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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Break the fast

It's Yom Kippur, a holiday which we don't really observe here at the Scribbler Mansion. We don't go to shul, and no one is fasting. As is typical, Mr. Blue doesn't fast because he sees no reason to. For me, fasting is out of the question for this year -- as long as I'm still Baby Blue's main source of calories, it behooves me to eat and drink regularly no matter what date it is on the Jewish calendar, though Talmudic authorities would disagree with me on that score.

For Mr. Blue, the decision not to fast, once made, immediately ceases to trouble him. For me, however, every year brings with it fresh guilt, and a need to once again grapple with the question of fasting.

I feel compelled to keep the fast on Yom Kippur, but I cannot reconcile that compulsion with my equally strong rejection of the idea of a God who would demand or even care about such things. I don't believe that fasting serves any purpose to God, which means that, in my annual debate with myself, I can only consider the purposes that fasting serves to me. And when I interrogate myself honestly, the answer is a troubling one.

The easy answer, of course, is that I wish to fast out of respect for the traditions of my people, to honor the countless generations who fasted on this day before me. Fasting is a way to assert my allegiance to the community to which I will always belong, no matter how vigorously I disagree with it. Fasting is a way to remember the holiness of this day for my community, and to establish its holiness for me.

But the truth, I think, is something a little uglier. It will probably come as no surprise to anyone who follows my inadequacy shtick that I've had my issues with eating disorders over the years. My personal demon is binge-eating, the ultimate infliction of inadequacy, the one that allows me to flagellate myself for my inability to control my appetite. Bulimics perform their penance after a purge, but my penance has always been purely in my head, as each binge spawns an orgy of self-disgust and self-hatred.

Binge-eating was a huge problem for me in high school and college. The summer after I graduated from school, the problem suddenly and miraculously receeded, thanks to a trip to India which involved dysentary and food poisoning in rapid succession, leaving me 15 pounds lighter and with a new, much more rapid metabolism. I was skinnier than I needed to be, and I could eat anything I wanted -- thus, I had no more need to binge-eat.

For more than eight years after my trip to India, I remained skinny without effort. But pregnancy and breastfeeding have wreaked their inevitable changes on my body. I'm heavier than I wish I was (though, yes, Grandma Blue, I know I'm not really overweight), and nursing has brought my appetite back with a roar of vengeance. While nursing, I'm always hungry, and I struggle not to hate myself for this unquenchable appetite and the lack of control it implies.

I think the penance I long for by fasting on Yom Kippur has nothing to do with God, or exile from community, or tradition. It's really about wresting control over my body, with wanting to be -- for once -- the proud ascetic who can deny her body its appetites, and present to the world the righteous slender flame of self-denial.

This sort of fast is nothing to celebrate. And I think that as long as I struggle with these demons, it is more respectful of tradition, community, and even of God to break the fast rather than twist it to my own unhealthy ends.

On that note, I think I'll go get some lunch.


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