smallRW.gif (2706 bytes) Jewish Women Worldwide Warned of Health Risk on Upcoming High Holy Day
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Rabbis and Health Experts Caution Fasting on Yom Kippur Can Harm People with Eating Disorders

PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 10 /PR Newswire/ -- As Jews worldwide prepare for the upcoming religious fast this Yom Kippur (September 20, 1999), a serious warning is being issued to people with eating disorders: "Don't fast.  It's dangerous to your health."  This comes from rabbis, as well as health experts at The Renfrew Center, who are concerned about the harmful effects fasting can have for people with clinical eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.

Anorexia and bulimia are serious health threats that particularly affect young women.  It is estimated that each year upwards of 20% of women suffering from anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders will die from resulting complications.

Yom Kippur is the Jewish day of atonement, one of the holiest days of the Jewish calendar.  The holiday calls for adult Jews to fast from sunset to sunset on Yom Kippur; however, religious leaders and therapists at The Renfrew Center, the nation's leading organization for the treatment of eating disorders, are urging some Jews not to fast.

Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Ph.D., of Temple Beth Or in Miami, Florida, a noted Jewish scholar and author of the book "Minyan: 10 Principles for Living Life with Integrity," believes that Jewish people "should live by traditions -- not die by them."  He notes one of the most important Jewish principles is "L'Chaim," meaning "to life."  "A fast that hurts our health, violates the principles of this tradition," Shapiro said.

Dr. Gayle Brooks, vice president of clinical services for The Renfrew Center, cautions Jewish patients, and those in recovery, not to use the religious fast as a justification for their restrictive eating behavior.    

"Fasting on Yom Kippur can be disastrous for someone suffering from an eating disorder," according to psychotherapist Karen L. Smith of The Renfrew Center of Philadelphia.

Many women suffering from eating disorders consider the daily act of fasting a holy act and a virtuous pursuit, Smith points out.  In the early stages of recovery, fasting on Yom Kippur reinforces this belief and encourages restrictive eating behavior.  "Even one day of physical deprivation from fasting can trigger the obsessive compulsive component of an eating disorder, thus causing patients to re-adopt self-destructive behaviors regarding food and eating," Smith points out.

"These women do not have to be put at risk," says Orthodox Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser of Congregation Bais Yitzchak in Brooklyn, N.Y.  "God's most important commandment to the Jewish people is to respect their bodies."  If a rabbi or doctor advises against fasting, then going against such advice is considered a sin.

Rabbi Goldwasser points out that "the Talmud, the book of Jewish laws, says a healthy body is a prerequisite to a healthy soul.  Since Yom Kippur's goal is to achieve an exalted state of spirituality, the physical self must be intact."

The Renfrew Center is the first freestanding facility in the United States exclusively dedicated to treating eating disorders and other women's mental health issues.  Since 1985, The Renfrew Center has treated more than 10,000 women and adolescent girls suffering from anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder.  The Renfrew Center has residential facilities in Philadelphia and South Florida and outpatient sites in New York City, Long Island, Northern New Jersey, Bryn Mawr and Bucks County, Pa., and Miami, Fla.

SOURCE:  The Renfrew Center


ST:  Florida

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Posted September 10, 1999.

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