fascinating. They reject rabbinical additions to the Law so it makes sense they would not fast on Yom Kippur. They also stick to "don't boil a kid in its mothers milk" instead of not mixing any dairy and meat products. So they can even eat cheeseburgers and keep kosher! Commented Oct 7, 2022 at 11:35
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Yes. The phrase "afflict your souls" נֶפֶשׁ עָנָה can be interpreted as afflict your appetite, or humble your appetite. The phrase designates the attitude required of the people. The same occurred during the Feast of Tabernacles Lev 16.29.

See Tim Bigelson's answer on this site January 26,2015 at 15:35, he refers to an excellent article which I list here:https://www.nehemiaswall.com/yom-kippur-day-atonement

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  • I think "Feast" [of tabernacles] and "Fasting from Food" might be a little confusing. Perhaps "Festival of Tabernacles"? Also, Leviticus 16:29 does not explicitly reference abstaining from food or drink. However, traditional rabbinic doctrine has historically interpretted "afflict your souls" as abstaining from food. Commented May 16, 2017 at 15:26

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