A Simple Guide to Hosting a Yom Kippur Break-Fast


“The final words of the day come from Havdalah, the ceremony that ends the Sabbath and holidays and which distinguishes between the holy and the profane. As the braided candle is extinguished in wine, a palpable sense of relief fills the room, which empties quickly as people leave to break the fast with family and friends.”

—Anita Diamant

What is Yom Kippur?

Yom Kippur translates to “Day of Atonement,” and it’s the single holiest day on the Jewish calendar. This is the day on which Jews atone, repent, and ask G-d for forgiveness for all the sins they committed in the previous year (after having spent the prior week and/or month asking for sincere forgiveness from the people they feel they’ve wronged), and engage in a day-long fast. That fasting process begins the night before Yom Kippur and lasts until sundown on the day of the holiday. 


A Guide to Yom Kippur Prayers | My Jewish Learning
Five Readings for Yom Kippur | Tablet
10 Yom Kippur Pointers for First Timers | The Kitchn
Yom Kippur: What You Need to Know | The Forward

When should a break-fast meal typically begin?

According to Jewish law, you break your fast when you see three stars in the sky...but as you might expect, most people will just start eating again a little after sundown. You can use this page to check when the exact break-the-fast times will be in your area—it’s typically around 7pm here on the East Coast.

What’s traditionally served at a break-fast?

You’ll notice that the meal looks a lot like brunch and features a lot of the brunch-y foods we all know and love—smoked fish, babka (lots of babka!), and the like. This makes sense, since it’s technically the first meal of the day for your guests. Lighter, less rich fare is usually served, and it’s a “dairy meal,” so there’s also typically no meat (though fish is common).

While there aren’t rules on exactly what to serve, it’s best to prepare things way ahead of time (as in, a full day or more ahead of time!) since 1) you aren’t supposed to work on Yom Kippur, and cooking qualifies as work, but also because 2) you’ll be fasting during the day and won’t want to handle or prepare food while you’re doing so.

(Even if you aren’t personally fasting, it can actually be considered disrespectful to be cooking and baking all day—particularly if you’re filling the house / neighborhood up with delicious aromas in doing so.)


With that in mind, you can find a list of 75 make-ahead, break-fast-friendly recipes here, which might be helpful as you’re planning your menu and pre-fast prep.

Should I decorate for the holiday?

It’s always nice to have a few fresh flowers of course, but there’s really no need to go overboard for a break-fast. For starters, the focus will be on the food! Your guests, who are literally starving, will appreciate a large spread more than they will a beautiful set of linen napkins. But another reason to keep decorations to a minimum is because Yom Kippur is not exactly a happy occasion. It’s the day on which Jews come to terms with the worst of themselves, and is therefore more of a solemn, serious event.

You don’t have to be all frowns, of course; a break-fast can still be a very meaningful, special occasion. Your family and friends will likely be there with you, after all, and the evening will offer you a wonderful chance to reconnect with them over bagels and orange juice and other delicious things. It’s just not the time for balloons and confetti and bright colors.

How about if I’m a guest at a break-fast?

[Check back Friday, October 4 for a full guest-ing guide!]

Any questions? Comments? Make-ahead recipes you want me to know about? DM me on Instagram, or ask my beautiful friends (and rabbis!) Sam and Rena over at @modernritual!