Does God Command a Fast on Yom Kippur?

Updated: Sep 16, 2021


Much debate (midrash) has taken place over the topic of whether or not Yah commands a complete fast on the Appointed Time of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). While every individual is certainly permitted to fast whenever they would like or whenever they feel that God has called them to fast, this lesson is for the purpose of whether or not fasting on Yom Kippur is a command of Yah or if it is another long-standing tradition.

Let me first start by saying that traditions in and of themselves are not bad things. Traditions tie families, communities and people groups together in very significant ways. They make for very close and binding ties. The problem with traditions arise when a tradition is placed above a command of God or when a person makes a tradition equal to a command of God and then they enforce this tradition upon people to the point that if a person does not obey the tradition then they are told, or treated as if, they had sinned.

Before we look to scripture concerning Yom Kippur a little history lesson is important.

In the Jerusalem Talmud, the oral law, Yom Kippur is referred to as Tzoma Rabbah, “the great fast”. (j. Peah 7:4) and in another place it is mentioned as just simply, Tzoma, “fast”. (j. Bava Batra 9:7)

Traditionally Rabbi's have also taught in the oral law that on Yom Kippur, in addition to fasting, one should refrain from bathing, anointing, wearing shoes, and sexual relations (Yad, Shevitat Asor 1:5) These are forbidden by the Oral Torah (law) only and not by command of Yah in the Torah. (Tosafot, Yoma 7b)

One must discern carefully from the Scriptures which are legit commands and which are only traditions.

Was “The Fast” observed on Yom Kippur during the days of Yeshua and His disciples? Of course! In Acts 27:9 we read:

“And when much time was spent, and the voyage was now dangerous, because the Fast was now already gone by, Paul admonished them,”

This verse is clearly speaking about the fast of Yom Kippur. After the seventh month the rainy and cold season sets in and traveling situations would have become dangerous. In the Complete Jewish Bible it uses the words Yom Kippur in the verse instead of “the fast”. Did Yeshua and His disciples fast on Yom Kippur? – probably, I can't say for sure because I wasn’t there, but it would be understandable that they would have kept with the traditions of their community.

So, what do the scriptures actually say about this day? All the scriptures where the Appointed Time of Yom Kippur is mentioned read the same way so I will only list one:

Leviticus 23:27 “Howbeit on the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement: it shall be a holy convocation unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls; and ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto Jehovah.” (ASV)

The word “afflict” is the portion that is believed to command a fast. The word used for “afflict” is the Hebrew word “anah” (H6031). However, there is another Hebrew word for fast, tsum (H6684).

The Hebrew word “anah” according to all concordances means “to look down upon, abase oneself, bow down, humble oneself, oppress, mortify”. In no concordance does it mean to fast.

One of the best ways to study the Bible is to look at how the word in question is used in every other instance in the Scriptures. The word “anah” is found in the Old Testament 79 times.

The first occurrence is in Genesis 15:13:

“And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict (anah) them four hundred years; “

I have to ask the question, 'were they going to fast for four hundred years since they were being afflicted (anah)? Absolutely not! Instead we find that the Children of Israel were going to be “humbled” , “bow down or abased” or brought under the authority of the Egyptians. They were going to be their servants.

Here is the next 2 occurrences of the word “anah” in scripture:

Genesis 16:6-9 “But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee. And when Sarai dealt hardly (anah) with her, she fled from her face. And he said, Hagar, Sarai's maid, whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go? And she said, I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai. And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself (anah) under her hands.”

This had nothing to do with fasting either. It had to do with Hagar being put under Sarah's authority.

Genesis 34:2 “And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled (anah) her.”

Here again, the word “anah” is translated as defiled in this scripture and denotes an abasing or humbling.</