This post is cross-posted at JWA
I wanted to write this post about women and Yom Kippur, as I often have done for other Jewish holidays, on topics such as what roles women should play during the holiday, stories about women associated with the holiday, etc. But I searched, and was kind of surprised that I found nothing in particular to write about.
There were no particular women to be found in the Torah and Haftorah readings for the day. The morning Torah reading is about the Kohen Gadol’s (high priest) Yom Kippur service in the temple, and the afternoon reading is about forbidden sexual relationships (a topic for a different time)–neither features anything particularly special for women. Similarly, there is nothing to be found in the Haftorah portions: the morning Haftorah is from Isaiah, and talks about sincere repentance (like fasting), while the afternoon Haftorah is from Jonah, and talks about how through repentance, the people of Ninveh were able to prevent themselves from being destroyed (and, you know, a whale.) None of these readings are about specific women or their roles. But the thing is, these stories aren’t really about men, either; sure, the prophets and the high priest were male, but when you step away from one of them, you’re not left with a lasting impression about the specific males, but rather about the messages of the story. There’s no Abraham or Isaac here–just repentance, repentance, repentance.
On Yom Kippur, it’s not just the stories that don’t differentiate between men and women. Women have the same prohibitions as men throughout the holiday: no food, no drink, no sex, no leather shoes, and no creams/oils. While there are exceptions for women in labor or who just gave birth, even pregnant women are supposed to fast (but encouraged to stay in bed if going to synagogue would cause them to feel ill.)
So, I’m didn’t end up writing about women today. Or men, really. I think maybe that’s because Yom Kippur, often regarded as the holiest day of the year, is not about women or men or gender–it’s about people. People repenting, people trying to step back from earthly habits and objects–we’re supposed to be like angels–and people trying to look at themselves from outside of their normal selves. And maybe a part of that is stepping away from gender lines and the way we normally associate ourselves with female or male roles, and instead just thinking about who we are as people.
I wish you all an easy and meaningful fast.