Fasting Before A Marathon
09/22/11
Jewish Week Online Columnist
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman
Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

Q - My brother and I are running the Chicago Marathon which is the day after Yom Kippur. We want to fast, however we have been told that it is unwise to do so the day before running 26 miles. Since this is an ethical dilemma, we need your advice.

A – Well, at the very least, by observing Yom Kippur you could label yourself a “fast runner.” Sorry.

This conflict has been a source of great consternation for Jewish runners in Chicago, but there is no consensus among doctors as to how dangerous it to run after having fasted the day before.
 
So as a rabbi, what I can tell you is that fasting is required except in a situation where it is a matter of life and death. Basically, that means if a person is ill (or about to deliver a child) and fasting would make you sicker, that is an "out." The problem here is that it you're not really ill – only at risk of becoming ill. I would never want to advise you to do something that could potentially harm you. 
 
The idea of fasting on Yom Kippur is really not as much about what goes into your mouth on a particular day as that you focus on what come out of it the rest of the year. The most important thing is that YK be a meaningful day for you.  So even if you decide to curtail your fast, you can still make the most out of the day. 
 
I can’t recommend curtailing it, but I’ve heard of how Gabe Carimi, the stellar offensive lineman from the University of Wisconsin, when facing the dilemma of playing on Yom Kippur, actually adjusted his twenty four hour fast so that it would conclude just before game time. One might say that he fasted as if he were in Israel, where it’s already dark when it’s 1 PM in Madison. Unorthodox to say the least, but commendable. Now that he’s in the NFL, Carimi’s checked the Jewish calendar for the next decade and was relieved to know that a similar conflict is unlikely to occur. Just the fact that he is so concerned puts him in the Sandy Koufax stratosphere. Over the coming days, as Yom Kippur approaches and the baseball playoffs heat up, it is highly likely that Jewish baseball players Kevin Youkilis, Ryan Braun and Ian Kinsler will face the same dilemma.
 
A piece of good news this year is that because the holidays fall so late, it gets dark earlier, so Yom Kippur will end early enough on Sat. evening for you to hydrate to your heart's content. I’ve heard that the time of the traditional pasta dinner will be extended by Chicago marathon officials that Saturday night.
 
So what it comes down to is this. As a rabbi, I can’t give you an easy out from fasting. But I also would never want you to put yourself in any danger and certainly would not advise you to do that.
 
Meanwhile, let the people running the Chicago Marathon know that they picked a bad day!

Last Update:

10/10/2011 - 18:30

Comments

I must confess that even I didn't fast for years-- when I was either pregnant or nursing a baby--it would never occur to me to violate Jewish law and skip a fast in order to run a marathon. There are other ways to preserve one's health and Jewish law: 1: skip the Chicago marathon this year; 2: do the marathon, but take it easier; 3: run your own private marathon next Sunday; 4: prepare well for your Yom Kippur fast and conduct your break-fast in accordance with pre-marathon recommendations; 5: be content that you are at least physically resting the day before the marathon.

I'm Orthodox, and have always fasted on Yom Kippur, as has everyone in my immediate family. But I found the hyper-critical tone of the post by "Todd Berman" to be offensive. It fails to reflect some of the basic tenets of our religion, as well as simply being a kind person, and mirrors the sort of embarrasing attitude that makes Jews like me shiver, and drives some of the less observant away. Shame.

If you don't want to advise them to do something that would harm their health, then, I know this might be a novel approach, but why not tell them to skip the marathon and keep Jewish law? Rabbi, eating on Yom Kippur is a major league offence in Jewish law -- not only the intent of the day, but the rituals of the day are important. Ritual, in many ways, encapsulates the ethics and Jewish meaning of an event. Fasting on Yom Kippur in keeping with the Torah and Jewish law teaches that we need to sacrifice part of ourselves to a higher ideal. The ritual of running vs the ritual of fasting. That is the conflict? Fidelity to one's God or fidelity to a sport? That is the question? Wow, how sad.

Or, you could say to skip the marathon. There's no mitzva to run a marathon.

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