Naturism and Judaism
by Pinhas Baraq
I want to stress here, that I am
not a religious authority, and what I will bring here will be based on the written
sources, and interpretations of the sages and maybe some personal interpretations
I will be very grateful for any annotation or elucidation people will send me, and I will be ready to change this article or add contributions.
Naturism as an idea is very new, therefore there is no explicit position in this question in the Jewish religion, as there is no position about Jazz music or - let us make many distinctions - even no any position toward the use of drugs.
For Judaism we have as sources The Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament), as the written law, the Prophets and the Writings (the other books of the Old testament), the Mishna (last edition in the year 200) and the Talmudim as the oral law (last edition around the year 500), and different Midrash editions as lectures of the sages.
The for naturists extreme modest
clothing of the Jewish religious women we may find based on the Talmudic tractate
Berachot (Benedictions) 24a, We find there the following statements: "every
one who looks on
(hammistakel b) the small finger of a women, it is as he looks on her pudenda",
"Rav Hasda said the leg of a women is nakedness as is written (in the Bible
Jes. 47:2) uncover the leg, pass over the river, and as is written (there) Thy
nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen", (Rabbi Nissim Gaon
from Kairowan explained that "who looks on the ankle of a women, it is as he
looks on her pudenda, and who looks on the pudenda of a women, it is as he has
sexual intercourse with her") "Rav Sheshet said the hair of a women is nakedness
as is written (The Songs 4:1) thy hair is like a flock of goats". That is the
reason that the married religious Jewish women covers her hair that nothing
of it will be seen, except to her husband.
Because these sentences in the tractate Benedictions, it is used that praying Jewish will try to have the women on his backside.
About this tractate I had a discussion in my sauna with a very religious person (Haridi) who does not condemn naturism, he explained that the meaning of (hammistaqel b) "to look on or to observe", differs from (ra'a) "to see".
The verb is from the root (sechel).
Already in the Tanach (Old Testament) the (one of the two Hebrew characters for "s") interchanged with (the other Hebrew character for "s") so the meaning of the verb is connected with the word (sechel) "mind" "insight" thus means "looking very intensive and taking in mind".
At one place in the talmud (Sanh. 92a) the words "who looks at the nakedness of his bow" (derived from Hab. 3:9), is explained according to one opinion "who allows his obscene thoughts to dwell on a woman forbidden to him".
I asked the Haridi (ultra-orthodox Jew) what about Cham? according to the Bible - he did not look nor observe the nakedness of his father but only saw () it!
The haridi explained, that we must not read this verse according to the (Pshat = the literary meaning) but according the (drash = the interpretation of the verse).
We find in the Talmud an interesting reminiscence of a story, (Sanhedrin 75a) "Rav Yehuda said, said Rab, a story about a man who put his eyes on a women and a vehement passion seized him (which threatened his health), and they went to the physicians and consulted them, and they said there is no therapy for him until she will have sexual intercourse (with him), the wises said, let him die and that she will not have sexual intercourse, (the physicians said) let she not have sexual intercourse but stand before him naked, the (wises said), let him die but she will not stand in front of him naked, (the physicians proposed) let her talk with him from behind a curtain, (the wises said) let him die and she will not talk with him behind a curtain, on this point there was a discussion between rabbi Yacob Bar Iri and rabbi Shmuel Bar Nahmani, the one said that she was a married women, the other said that she was a not married women, the one who said she was a married women was right, but about the (wise) who said she was not married, why all this? Rav Papa said, because injury of the (honor) of the family (of the girl), Rav Acha the son of Rav Iqa said, that the daughters of Israel will not be harlots using their nudities ('arayot)".
So why even not talking with her from behind a curtain? According the tractate Brachot 24a even the voice of a women is "nakedness" - in the sense of adultery if it is heard to give sexual satisfaction.
So in the past, hearing the sounds on 056 was forbidden according to Jewish law, today this number is used for normal cellular connections of "Pelephone".
This story appears much more extensive in some Midrash versions as the story named "Nathan deNotzitza who loved Hanna the women of a man", and took place in time of Rabbi Akiba d. 135.
Studying the story will teach us that, the sages decided that the problem was not the nudity of the women, but the vehement passion of Nathan deNotzitza, and there was even a discussion if the women was married or not, the not accepted opinion in the Talmud was that also if she was not married it should be forbidden for her, even to stand naked in front of Nathan or speak with him behind a curtain, because the vehement passion of the man.
The accepted opinion was, that if she was not married there should not be a problem even to have sexual intercourse with Nathan or stand naked in front of him. But was she married it would be against the commandment "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbour's" (Ex. 20:14) because Nathan's passion for a married women.
The undeniable conclusion from this last Talmudic story must be that there is no problem with naturism or social nudity, when there is no passion for a not married women according to the not accepted opinion, or covetousness for a married women, according to the accepted opinion.
Talmud commanded modesty of thought more than modesty of clothes and left freedom for us naturists to be still in accordance with the Jewish law.
My very religious sauna guest declared, that the reason for the modesty rules in Judaism is to protect the family, and to curb the bad instincts (haYetzer hara') of the human being.
I think that according to the interpretations and even the context of the Bible verses and in particular the chapter Leviticus 18, where the term "to uncover nakedness" appears so many times, my sauna guest must be right.
I think we naturist have no problems with the (haYetzer hara'), because every naturist knows that the most effective way to curb the what is called the bad instincts or "impulse of man's heart (Gen. 8:21)", is the way of naturist life.
Pinhas Baraq, Jerusalem 11/03/2001