I was just reading up on Yom Kippur because I’m expected to attend a “break the fast” party at the end of the holiday. This is when most Jews get together to stuff their faces after having fasted for 24 hours. I learned that, while everyone knows not to fast, they probably don’t know about four other prohibitions for that day.
For some reason, Jews are not supposed to wear leather shoes on Yom Kippur. Maybe god just didn’t want anyone to wear any good shoes at all, since it is a day of rest after all. Leather was just the best available footwear technology at the time, but I don’t think he would have been that specific without a reason. Was god not able to predict the development of plastic and other artificial materials? Throughout the Old Testament, it is quite evident that god wanted us to sacrifice a lot of livestock. With all that killing of animals, I would expect there to have been an abundance of leather available for shoes and other items of apparel. So, I don’t quite get why he would want to ban the wearing of leather shoes specifically.
Maybe he really wanted to ban the wearing of sexy leather clothes to protect us from our sado-masochistic impulses. Of course, he couldn’t come right out and say we can’t dress in leather boots, tight leather pants, leather face masks and leather whips, since some people would have run right out and invented them that afternoon and committed all kinds of perverted sexual sins by that evening. No, he had to be more subtle and hope we stopped making leather apparel in general, thus avoiding the temptation entirely.
Some people really do want to follow all the rules, even the ones that are not commonly known, so they have already looked into other types of footwear that might be permissible. Crocs would seem to be a perfectly good alternative since they are completely made of artificial material.
However, according to Lithuanian religious leader Rabbi Elyashiv, crocs should be avoided since they are too comfortable and do not provide the level of suffering one should feel on the holiday. Yup, he wants you to suffer more. Sure, god could have just said “no comfortable shoes,” but that leaves it up to the discretion of the wearer as to whether or not they are really comfortable. It also makes his intent more apparent, which, at least according to some religious scholars, is the desire to make us suffer, if only for a day.
On the other hand, maybe god wasn’t bothered so much by the leather as he was by red meat in general. Maybe god really just wanted to ban the eating of red meat to protect our hearts. He had already banned shellfish and a bunch of other “non-kosher” stuff, presumably to protect us from sickness, but probably didn’t want to keep raining down manna until we found some other decent food supply. Maybe he figured that we would be so busy sacrificing animals that there would only be barely enough left for one serving of red meat per person per week. I believe this limit was supposed to have been inscribed on the first Egyptian food pyramid. He probably didn’t think we were smart enough to figure out that it didn’t make much sense to burn all of our livestock and live in poverty and on the verge of starvation. He certainly couldn’t have realized that McDonalds would eventually give up counting how many billions of customers would be served artery-clogging beef by-products.
But maybe he really is smarter than I give him credit for. It could also be that he was actually thinking ahead to a time when people would actually be able to make decent shoes without leather and wanted to give the animal rights activists another good reason for banning the misuse of animals. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the one who made all those rules commanding us to sacrifice perfectly good livestock is actually a huge proponent of animal rights? I guess if we look at it from a wider perspective, we will realize that there really weren’t that many people back when the Laws of Moses were first made, so the impact on the livestock population probably wouldn’t have been as bad as it would be today. If a thousand Hebrews burned a thousand animals per year back then, can you imagine how many we would have to sacrifice today to meet the weekly quota? I don’t think there would be a burger left for McDonalds to sell and Italian leather goods would be unaffordable. So, god must have predicted we would eventually figure out that we had to stop sacrificing animals to avoid their extinction. Unfortunately, we haven’t been smart enough to figure out that too much red meat might kill you, and who wants to waste all that leftover leather?
To take the place of animal sacrifices, god had to find a way to ban leather without saying why he didn’t want us to have leather. If he told us it was to keep cows from going extinct, we would have shrugged our shoulders and moved on to lamb, and buffalo, and alligator, and kangaroo, and whatever else makes a good hide. God must be an animal rights activist who was way before his time. He knew that a little bit of animal sacrifice back then would have given the people something fun to do to spice up the boring prayer sessions, but would, in the long run, have to be phased out.
Why didn’t god just tell Moses the secret for how to make other kinds of shoes? That could have saved a lot of cows in the past few thousand years. Cotton would have been a good choice, but it was probably fairly hard to grow in the desert and he apparently had no interest in making the Middle East a friendlier place to live. After all, if it were too nice, full of rivers, waterfalls, flowers, rolling plains and forests, for example, people would have been more inclined to fight over it. Who would want to fight over a desert? Hmmm, I’m still not sure why anyone would want to do that.
The secret of polyester would have been an awesome gift to give Moses. But it also probably would have prematurely made the Hebrews rich beyond their wildest imaginations. Unfortunately, there is nothing worse than wealth and success to discourage people from worshipping a god. People seem to be far more appreciative of the almighty when they are poor, uneducated, and continuously persecuted by other groups. So, apparently, god decided to make the Hebrews burn their most valuable assets (i.e. livestock) to keep them poor, humble, and extremely devoted. He also declined to provide any substitute for leather shoes until such time as the technology enabled the Chinese to make shoes so cheap that nobody else could possibly make any money from them.
In short, god banned leather shoes on Yom Kippur to save our hearts, save us from sexual perversion, and save the cows. As a bonus, it would also be a way to prevent wealthy Jews who buy hideously expensive Italian (i.e. Roman Catholic) leather shoes from showing them off on the high holy days. I’m glad I figured that out, because I can now explain the reason I will be going shoe less.
Two of the other activities prohibited on Yom Kippur are bathing/washing and anointing oneself with perfumes or lotions. Now I’m not sure how they celebrated the holiday back then, but I can imagine that it was really hot and stinky in the temple all day. By the time the day was over, I’m sure everyone wanted to enjoy breaking their fast in private, where they could actually smell the food, not the stinking bodies around them.
Today, it is a tradition for Jews to get together in temple to see people they haven’t seen all year, because they probably haven’t been to temple since last Yom Kippur. This isn’t a problem for Jews, since they only have to confess their sins once per year and get to start all over again. It is certainly much more convenient than the weekly confession system than the Catholics set up to boost attendance. After Yom Kippur services, someone usually hosts a party where their friends can share a big meal to break their fast. This holiday is a time when people want to be seen at their best, which means wearing their best clothes (minus the Italian leather shoes), getting their hair styled, fixing their makeup, putting on their most expensive jewelry, and, oh, not stinking. If they followed the rules to the letter, the human stench would make this whole holiday needlessly unpleasant.
So, the question is, why did god ban both bathing and perfume instead of just one or the other? It seems to me that he could have given people the option to either cover their stench with perfume or to wash, but not both. It would still have involved some sacrifice, but not enough to keep us from showing up in public at the most important holiday of the year.
For people who decide to follow both rules, one would hope they at least clean themselves before the big party after sundown. But people are usually so starving by then that they want to get right to the food. Men can just jump in the shower and be ready in a few minutes. But it’s a little too much to expect women to be ready without having most of the day to prepare. They need to shower, shave, blow dry their hair, get dressed, get undressed, change into something else, find out what their friends are wearing, change back, put on their makeup, and finally get out the door before their husbands and boyfriends leave without them. The night would be over by the time most of them were ready. So, it seems to me that these two rules must be a mistake.
It could have been an either/or choice that got lost in translation. Or maybe bathing was just one of those things that used to involve a lot of work and thus was not considered appropriate for a day of rest. Someone had to carry many buckets of water from a well, pour it into a basin and start a fire to get the water nice and warm. Watch Survivor and see how much fun it is trying getting a fire started without matches. Today, taking a bath or a shower is fun. Who is against having fun on a day of rest? Perfume, for that matter, was probably something that only Egyptian princesses could afford anyway, so banning it wasn’t exactly a sacrifice. So, you can consider the perfume ban a reasonable sacrifice, but going to a public function without bathing, no way! At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I’m hungry.
OK, now for the final prohibition for Yom Kippur. Marital relations. That’s right, no sex Friday night and no Saturday morning quickies–just a long, boring night with no food, no sex, and nothing else that violates the rules for the Sabbath. It always comes back to sex, doesn’t it? God just can’t get over the fact that we really like to have sex. Like I said, who could be against fun, especially on a day or night of rest! It isn’t like sex is actually work. OK, maybe that isn’t entirely true. It probably used to be work back in biblical times if you were just one of many concubines or slaves and had to put out even when you were tired, especially if your master threw a party and decided to share you with his friends. So, for some, I agree, sex could have been more work than play. I guess god wanted to make it a holiday even for wives and slaves. Today, women are perfectly willing and able to say no to sex if they don’t want it, which is pretty likely if they are planning a big party or getting dressed and ready to go to temple for the first time all year.
To make sure it was a day of rest, god could have just said no concubines, slaves, prostitutes or orgies during Yom Kippur. But that would have implied he knew we were going to be breaking his other anti-sex rules every other day, which of course we do and always will. So, he couldn’t exactly say that and not look like a fool. Hence, the total ban on sex during the holiday. Is this reasonable? No sex for a day? Considering that we’re supposed to be confessing our sins, asking for forgiveness, and praying all day, I guess I’d have to say yes, it is a small sacrifice to pay. After a day spent in temple checking out all the gussied up hot guys and girls and, hopefully, getting forgiven for what we did last year, followed by a night of binge drinking and gorging, the sex is bound to be that much better anyway. So, in a sense, god was doing us a favor by making us wait.
In summary, Yom Kippur is a day when you just have to suck it up for a day. No food, no bathing, no perfume, no Italian leather shoes, and no sex. Would you even want to have sex without bathing or perfume? For guys, probably yes. For women, not so much. In fact, there are plenty of other interpretations on what else needs to be banned, even if they were not specifically mentioned by god, including technology, toothbrushes, and makeup. But whatever you do, please, please, please, take a long, leisurely hot shower before you show up to pig out at the sundown food fest. Eat plenty of bagels, Whitefish and Smoked Salmon. Then get your asses home and finish off the evening the way god intended–drunk, naked, and satisfied. But whatever you do, no burgers or leather apparel, please. Save the cows!