Q. At what age should children begin to fast?
A. The question must have been asked from a very early period, since the Mishnah says, “Small children should not be made to fast on Yom Kippur, but ought to be trained a year or two before they reach the age of maturity – 12 for girls, 13 for boys – to become used to keeping the commandments” (Yoma 8:4).
Maimonides added, “A child that is fully 10 years old and even 9 years old may be trained to fast for a couple of hours. In what way? If a child was used to eating at a certain time, he or she should be fed an hour later. They should be made to fast according to their strength”.
While Yom Kippur is a highlight in the observance of Judaism, every mitzvah should gradually become part of a Jewish child’s life.
From early infancy a child should see Jewish symbols, observances, phrases and prayers as perfectly natural, until the year or two leading up to Bar- or Bat-Mitzvah the excitement mounts towards the moment when all the mitzvot become a personal, proud commitment and duty.