An Olfactory Assault

A recent post in The Wall Street Journal awakened me to the fact that my sense of smell is under attack at nearly every street corner. What’s more, sharing it with The Wellness Bitch elicited the following response:

“We are all brainwashed into thinking that a smell = clean. The cleanest smell is no smell (and not fragrance free, which typically uses a masking agent.) Sigh.”

But that’s not what’s really bothering me. People who spray their armpits lavishly or women who regularly perfume more than at the wrist and behind the ears are very simply invading my personal space.

Countless times I have entered a recently vacated elevator only to find that someone has left behind their recently applied anti-pong or pass a woman who is not exactly “The Girl from Ipanema” only to find myself engulfed in her fragrance.

Admittedly, like blogger Jen Maidenberg, I find these an irritant. From childhood I couldn’t walk into a flower shop without my eyes gunking up. One memorable erev Pesach one of my daughters fired a spritz of window cleaner in my vicinity and triggered a massive asthma attack. But why, oh why do these concerned citizens who want so badly to have a “clean smell” never consider that their fashion statement may cause someone else’s intense, though albeit brief suffering?

The answer is:

1) It never occurred to them.

2) Being as this is Israel, they probably just don’t care or even worse, they may think it’s good for you.

This second remark may take you by surprise, but it shouldn’t. That’s because there is really no difference between how people dress and how they smell.

A Sense of Decorum

When I first came to Israel, there was no problem telling who was an Arab. They were the ones who boarded public buses at 7:00 a.m. looking as though they had dressed for cocktails. That’s not true any longer.

On the contrary, a state of undress, décolletage, backless and shorter than short is now de rigueur round the clock in certain sectors of Israeli society. Not all perpetrators really mean to advertise at that level — many of them may just be doing it because that’s what’s being marketed now or their friends are also wearing it.

The discussion here centers on where it’s being worn. In some contexts, flip flops, noisy earrings and a startling display of womanly charms may be highly desirable, though in others — say a state funeral — they may not. But again, that’s not because such a venue is a run-in with ultimate ends, etc. It’s because the other people attending are just not interested in seeing that.

A similar situation would be the men’s section of a gender separated bus. Even public companies have the right to cater to their clients and not so many years ago when  the Hareidi sector organized gender separated buses through a private company, Egged came on their knees begging.

Why then is it that a perhaps well-endowed and perhaps not so young person with less than 40% of her body covered puts me in the wrong? I belong to a specific local majority and market sector. Why shouldn’t she be considered out of place, specifically when she is in the middle of the aisle, on her cell phone and leaning on me?

Don’t intentionally misunderstand me. I am not talking about inappropriate responses, but rather about careless, thoughtless stimulus which when challenged causes the interloper to declare their undeniable rights in all places and at all times as over and above mine.

So to put a bottom line on this: “Lady, you may think you smell good, but in my book you stink.”


About the Author
Y.B. Fishel holds cum laude degrees from Princeton and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as well as written ordinations from members of Israel's highest, ultra-Orthodox authorities. His reason for being around ToI is to provide a chareidi insider's view of what's happening in Israel.