Not so fast!
Jews throughout Williamsburg snapped up caffeine suppositories all day last Friday, hours before the start of the Yom Kippur fast that would deprive them of the jolt — and hunger suppression — that coffee typically provides.
The day-long fast is the centerpiece of the holiest day on the Jewish calendar — but some religious Jews saw a Talmudic loophole that allows them to ingest their daily dose of caffeine, albeit through a different orifice.
“It helps — you know, it’s hard to concentrate when you’re fasting and also addicted to caffeine,” said Baruch Herzfeld, an Orthodox Jew who owns a bike store in Williamsburg. “Some take it before sundown, but most take it throughout their fasting. These guys love a good loophole.”
These huge, rectally inserted pills are popular. Pharmacists at Rafieh — one of many distributors in south Williamsburg on Lee Avenue — sold nearly 150 suppositories last Friday.
“We have caffeine suppositories!” the store’s handwritten sign heralded. “Be ready!”
But is it kosher?
There’s some controversy over whether Jews observing the Biblical fast should be taking an easy out (or, more accurately, in).
Some Jewish leaders said that consuming anything — through the body’s traditional entrance or its exit — is against the spirit of the ritualistic fast.
“We’re supposed to do it the old fashioned way — I wouldn’t advise [suppositories],” said Rabbi Simcha Weinstein, a Hasidic leader. “We wanna keep Jews in the synagogue and not in the bathroom.”
Of course, Yom Kippur isn’t the only reason rectum-bound caffeine flies off the shelves. The suppositories are generally used to curb migraines — even those not induced by withdrawal — because caffeine opens up constricted blood vessels. Many migraine cases can get so bad that they lead to vomiting, so sometimes the bum is the only answer.
It’s certainly a gray area, even in the Torah — which, of course, was written before stimulants like caffeine were discovered. Yom Kippur is supposed to be about self-sacrifice -— so curbing one’s hunger would seem like cheating.
“That’s one way to look at it,” Herzfeld said. “But on the other hand, it’s all about introspection. If you have a headache because of caffeine addiction, you have to find some way to concentrate on prayer.”
Perhaps, but we all know what it says in Genesis 20:9: “A plague … has befallen us because of you: the stopping up of all body orifices — [those] of semen, urine, and excrement, the ears and the nose.”