A new study conducted by researchers from the Soroka University Medical Center and Ben Gurion University of the Negev shows that women in the later stages of pregnancy who abstain from food and liquids for 25 hours – the Yom Kippur fast, for example – have double the likelihood of having a premature birth.
New Study Shows That Pregnant Women Who Fast On Yom Kippur Are Twice As Likely To Have Premature Birth
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
A new study conducted by researchers from the Soroka University Medical Center and Ben Gurion University of the Negev shows that women in the later stages of pregnancy who abstain from food and liquids for 25 hours – the Yom Kippur fast, for example – have double the likelihood of having a premature birth, the Jerusalem Post reported.
The study was conducted by Natal Shalit of Ben Gurion University and Eyal Sheiner, the deputy director of Soroka Medical Center and the director of the obstetrics department there. It was published in the Journal of Maternal, Fetal and Neonatal Medicine.
Twenty-three years of medical records of thousands of pregnant Jewish women were studied. Women with a history of premature births were excluded from the study.
Premature birth is defined as giving birth before the fetus reaches 37 weeks.
Researchers believe that both dehydration and the lack of food trigger labor.
Orthodox rabbis have insisted on deciding whether pregnant women should fast on Yom Kippur on a case-by-case basis, generally ruling that women should fast unless they were already ill or experiencing serious complications in the pregnancy or had previously had such complications.
As Chabad.org's Rabbi Eliezer Danzinger wrote:
…Although the assessment of doctors normally suffices to determine whether or not one should eat,2 in the case of a pregnant woman, the matter is not so clear. Why? Because in recent year, numerous obstetricians routinely advise their pregnant patients not to fast on any fast day – ever – including Yom Kippur.3 This is true even when such pregnancies are completely normal, and the woman has had no previous complications with her pregnancies, and none with her current pregnancy.
Such an approach does not dovetail with the Jewish view. While recognizing the sensitive condition of a pregnant woman, Torah law does not regard observing a single fast as posing a health danger to a normal, healthy, pregnant woman. As such, since Yom Kippur is a biblically established fast-day, pregnant women do not receive a blanket exemption.4.…
The sources Danziger relies on is the Shulkhan Arukh written for the hasidic movement by Chabad's founder, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liady (Shulkhan Aruch HaRav, Orach Chaim 617:1) and Yeshiva University's Rabbi J. David Bleich (Contemporary Halakhic Problems, Volume 4, p. 371).
However, the study's results should mean that pregnant women are now completely forbidden from fasting under halakha (Jewish law).
But it is unlikely that most haredi rabbis (and for that matter, many Zionist Orthodox and some so-called centrist rabbis) will rule that way.
Instead, it is likely pregnant women will still be routinely told to fast because many of these rabbis object to modifying Jewish law and tradition, even when that law and tradition proves to be dangerous, while other rabbis will likely fear reprosals from inside their communities if they rule that pregnant women should not fast on Yom Kippur.