Banning tzniut from my Yom Kippur discourse

Yom Kippur makes you think about a lot of things. Usually I am thinking about how hungry I am (or am not), how all this standing hurts my back or how heavy my machzor (book of liturgy) feels. But I also spend the day trying to be conscious of the thoughts I have about the people around me.

The first Yom Kippur I tried this – years ago, now – I was horrified to discover just how often I thought unpleasant things about the people (women) around me at shul. While I believed I was spending my Day of Atonement in the midst of introspection and self-cleansing, I soon realised I was running a critical commentary on my side of the mechitza than was just plain mean and grumpy. It was a bit of a shock, in fact.

There I am in the women's gallery trying not to have unpleasant thoughts about people.
There I am in the women’s gallery trying not to have unpleasant thoughts about people.

Since then, most Yom Kippurs I try to have an awareness about what my mind is saying about other people. And occasionally, as I slow myself down to this new sense of self-consciousness, I do so with an intent to think positive things (or nothing) about the person who catches my eye and my brain – and to carry this mode of operation into the rest of the year (although, until now I haven’t had much success with this all-year thing).

So in 5775 my Yom Kippur self-awareness resumed but this year I added a new angle: I was not going to assess the clothing of the women around me.

I’m not talking about from a fashion angle – that’s not my thing. But perhaps unsurprisingly, I do find it fascinating to observe the various interpretations that women in my community have of tzniut. Hemlines, necklines, kisui rosh (head covering), tightness, sheerness, heel height: Shabbat and yom tov are spectacles of delight for me, because there is always someone who’ll surprise me.

I love the parade and the process of building conclusions about what each woman’s tznius choice says about her: about her mood, her spiritual journey, her level of knowledge, her husband, her family, her communal persona. It’s fascinating.

I don’t care much how frum or tznius a woman wants to dress – it’s her life, her journey. However, I do like to analyse those choices and to contemplate what that means for her, what it says about her. But if I am being honest with myself, it’s difficult to draw these conclusions without bringing in an element of judgment.

So this Yom Kippur I tried to abstain. I tried to look at the woman and not her hair or her pantyline. And frankly, I chose not to think too much about what I was wearing either. Was it appropriate for shul? Yes. Was it ironed? Yes. I didn’t bother with pre Yom Kippur make-up; there was no faffing about with jewellery – no fuss, just me and my machzor. I wouldn’t say it was nice. It just was.

Did I manage? Yes. I have no recollection of who was wearing what or how they looked – other than of the women who were sitting beside me – friends/family members, with whom I had conversations about the weather and new clothing. But for the rest, I have no idea. It was good not to notice. It felt simple – if a little lacklustre.

So, with that little achievement in my pocket, did I have a meaningful Yom Kippur? A day of genuine personal introspection? I don’t know. I tried, but I never really know. The best I can say is I had a Yom Kippur.

But I do feel that somewhere out there, in the ether of my spiritual narrative, something good happened. Even if don’t really know what it was. And even if I shouldn’t be having these thoughts in the first place.

L’at, l’at as they say in Hebrew. Slowly, slowly.

Shana tova. Wishing you only good things for the coming year.

Shosha Pearl
Shosha Pearl writes Jewish erotica. Uniquely, her stories of love and lust are largely set within an Orthodox framework and the sexy stuff that happens in them conforms with Jewish law (Halacha). You can follow @ShoshaPearl on Twitter, visit her on Facebook to say hi - or have a look around her website www.shoshapearl.com to find out more.