NEW YORK — When Sarah Jemal was pregnant with her first child, she couldn’t keep any food or liquids down. Given her risk of dehydration and preterm labor, Jemal’s obstetrician recommended she use a concierge service to receive intravenous fluids at home.
“Otherwise I was going to basically have to be admitted to the hospital, be on hospital rest until I gave birth,” Jemal said.
During her next pregnancy, she wasn’t as sick. But then it came time for Yom Kippur, when Jewish law requires a 25-hour fast from food and drink. Jemal didn’t want to risk dehydration again, so she reached out to IVDRIPS, the company that provided the IV concierge service she had used before and requested a few bags of the company’s Yom Kippur hydration cocktail.
Bracha Banayan, a nurse practitioner and the founder of IVDRIPS, said Jemal reflects a frequent customer profile: pregnant women who are concerned about dehydration. In fact, she said, she timed the launch of her company to Yom Kippur in 2018 precisely because of her experiences treating pregnant women who had fasted and run into trouble as a result.
“We’ve taken care of clients already for four years in a row where before us they were going to the hospital after Yom Kippur,” said Banayan, who is a modern Orthodox Jew.
“Even though they knew that, they still fasted. So it’s kind of like something that really gave people a way to still keep what the Torah’s asking and still be able to fast.”
Nearly half of all American Jews say they fast for all or part of Yom Kippur, according to a 2020 Pew survey, making the fast one of the most widely observed Jewish practices in the US; the proportion of Orthodox Jews who fast is far higher.
The day can be physically punishing, and those who fast annually know to drink ample water in the preceding days and, in the case of regular coffee drinkers, to wean caffeine consumption to ward off a withdrawal headache.
The rise of non-medical IV treatments, a trend in so-called “wellness” culture that celebrities including Kendall Jenner and Hailey Bieber have popularized, has created a new form of fast-hacking for the influencer set.
IVDRIPS is one of several concierge infusion companies offering clients a chance to hook up to an IV either in a posh office, sometimes with a side of champagne, or in the comfort of their own home.
Those who purchase the service — insurance rarely covers it — can pick among an assortment of vitamins, electrolytes and medications to infuse into their veins to ward off fatigue, hangovers, migraines and more.
Banayan said she expects to deliver as many as 500 pre-fast IV drips in the markets her company serves, which this year expanded from the New York City area to include the fast-growing Orthodox center of Boca Raton, Fla., as well as Baltimore and New Orleans.
Her company advertises on its Instagram for pre-fast day drips — which run about $300 in the New York area and $200 elsewhere — and Orthodox influencers have been posting for weeks about their plans to receive IV hydration before Yom Kippur.
Frumee Taubenfeld, who has nearly 40,000 followers on her Instagram account, where she typically posts about modest fashion and her family’s travels, has posted about booking an “Elite Hydration Drip”.
“Please be advised that due to high demand during this holiday season, all bookings are nonrefundable within five days of appointment date,” the email receipt she posted read. It concluded, “Thank you and have an easy fast!”
The Yom Kippur fast is the most stringent of the fast days in the Jewish calendar, and fasting is considered such an important obligation that it trumps going to services — one reason that the Bobov chasidic sect has held an IV clinic inside its main synagogue in Brooklyn.
Jewish tradition also holds that people who are ill, elderly, pregnant or nursing and whose health would be jeopardized by fasting should not do so. In Orthodox communities, rabbis and doctors are bombarded with questions in the days leading up to Yom Kippur from people asking whether they fall into those categories.
But even though their rabbis and physicians may advise them to avoid the fast or at least drink small amounts of water throughout the day, some Jews, animated by feelings of guilt, anxiety or communal pressure, ignore those recommendations.
Banayan said the message is not always so clear.
“People are like, ‘Well, if you’re not healthy, then you shouldn’t fast.’ Tell that to half the world!” she said.
“They’re still fasting. I mean, these rabbis are not saying, ‘OK, don’t fast.’ They’re going to say, ‘Try to fast. Do your best.’ This, to me, is doing your best.”
Many medical practitioners frown on discretionary IV use, noting that it has not been studied rigorously and pointing out that any efficacy may be chalked up to a placebo effect.
“It’s the latest trend in functional or alternative medicine to kind of rip through the general community as a cure-all,” Dr. Joshua Septimus, a physician in Houston, told BuzzFeed News last year. “It’s just one more way to fleece people for money.”
In rare instances, discretionary IVs can actually be dangerous. Supermodel Kendall Jenner was hospitalized in 2018 after complications related to an IV vitamin infusion.
“Every time you make a hole in the skin, there’s a risk of infection,” said Rivka Adelman, a nurse practitioner in the heavily Orthodox hamlet of Monsey, NY, one of the areas serviced by IVDRIPS.
Adelman said she could see a role for discretionary IVs nonetheless — but not for people who want to fast against medical advice.
“People who are not able to drink a lot, it would help them,” Adelman said. “IV fluids are really for people that are overall healthy and just have a hard time fasting. It’s not really for sick patients who shouldn’t be fasting anyway.”
Dr. Aaron Glatt, the chair of medicine at Mount Sinai South Nassau and an associate rabbi at Young Israel of Woodmere on Long Island, says the use of pre-fast IVs is cut-and-dry.
“There is no reason to do so medically,” he said. “People should be able to take [water] orally. It will work just as well as the IV. So the medical point of view — it doesn’t make sense.”
“I want to make it clear that absolutely if somebody’s sick, they’re allowed to do that,” Glatt added. “But for somebody to do that to quote, ‘fast easier’ — they should drink a lot before the holiday.”