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.

Why I hated Christian Grey

I have just watched the official trailer for ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ the movie. It left me feeling confused, but prompted me finally to write this post.

As I mentioned previously, it was only recently that I finally managed to read this book. In the world of publishing, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is a big deal. According to my favourite source of information, Wikipedia (besides my husband, of course), the three-part series has sold more than 100 million copies and is the fastest selling paper back of all time. These stats are insanely impressive and a sign that the books’ author, EL James, tapped directly into mainstream consciousness. In other words, for a lot of people, she got it just right.

Let’s be clear. I didn’t like the book. It bored, horrified and annoyed me. But it did open my eyes to the power of romance and its associated exquisite suspense for stories concerned with sexual relationships between – even if those stories are really only about the sex. This might sound obvious, but there are many, many examples of erotic fiction that don’t have a whiff of love about them but work.

However, for many people (by which I really mean for many women), the primal urge for sexual gratification is almost inseparable from the erotic thrill of romantic tension. I think this particularly applies to the excitement of being pursued by a man and of being singled out for pursuit because he thinks you are special – especially by a man who is gorgeous, aristocratic or, its modern-day equivalent, rich and/or famous. I believe these are core buttons for the female psyche – and oh did EL James press these buttons for her readers. And they lapped it up in their millions.

Christian Grey pursues, he singles out, he redefines himself because of the way he feels about Anastasia and, of course, he is a gorgeous, self-made billionaire. But it is all too much. The man is a unstoppable control freak; he is unrelenting and selfish, acting with little apparent thought for the welfare or well being of his romantic focus (Anastasia) unless it is in the context of how her harm could affect him.

Then there is the sex thing. Never have I read less exciting sex scenes. I was left so metaphorically flacid that I found myself skipping the sex bits because they were so boring – and that has NEVER happened to me before. NEVER. EVER. EVER. I just skipped them and read to the end of the novel, wondering how this train wreck of a relationship was going to be resolved. And frankly I was relieved with the way she concluded the story. It was the only thing that made sense.  And I will not be going back for more Christian Grey madness.

There are plenty of better qualified commentators who have talked about the abuse and bullying that lies at the heart of the relationship between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele. I could not better what they have said, but their arguments raise concerning issues.   More worrying still, a recent article in the Independent suggests that women who read these books are more likely to be in abusive relationships. Dear G-d.

BDSM can be safe, healthy erotic pleasure for people who enjoy it. But the way in which Christian Grey works to extend his framework of control from the ‘Red Room’ to every aspect of his relationship with Anastasia was extremely disturbing. It was not about testing erotic boundaries, it was just about control. By exerting his numerous resources to contain and manipulate a woman who was clearly vulnerable, he revealed himself as grotesque and malevolent.

I understand the appeal of determined masculine pursuit; of strong, ‘manly’, driven men; of being singled out. I see the attraction of power, wealth and fame and I can see the erotic pull of powerlessness and vulnerability – but I don’t find abuse and excessive controlling attractive. Far from being attracted to the character of Christian Grey, I find him alarming. And I am disturbed that so many women have been drawn, indeed aroused, by a man with these personality traits. I am frightened by what it says about many relationships between men and women. But even more so, I am distressed about what it says about us as women. May HaShem protect us from ourselves.

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.

Choosing life over art – for the moment

It’s been a busy time. My family and I have packed up from one city, put all our things in storage and moved to another in search of the foundations of the next chapter of our new life.

movingThe process has taken several months and in between the chaos of moving, I have tried to maintain a creative schedule, with some success and a lot of failure.

The question of whether my writing should be such a burning priority that I maintain a schedule of early morning rises in between the stress of finding a new home, new job and so on, has burdened me. I feel tantalisingly close to completing one, if not two, important projects, but right now, finishing them seems just too hard.

Any writing on writing always contains the advice just to keep at your keyboard, to maintain a schedule. And I agree, but not when the waves of life are just too choppy to let you keep balance.

So, I may be lazy, I may lack boldness, I may be hiding behind excuses, and I may not be disciplined enough, I’ll accept it all, but right now, I have given myself permission to focus on getting my life back on track so that I can go back to my writing with my world a little more in place.

Frankly, I think it is wise. Plus, breaks between work mean that my mind travels and reviews what I have completed to this point (sometimes without my consent) – and distance can be very useful.

And the best part is that although I am feeling a little bogged in the middle of some thick editing mud for my short story collection and I am having some doubts about the form of the first draft of Tamar’s story, I am now, after this enforced break, developing that restless need to get back to it and finish the job.

Baruch Hashem  🙂

Coming soon: halachic erotica, novel sized!

Here’s my declaration: I, Shosha Pearl, am writing a novella. So, now you know.

There is diverse opinion on when it is best to announce to the world that you are writing a book. Logically, it would seem best to wait until you have finished something before you start talking about it (so as to avoid bringing on the ayin harah, the evil eye, and all that…or, more likely, just a great deal of embarrassment when it comes to nothing).

But all the commercially-minded author experts and bloggers out there recommend that you start releasing information about your work in the six months leading up to its publication.

So, with two solid months of dedicated writing (in between work, family, life, nonsense), with more than 25,000 words saved and with a publication target of before Rosh Hashanah, I feel OK about saying something to the universe.

Here are the details:

  • I am currently working on the first of what I expect will be a four-part series of novellas.
  • The books will focus on the sexual and erotic explorations of a thirty-something frum divorcee, Tamar Cohen. Her journey will survey the sexual landscape available to unmarried observant Jewish women who are prepared to bend some of the rules – or to go with the most meikil (halachically lenient) views  – but who are not willing to step outside the bounds of halacha.
  • Tamar’s sensual explorations will also be coupled with a search for love, meaning and happiness. Of course.
  • All four books will be novellas, which means that each will be somewhere in the region of 30 to 50,000 words (roughly one third to one half the length of a standard novel).
  • The books will have sex, nudity and adult themes. So be warned!

I am hoping to have the first book out before Rosh Hashanah and then the second six months after that. I think the books will be fun. And hot. And perhaps even interesting. At least, I hope so…

Stay tuned and feel free to drop me a line.

Thanks, Shosha xx


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 (, 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


Welcome to the all new Shosha Pearl website, where you will find my portfolio of Jewish erotic writing. This site is still in its infancy but I hope to have a range of stories available for you soon. Please take a look around – I hope you enjoy your visit.