What should we know about the Seudat Hamafseket, the meal before the fast begins?
A: For one, it is important to start your Seudah way before the start of the fast to make sure you don’t come to eat on Yom Kippur.
Secondly, it is important to wash for bread by the seudah. Yom Kippur is a Yom Tov and because we are fasting, this acts as our seudah to commemorate the day.
The Gemara also tells us that it is a MITZVAH to eat on Erev Yom Kippur. The Gemara goes ahead to equate one who eats on Erev Yom Kippur to someone who FASTS on Yom Kippur.
There is great symbolism here.
We are showing that we are not only holy and worthy when we abstain and fast. A Jew is a Jew when he eats and washes and celebrates, as well!
What foods should we avoid eating?
A: It is best to stay away from fatty foods.
Fish is known to make people thirsty, so we do not eat that either. (However, some people hold that one should eat fish at earlier times in the day on erev Yom Kippur because it is special.)
We also refrain from drinking wine by the seudah because we want to keep our head clear for our prayers.
What foods do we have the custom to eat?
There is also the well known minhag of eating kreplach– dumplings filled with meat. This is to symbolize the interesting position that Yom Kippur occupies. On one hand, it is not a full fledged holiday. On the other hand, we do not work and we wear special Yom Tov clothing. SO too, the kreplach is meat covered in dough. We want to eat meat because it is a special Yom Tov, but we are not really supposed to have meat. And so, we have our meat hidden inside dough.
Can we eat until sunset on Erev Yom Kippur?
A: The Mishneh Berurah tells us that we should add on a bit for Yom Kippur. Therefore, it is accepted to begin the fast thirteen and a half minutes before sunset.
We know we are not supposed to wash our hands on Yom Kippur, but does that include Naigel Vasser in the morning?
A: The Shulchan Aruch says that if someone’s hands get dirty on Yom Kippur, they are able to wash off the dirt (without soap.) We understand from there that we are able to wash off the “bad spirit” from our hands when we wake up in the morning. HOWEVER, we only wash our hands up to our knuckles, as that is enough to fulfill the requirement of Naigel Vasser.
What if someone needs to eat on Yom Kippur (with their rav’s and doctor’s advisement, or because they are too young to fast). Should they wash their hands before bread?
A: YES! They should definitely wash their hands. In fact, the requirement for washing hands for bread is the full hand, so a person should wash their full hand and not until the knuckles.
All information for this article was transcribed from Rabbi Moshe Elefant of the OU. If you have questions regarding a specific situation, please refer to the rav to whom you generally ask shailot.