By Sarah Hoenicke, monthly column for Anomaly
“If I pulled off the hangnail, I could once again pray undistracted,” writes Tova Mirvis in her recent memoir, The Book of Separation. “But if I pulled it off,” she continues, “I would be breaking one of the laws of the day. In this small sliver of nail,” she says, “lay a daunting theological quandary.” For an Orthodox Jew, as Mirvis had been during the time she writes about here, work of any kind is forbidden on Shabbat, and especially on Yom Kippur. Also called the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur is the annual holy day that comes at the end of the 10-day period of penitence. This period begins with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and is intended as the time for Jews to examine their actions of the year before, and to be given new beginnings.
Religion can cause us to be aware of and obsess over tiny, seemingly insignificant details. At the church I attended with my family until I was 12, nail polish wasn’t allowed. It caused me grief and frustration every week as I invariably forgot to take off my polish before we left for Sunday services, and so had to be admonished and bade to scrub it off in the car. The pink pleather cover of my childhood Bible will forever be bleached in five fingertip-shaped splotches from the acetone in the remover.
Continue reading the rest of the essay at Anomaly.