Writing the Jewish Women’s Archive (here), student Dina Lamdany has these reflections on the “gender-neutral” quality of Yom Kippur:
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.) * * *
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.)
* * * 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.
Read the full post here.