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 too.
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 Old Testament

The Hebrew word for nudity is (erom), its root is (erva) and is known in many Semitic languages for example in Arabic ('ary) with the words ('aryan) "naked" and (uryiya) "nudism".

From this root we know in Hebrew ('erva) i.e. "pudenda" (of both sexes) in Bible translations generally translated literary with "nakedness".

After Adam and Eva ate from the tree in the midst of the garden we read in Gen. 3:7, "and the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves loin clothes", we read further when the Lord asked Adam where art thou? (Gen 3:10)" I heard thy voice in the garden and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself".
After the explanation who finally was guilty for the crime of eating from the forbidden fruit, we read (Gen. 3:21) "For the man also and for his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them".

This does not sound naturistic, but the question is how we explain this story, my personal opinion is that in this verses there is no any prohibition of nudity and I did not find such in the comments on this verses, but maybe we can find here an explanation why people where ashamed to be naked and clothed them selves.
The main question is how we must treat the Biblical stories, as historical facts or maybe literary stories that explain some human behaviors?
For example the story of the tower of Babel, (Gen. 11:9) "Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there (balal) confound the language of all the earth". Is this a historical fact, or maybe more an explanation why there are so many languages in the world?

Another difficult verse for naturism we find in the story of Noah, (Gen. 9:21-25) "And he drank of the wine and was drunk; and he was uncovered (vaitgal) within his tent. And Cham, the father of Kena'an, saw (vayyar') the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren outside. And Shem and Yefet took the garment, and laid it upon their shoulders, and went backwards, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backwards, and they saw not their father's nakedness . And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him. And he said, Cursed be Kena'an".

The Jewish sages of the Talmud (the discussions of the sages till the year 500) had already problems with this story; What did Cham wrong? is he guilty that he saw the nakedness of his father? So they explained that Cham castrated (srs) his father (Sanhedrin 70a).
Further we also must consider the fact, that the people of Kena'an was later the enemy of the children of Israel, thus there was need for a story that cursed Kena'an.

The main chapter of uncovering nakedness we find in the book of Leviticus (18:6-19) "None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover her nakedness: I am the Lord. The nakedness of thy father or the nakedness of thy mother, thy shalt not uncover: she is thy mother; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness. The nakedness of thy father's wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father's nakedness. The nakedness of thy sister, the daughter of thy father or daughter of thy mother, whether she is born at home or born abroad, their nakedness thou shalt not uncover, The nakedness of thy son's daughter or of thy daughter's daughter, their nakedness thou shalt not uncover: for theirs is thy own nakedness....." and so on.

The Aramaic translation of the Old Testament by Yonathan Ben Uiziel which was written when Hebrew was not any more the spoken language and not known to every body, is a translation with paraphrastic explanations according to the Jewish juridic opinions of the Jewish law.
This old translation translated the term (tiqrevu legalot) "approach to uncover nakedness" with "uncover by sexual use" (betashmishta) i.e. sexual intercourse.

In the Jewish law the term (giluy arayot) "uncovering nakedness" is generally interpreted as forbidden sexual intercourse.
Discussing Jewish law, the interpretation of the Bible text (drash) is more important then the literary meaning (pshat).

So this chapter and others where we find the term "uncovering nakedness" does not forbid nudity in family or social nudity as in naturism.

There are two verses in the Old Testament where we must confirm that the meaning of 'erwa cannot be explained others than in the literary sense of the word 'erwah (nakedness = pudenda): Ex. 20:23 "Neither shalt thou go up by steps to my altar, that thy nakedness be not exposed on it", and Ex. 28:42 "And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even to the thighs they shall reach".

Inquiry of this two verses makes clear, that here is the case of a holly place, the altar, and clothes for the priest in function, this is not a command for whole the people, and even if your name is Cohen, Kahana, Katz, Aharonson or Chaplin, you must not wear those linen breeches, except if you will ascend the altar.

From the fact that this rules apply only for the priest in function on a holly place, we can derive that uncovering nakedness in the literary sense for all the other people and at all other places than a holly place is allowed.

That (erva) can be used not in the literary meaning, is not only based on commentators, but we find it already in Deuteronomy 24:1 "When a man has taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he has found some unseemliness ('erva = nakedness) in her, then let him write her a bill of divorce".

Should nakedness in this verse been understood literary, I think the "mitzwa" (commandment) of "peru urebu" (Be fruitful, and multiply - Gen.1:28) should be a real problematic thing.

In the Talmud (Gitim 90a) is this verse used for the conditions that a person can divorce his wife, and we can conclude that with the word (erva) adultery was meant.

Another word that may be interesting in our investigation is "modesty, humbly, lowly" from the Hebrew root (tsena).
In the Old Testament we find words from this root only twice, in the sense: of "humbly", "cautiously" "lowly" in the book of Micha (6:8) "and to walk humbly with the Lord" and in the book of Proverbs (11:2) "When pride comes, then comes shame: but with the lowly is wisdom".

According to this two verses the Old Testament command modesty in sense of the way of behavior, not modesty in the way of clothing.

The Talmud

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

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