Category Archives: Jewish love

The new year in focus – smiling into 2015

The end of the calendar year is a curious thing. It might not be very Jewish to celebrate New Year’s Eve (NYE), but it’s quite hard not to notice it. Franky, I feel a compulsion to mark the changes in our measurement of time –  from one year to next – because as long as we use the Gregorian Calendar, New Year’s Eve has temporal resonance for Jews as much as anyone else.

Of course, marking the event this year has been made more complicated as year New  Year’s Day 2015 coincides with Asarat B’Tevet. But those for whom this would be an issue (ie those who celebrate NYE with vigour AND who fast on Asarat B’Tevet) are likely to be few. I’m not overly concerned.

When I was younger I threw myself into the annual celebration with enthusiasm, but experience has informed me that the quest to capture that much anticipated magical moment of time in the midst of a whole lot of other people who are seeking exactly the same thing means that there’s a good chance you’ll be disappointed. I’m not saying those moments didn’t happen – they did, once or twice – but after a while I realised that the moment I was most likely to experience was anti-climax.  And that’s ok for a while and then you realise you’re better off staying home.

And so we did; this year, as for many years, we marked the event at home. We persuaded some friends to brave the five minute walk to our house to join us in the last half hour of the year to share a bottle of Tishbi red wine, the burst of revelry somewhere in neighbouring streets alerting us when the clock ticked over. It was a moment without expectation and it was genuinely pleasant.

While many people within the Jewish world may feel an awkwardness in relation to NYE, I am in favour of any event that makes us stop and think about our lives from a perspective that is not just daily (or hourly). The measurement of time gives us a framework by which to view of our existence from a distance. Like Rosh Hashanah, the secular year beginning offers an opportunity to contemplate what we have done over the previous 12 months. Unlike Rosh Hashanah, the introspection of NYE is less concerned with measuring how we have conducted ourselves and is more focused on glancing back at how the plot of our lives unfolded – and our hopes regarding what the next turn in the narrative my take.

On a personal level, 2014 was a challenging year which ended with kindness, providing me with a quiet sense of optimism about 2015.  I hope it will be the year in which Shosha Pearl unleashes her wings and begins to fly.

May 2015 be a year of good storytelling, but more importantly, may it be one of chesed, ahava and shalom (kindness, love and peace) for all.

 

What’s all this nonsense about halachic erotica?

I like to make a bit of a deal about how I created my own literary sub-genre: ‘halachic erotica’ (halacha is the Hebrew term for Jewish law). It sounds indulgent – and perhaps it is – but I allow myself to dwell on it for a number of reasons:

1. It’s true. I really did make it up and I am proud of my creation – in a nachas rather than ga’avah kind of way. (In other words, I am proud in a parental pride kind of way rather than the ‘I’m so great, look at me’ way.)

2. Talking about the stories in literary terms works to distract the minds of people whose stunned expressions betray their confusion/horror at hearing what I write about. These expressions articulate the shock people feel when they learn that these sorts of stories exist – and then five seconds later, the sense of bemusement that they had never before heard of their existence (mention Jewrotica and you get much the same response). Often, it’s as if they are offended at the possibility that they’ve been left out of a communal circle of confidence. Explaining that I made up this outrageous form of Jewish fiction seems, somehow, to make everyone feel more comfortable about a world in which halachic erotica exists – and their place in this newly reconfigured reality.

3. It’s like putting a ribbon around a gift. Giving these stories, which I try to make beautiful, their own special genus seems appropriate. Just as I try to create something that is a pleasure to read, so too do I want to honour them -and the characters that emerge from them – by giving them a formal place in the world. This might seem trite, but it’s how I feel.

With few exceptions, the stories that I write are about the intimacy that exists between a Jewish woman and her husband. They are about the sacred sexual power that desire and love can have for couples. They are about longing, tenderness, passion and obsession – states of being that are common to couples of all creeds and colours, including religiously observant Jews.

When I started on this creative path the lighting was dim. I knew I wasn’t going to write about anything that conflicted with mainstream halacha and I guessed that a lot of the stories would involve frum types, but I didn’t know much more. It’s been a surprise that the stories that have come to life from my keyboard so far have focused exclusively on religiously observant Jews – although from a distance this seems an obvious outcome. I am curious to know how things will develop over time.

In the meantime, it is exciting to watch these little tales of lust unfold before me. They contain elements of the unexpected that surprise and delight me as their creator – and I hope there will be readers who share my pleasure in glimpsing briefly into the lives of these characters.

Rich, poor, Jewish or not; we all share common human drives and desires. I enjoy showing that religious Jews, like the rest of the world, enjoy sex, share desire and dream of sexual reward. The only differences are the cultural and religious frameworks that govern how much of the broader sexual landscape they are exposed to (eg porn, popular discourse) and, to an extent, how far halacha will let them go.

 

The decision to publish is like eating the last of your favourite chocolates

Really! It means you can’t hold on to the anticipation any longer: you don’t have that moment to look forward to – and there is a chance that everything could be downhill from here.

Although we live in hope.

I made the decision to publish my short story collection about four months ago. Once I realised this was an option, I became very (very!) excited – and not just because it offered a legitimate distraction from my novella, which had been causing me – and continues to cause me – confusion. It also provided an opportunity to do something with  stories that I was proud of, but which, until then, I had not really known what I should do with.

A woman with a mission, I edited and re-edited and then sent my edited stories to be beta-read by friends, family and colleagues. All this was completed within two months (about seven weeks ago). But then, inexplicably, the momentum stopped and my manuscript sat waiting. And it waited.

I chose my cover art two months ago. Time after time I  revisited the image bank to check that I liked the picture, to see if it still worked – I did and it did. But still, I did not buy it.

Then yom tov happened. So nothing else happened.

One of the amazing things about Tishrei is that after all the yammin tovim, I invariably feel like I need to make up for lost time. And no doubt I do. So, this week I finally began to appreciate that my short story collection was never going to exist in the world if I didn’t get it out there. I heard my own call to action.

Two nights ago I bought the cover art. I was exited (you like?).

Beautiful pic, no?
Beautiful pic, no?

Last night I emailed the image and instructions to a friend who is arranging for a designer to put together a cover (thank you!). It was a difficult email to write, but I am grateful for the enthusiastic response my friend sent me. My shoulders loosened and the thrill came back. Excitement.

Today, in an unexpectedly brave move, I sent my manuscript to an editor. Now it is real.

I am that person who hoards their favourite chocolates for so long that they turn grey (or worse, green!) – and then has to throw them out. I am that person who puts aside a gift voucher for a special occasion, but leaves it so long that I wind-up wasting it on something I don’t particularly like because it is about to expire (or worse, it has already expired!).

Delayed gratification is delicious. But delay too long and it gets moldy.

So this week Shosha Pearl, the writer of halachic Jewish erotica, started taking her project seriously again. I’ve popped the last chockie in my mouth and it is oozing delight all over.

Sex in the sukkah: redefining the mitzvah of sleeping in the sukkah

I love Sukkot – and not just because it means that Yom Kippur is over. I love the ritual of it, the strangeness of it.

Sukkahs* are like great big, green, sweet-smelling cubby houses; refreshing, delightful and enchanting in  their quaintness and oddity. They’ve got that rustic charm thing going on; that outdoorsy nature thing; that crazy, crass, colourful noy sukkah (decoration) thing. Best of all, they’ve got that let’s squeeze in together for a yom tov meal under the stars and get little thrills from accidentally touching elbows and pressing legs against the person who’s squashed in beside you – all the while taking in the fragrances of recently cut vegetation and the aroma of the actual night air around you. It is positively erotic. (Well, almost.)

I don’t sleep in the sukkah. I never have, which is a pity in some ways. The fact that this is a mitzvah that it is only incumbent on men doesn’t get me feeling all feministy. I don’t get worked up about not having to camp out for a week in Tishrei with the bugs and the spiders. I just say goodnight and wish the sukkah sleepers well.

But really, this makes no sense.  Sukkahs conjure up images of the desert, when Bnei Yisrael was encamped like one big dysfunctional family and Moshe was trying to keep things together – even though, frankly, not much made sense and the rules were being made up as they went along. Sukkot transports me to a time in our national memory when late at night, as the sluggish desert wind brushed tents and the hand of sleep stroked brows, one might catch the delicate sound of a neighbour being pleasured by her husband. The half-stifled cry that is neither sigh nor moan but somewhere in between, calls for him to stop and continue forever at once.

When I think of sukkahs at night, this is what comes to mind.

So, I wonder….When our sukkahs today are guaranteed modesty by garden walls, wrapped tight and secure by canvas, tarpaulin or wood, why are we not all diving for the one (tznius) chance we have each year to make love under a blanket of stars in the perfume of night? Why are we not pulling out mattresses and pillows and curling up together for a midnight tryst in the moonlight, so that starlight breezes can stroke our backs while lovers trace our contours in the darkness?

Surely, the mitzvah of sleeping in the sukkah should not stop at sleeping? If we are truly to pause and realise the impermanence of life, to try to connect, once a year, to remember wandering in the desert without a home, without a land, it makes sense that we should be encouraged to live and love under the cover of leaves and between the shimmer of stars.

So I say, let’s revisit the mitzvot of Sukkot.

I will if you do.

Chag sameach

*For purposes of clarity, I have referred to sukkah in the plural as ‘sukkahs’ (rather than the Hebrew plural, ‘Sukkot’) in order to reduce the possibility of confusion between the use of the plural for the structure and references to the festival, Sukkot

This essay was first published on Jewrotica.

 

How Fifty Shades of Grey gave birth to Shosha Pearl

I have just finished reading ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. It’s been a long time in coming and was, frankly, embarrassingly overdue, but finally now I can put my hand up and say I’ve done it.

And it was awful, but not so much for the reasons I expected. More on that later…

50ShadesofGreyCoverArtEL James’s ‘Fifty Shades of Grey‘ was a seminal (!) part of my journey towards deciding to write ‘halachic’ erotica. The enormous splash the book made in the mainstream world was fascinating in itself, but what was even more interesting was the slowly revealed news that observant Jewish women were reading the books. And enjoying them!

I have always been interested in erotic literature as a genre; not just for its content, but also to know who is reading it and what they like, and, of course, who is writing it and how well they are doing. The Fifty Shades phenomenom meant that all this information was being discussed openly and a lot – in the media and online. And I was consuming all the details with fascination.

One of the intriguing details that emerged at the time was that ethnic and faith specific erotica was becoming increasingly attractive. Christian erotic literature, in particular, was on the rise, which made me ponder whether there might be an audience for Jewish erotic literature. And then, right on time, came Jewrotica. I was suddenly incredibly excited.

Jewrotica provided a forum for people to explore erotic stories and ideas within a Jewish context. And it gave me confidence to think that my increasing interest in exploring erotic writing within a frum (observant Jewish) context. I wanted to write about and for halachically observant people, while making things accessible enough for anyone to read and understand.

In 2012 I wrote my first short story in my newly created sub-genre, halachic Jewish erotica, entitled ‘Little Secret, Big Secret’. Then, within a few months of Jewrotica’s appearance I wrote some more stories and Shosha Pearl was born.

And so this very exciting journey began.

Keeping it kosher – Jewish eroticism and halacha

I have been reading erotic literature for many years and have been dabbling at writing it for almost as long. In the past year, however, I have thought how fabulous it would be to read good erotic stories set within the framework of Jewish life. Rachel by William Dyce (www.shoshapearl.com)Judaism, Jewish history and Jewish ideas are rich mines for the erotic, because as a people we are not scared of sex and sexuality. And while we as individuals might take issue with some aspects of Jewish law as it pertains to sexuality, it is, on the whole, a spiritual and cultural discourse which understands and accommodates the importance of sex and healthy sexual relationships for men and women. It was wonderful, therefore, to see the recent launch of the online magazine for Jewish erotic writing, Jewrotica. This launch, exciting as it was on its own, was made more so by the fact that I had finally started to write my own erotic short stories set in a Jewish context. Such synchronicity! When starting out on my new project I gave some considerable thought concerning the shape these stories would take. I wanted to make this adventure as inclusive as possible. As a result, I decided to ensure that my stories were all kept halachically acceptable. In other words, while some of them are risque, they don’t breach any aspects of Jewish law in relation to sexual practices. And the good thing is that the scope is broad. You can, technically at least, do a lot and not transgress halacha. Most of my characters are frum. This has not been a strategic decision, it’s just the way the stories are forming right now. But who knows what the future will bring. Either way, thanks for visiting and I hope you enjoy the stories as they materialise. Shosha x