Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Shemot (Wanderings) - Supplement

Kol Be-Isha Ervah—“A Woamn's Voice is Lewdness”

First you will come to the Sirens who enchant all who come near them. If any one unwarily draws in too close and hears the singing of the Sirens, his wife and children will never welcome him home again, for they sit in a green field and warble him to death with the sweetness of their song. There is a great heap of dead men's bones lying all around, with the flesh still rotting off them. Therefore pass these Sirens by, and stop your men’s ears with wax that none of them may hear…. —Homer, Odyssey, Book XII

The Problem

There has been a considerable bruhaha in Israel recently over the issue of women singing in public. In a widely-discussed incident, a group of religious soldiers, many of them officer trainees who were graduates of Yeshivot Hesder, demonstratively walked out of an event at which an Army troupe, including young women soldiers, sang—thereby, among other things, raising the issue of the authority of the Army vs. that of religious law. Other issues relating to the role of women in society —such as the issue of separation of women from men on bus lines running in predominantly Haredi neighborhoods; the cropping of women’s faces from street posters in Jerusalem; and even the segregation of women and men in separate sidewalks or streets in Meah Shearim during the recent Sukkot holidays— have attracted much attention (and often more heat than light). All these have created a feeling of generally increased militancy and extremism in the approach of some religious groups to feminine “modesty” and its enforcement in the public realm, with a corresponding secularist reaction.

In this essay, I would to explore some of the ramifications of these issues—focusing specifically on the issue of women singing, in its halakhic, sociological and methodological-philosophical (or “meta-halakhic”) aspects.

A Weather Change in Orthodoxy

I would like to start with a sociological point. Although these issues have been presented in the media largely in terms of “religious-secular” conflict, my own perspective sees them as equally indicative of internal tensions and conflicts within the Orthodox or religiously-observant world. A small anecdote to illustrate this point: about two years ago I attended a performance of Pirates of Penzance (a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta, which includes an impressive bit of coloratura singing by the female romantic lead) staged by the Jerusalem English Speaking Theater group in Jerusalem. Interestingly, much of both the audience and the cast was Orthodox; one of the leading male roles, that of the Pirate Chief, was played by an Orthodox professor of philosophy and ex-yeshiva bokhur whom I came to know during the year we spent studying together at the same yeshiva, many years ago. During the intermission I ran into an old friend, a YU musmakh (i.e., ordained Orthodox rabbi), and asked him how he coped with the halakhic issues raised by attending such events, and whether he had ever heard Rav Soloveitchik address the subject. He shrugged his shoulders, as if to say that it was a non-problem, certainly in the context of an artistic-cultural event of this sort. I subsequently heard reports that the Rav indeed held a liberal view of the matter, and himself occasionally attended the opera with his wife.

On the other hand, there are circles for whom this issue has become a kind of litmus test of “real” Orthodoxy, and who have tried to make it into a cardinal issue of public policy. Thus, in wake of the current controversy, Rabbi EIyakim Levanon, rabbi of the settlement of Elon Moreh and a respected religious authority within the West Bank settler community, stated that a religious soldier ought rather to stand before a firing squad rather than listen to a woman singing![1] More recently, I heard that a group of rabbis have circulated a call to young men to avoid being drafted in to the Army so as not to listen to women singing! More generally, within those circles which used to be known as Mizrachi, or “Religious Zionist,” which historically sought a synthesis Torah with general culture under the slogan Torah im Derekh Eretz or Torah va-Avodah (“Torah with Worldliness” or “Torah and Labor”), there are many who have begun to take a much stricter view of this and related questions. Thus, there are religious elementary schools at which fathers are not allowed to attend class productions in which their own daughters participate, because they might thereby see and hear pubescent young women—i.e., their daughter’s classmates—singing or acting.

But the issue goes far deeper, and is indicative of a far-reaching transformation within Jewish Orthodoxy—what the American Orthodox journal Tradition referred to some years ago, in a special issue devoted to this subject, as the “weather change” within Orthodoxy. This phenomenon may be characterized in a variety of ways. It seems typified in the following story I have heard time and again over the years: parents who grew up in Orthodox homes, and had lived as observant Jews their entire lives, sent their sons or daughters away to yeshiva or yeshiva high school. At a certain point, the child came home and demanded that the parents change everything in the house, from kashrut, to level of Shabbat observance, to cultural areas—the newspapers & magazines they allow in the home, use of television, the books on their shelves, etc.—to conform to the new standards they had learned in yeshiva. In brief: many of the younger generation seem to have suddenly gone overboard on humrot —religious stringencies.

Or, as an acquaintance of mine put it: religious life, which previously centered around the family and the home, as the institution through which the tradition, the values, the feeling of Jewishness were transmitted, is now centered around yeshivot or Hasidic courts and the rulings and edicts of the rashei yeshivot, gedolim, or Rebbes. Or, as historian Haym Soloveitchik explains it, in slightly moiré academic language: there has been a change from learning via mimesis (i.e., imitation: that is, absorbing what one has seen in one’s home and synagogue) to learning from books and written texts. He sees this process as parallel to a characteristic of the modern world generally, in which one learns from manuals and books, as opposed to the process of apprenticeship to a mentor practiced in the pre-modern world.[2]

Or, to couch it sociological terms: Orthodox (or halakhic/traditional/observant / classical) Judaism—whatever term you prefer—has for many people changed from a “church” to a “sect.” By the “church” model, I refer to a conception of the synagogue as the center of a broad community, in principle open to a wide spectrum of people with differing levels of commitment, and which assumes as a matter of course that people live their lives in the wider world. By contrast, a “sect” is oriented towards a small, select, elite group, characterized by intense commitment and the imposition of maximal demands upon its members; it is often led by charismatic and authoritarian leaders, who expect implicit obedience to their fiat and edicts. One might also mention here William James’ distinction between what might be called world-affirming religion and world-denying religion: whereas the former basically accepts the world and lives within it, the latter sees the world as filled with tum’ah, with impurity and mortal dangers to one’s soul, and consequently erects high protective walls between the realm of the sacred and that of the profane.[3]

Before turning to the halakhic issues per se, one important comment. It is often thought that, from a religious perspective, “stricter is always better”: that is, the more meticulous approach to observance is indicative of greater piety, of more intense religious devotion. Yet this is not always so. There is an important halakhic principle known as koah de-hetera adif—“the power of permissiveness is preferable.” That is, the ability of a rabbi to rule leniently on a given issue—provided, always, that he finds valid legitimate halakhic grounds for his decision—is in fact preferable and indicative of superior erudition. This is so for two reasons. First, that the task of the rabbi, historically, is to lead and guide an entire community, including individuals of diverse and varying degrees of “religiosity”—not just a small sect of individuals who have voluntarily taken upon themselves a rigorous way of life. Life being what it is, there are always exigencies that call for leniency, if at all possible. (A trivial but characteristic example: someone needs to take medicine on Yom Kippur to maintain his health; a serious, responsible rabbi will find a way whereby he can do so without violating the fast, rather than simply saying “No.”) Secondly, the “power of leniency” often requires greater knowledge, deeper understanding of the halakhah, than the “power of severity”: when in doubt, the stricter, negative answer is always the “default option,” the path of least resistance in terms of Torah knowledge. To give a lenient answer, within the parameters of halakhic authenticity, requires far greater understanding. Thus, a ferocious, militant approach like that of Rav Levanon— “It is better to stand before a firing squad than to listen to a woman singing”—may sound passionate and uncompromising, but it is doubtful whether it is good halakhah, as we shall see presently. I find it troubling that such an approach seems to be finding more and more adherents lately; indeed, one prominent rabbi who should have known better recently made the statement that those who invoke considerations of humane values, “ways of peace” and the like, are somehow inferior scholars or even inauthentic religiously.

The Halakhic Issue

Turning now to the halakhic issue of women singing per se: the basic source relating to our issue appears in Bavli Berakhot 24a:

א"ר יצחק: טפח באשה ערוה. למאי? אילימא לאסתכולי בה. והא אמר רב ששת: למה מנה הכתוב תכשיטין שבחוץ עם תכשיטין שבפנים? לומר לך, כל המסתכל באצבע קטנה של אשה כאילו מסתכל במקום התורף. אלא באשתו ולקריאת שמע. אמר רב חסדא: שוק באשה ערוה, שנאמר "גלי שוק עברי נהרות" (ישעיהו מז, ב) וכתיב "תגל ערותך וגם תראה חרפתך" (ישעיהו מז, ג). אמר שמואל: קול באשה ערוה, שנאמר "כי קולך ערב ומראך נאוה" (שיר השירים ב, יד). אמר רב ששת: שער באשה ערוה, שנאמר "שערך כעדר העזים" (שיר השירים ד, א).

R Yitzhak said: a handbreadth in a woman is ervah. Regarding what? Say: that it is forbidden to look at it. But has not Rav Sheshet already said: Why did Scripture enumerate the ornaments worn outside together with those ornaments that are worn within? [viz. those ornaments a woman is allowed to wear on Shabbat in the public domain]. To teach you that one who looks at the little finger of a woman as if he has looked at the place of her indecency. Rather, this [the measure of a handbreadth] refers to his own wife, and for purposes of reading Shema {i.e, that no part of her body may be exposed when he reads Shema].

Rabbi Hisda said: a woman’s calf is ervah, as is said… [he here quotes Isaiah 47:2-3 as prooftext].

Shmuel said: A woman’s voice is ervah, as is said “Your voice is pleasant and your appearance is comely” (Cant 2:14).

Rav Sheshet said: Hair in a woman is ervah, as is said…. [Cant 4:1 is quoted as prooftext].

Matters are presented even more sharply in b. Sotah 48a:

אמר רב יוסף: זמרי גברי ועני נשי, פריצותא. זמרי נשי ועני גברי, כאש בנעורת.
Rav Yosef said: If men sing and women answer, this is immodesty. If women sing and men answer, it is like fire in flax.

On the face of it, it would seem from this that listening to a woman’s voice is categorically prohibited. But several questions present themselves regarding the former passage (the latter, while more severe, is more aggadic than halakhic): 1) What is meant by ervah? 2) To what halakhic areas do these laws apply? 3) How are these laws to be applied today, and what mitigating circumstances might modify their application in contemporary society?

Ervah, in the narrow sense of the word, means “nakedness,” i.e., the genitalia of both sexes; by extension, it is applied to those parts of the body which are customarily covered (in most societies? And, does its definition vary according to the differing norms of times and place?) In the original context, it does not necessarily refer to that which is erotic or arouses sexual feelings, but more to that which is “unseemly.” Thus, the law banning ervah is brought in tandem with the rule that one may not recite Shema in the presence of excrement or other foul-smelling, unseemly things. If you will, there is a certain aesthetic of prayer, a certain squeamishness or reticence that one not recite God’s Name in the presence of certain things which are excessively earthy, which remind us of our purely bodily nature, in the grossest sense, whether related to sexuality or the expulsion of waster matter.

But, through the series of amoraic additions brought here, the definition is extended to include other parts of women’s bodies that are seen as sexually provocative or stimulating. Our sugya brings four categorical statements adding to the definition of ervah: that a woman’s calf (i.e., lower leg) is ervah; that her (singing) voice is ervah; that her hair is ervah (interestingly, this rule is usually interpreted as referring only to the hair of a married woman); and, finally, that the woman’s entire body is eroticized, is viewed as ervah (tefah be-ishah ervah). Many poskim go on to say that these limitations apply not only to prayer, to the recitation of Shema and Tefillah and other holy words, but also to life in general: that is, that men ought to avoid any potentially sexually tempting situations. The concept of ervah is thus extended here from the unseemly and the grossly physical, to the erotic.

It is beyond the scope of this paper to present a complete analysis of this subject in the rishonim and aharonim. For the interested reader I have included an appendix with a selection of some of the most salient texts in Hebrew; in addition, I refer the readers to two excellent articles, one in Hebrew and one in English, summarizing the halakhic argumentation.

Beyond that, I shall note here a few points mitigating towards leniency. First of all, already in the middle of the twentieth century Rabbi Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg of Berlin and Montreux, allowed mixed singing of Shabbat zemirot, particularly in the setting of religious youth movements and the like (see his Seridei Esh, vol. I, §76, p. 214 ff.). It would appear that he considered the problem of kol ishah to exist, if at all, only in the context of a solo female voice, recognizable as belonging to a distinct individual; wherever several voices sing simultaneously it no longer applied—thereby, it would seem, eliminating in one fell swoop the problem of the Army troupes. One of the major commentaries on the page of the Shulhan Arukh, Beit Shmuel, at Even ha-Ezer 21, reads the word ervah as referring, not to the voice but to a person: i.e., the voice of an ervah, of a woman biblically prohibited, such as a married woman or a close blood relation, is prohibited. While this view is not accepted by all, it would also limit the restriction so as not to apply to an unmarried woman (e.g., such as a hayelet).

In modern times, many authorities have held that the prohibition would only apply to a live performance, and not to a recording or broadcast (or webcast) media. Others add that the prohibition only applies where one is personally acquainted with the one singing, such that hearing her voice might conceivably have a seductive effect.

But the most far-reaching leniency relates to the answer to the question as to what kind of voice or song is prohibited in the first place. A concept found in more recent halakhic literature (I have been unable to find the earliest written source) is that of shirat ‘agavim—songs of passion or sensuality, that by their nature are erotically suggestive and even seductive. (see the introductory motto from the Odyssey, which indicates that the ancient Greeks were well aware of the potentially seductive and even irresistible quality of a woman’s voice). This would not necessarily even include every love song, but only those which emphasize the sexuality of the singer in a provocative way, through use of music, voice, words and body language. Thus, while many operas and musicals have romantic themes and include arias or songs in which the heroine declares her love for the hero, more often than not this is done in a stylized way such that it would be far-fetched to consider it as shirat agavim.

On the other hand, it is worth mentioning that women can also react to a man’s singing as shirat agavim—as deeply sexually arousing. Witness the “bobby-soxers” of the 1950’s swooning at Elvis Presley’s singing, and similar phenomena involving the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, etc.—not to mention the phenomenon of “groupies.”

A number of other sources suggest that the rules governing ervah are not necessarily meant to be applied in a simplistic, literal manner, but take into account the person’s subjective state of mind. Thus, in Issurei Biah 21.2 Rambam states that a man is not allowed to gaze at a woman to enjoy her beauty, but qualifies this in §3 to say that one is allowed to look at a particular woman whom one is contemplating marrying to see if one finds her attractive. But he then adds that one may not do so in a lewd or lustful manner (derekh zenut; in colloquial English: “undressing her with your eyes”). The question that arises is: how does one objectively distinguish between the two kinds of looking? The answer, it seems to me, is that it is impossible to do so in objective terms: one is forced to the conclusion that the man doing the looking must know his own subjective thoughts and intentions.

In the very next paragraph Rambam notes that a man may look at his wife when she is menstruating despite the fact that she is forbidden to him sexually at that time, because “as she will be permitted to him after a few days, this is not a stumbling block.” Again, the halakhah here is clearly cogniscent of the subjective dimension of temptation and arousal, and of a man’s ability to exercise a modicum of self-restraint over his thoughts and actions. (Indeed, elsewhere the Talmud states that a woman should not walk about in her home with slovenly appearance merely because she is menstruating and marital sex is not on the immediate agenda; to the contrary, she should dress attractively, and even makeup and jewelry if that is her usual practice, so as not to look disgusting to her husband.)

Finally, I wish to cite a very interesting passage from Arukh ha-Shulhan—an important and interesting halakhic compendium written by R. Barukh Halevi Epstein in the early 20th century—in which he discusses the issue of women’s hair covering in the modern Jewish setting. His approach there might well be applied to other issues, such as that of kol ishah. He begins by decrying the fact that many married women walk about with uncovered hair, as a breach of traditional tzeniut. But then, after expressing his moralistic–pietistic outrage, he does an abrupt, almost 180o turn: since the practice is common, he says, no one experiences “[erotic] thoughts” upon seeing a woman’s uncovered hair and, in effect, it is no longer ervah. (Orah Hayyim 75.7; Hebrew text below, in Appendix). In other words, social norms and customs are all-important regarding these matters.

Psychological And Meta-Halakhic Factors

Underlying these halakhic arguments, I would suggest that there has been a fundamental change in the modern world in the relations between men and women in society which requires a rethinking of the manner in which halakhot in these areas are to be interpreted and applied. It is this change which lies at the very crux of the matter.

Sexuality is a perennial problem. Men and women are attracted to one another by their very nature, and this attraction, often referred to by the tradition as Yetzer Hara (“the Evil Urge“) can, when not properly reined in and channeled, lead to problems and the commission of serious transgressions—and which, in turn, can carry far-reaching consequences for the family and for society in general. Historically, the tradition dealt with this problem by setting up “fences” and restrictions to limit contact between men and women, based upon the implicit assumption of social norms whereby the two sexes spent much of their lives in separate realms and in parallel, single-gender social networks. So long as these arrangements and norms were self-evident and widely accepted, and presumably provided avenues for personal fulfillment for members of both sexes within their highly differentiated and predetermined roles, things seem to have worked reasonably well. (But I would recall here Rambam’s comment Issurei Bi’ah 22.18-19 ff. that the laws of arayot, of sexual propriety, are the most difficult ones to observe in the entire Torah, and that there has never been a community in history in which this has not constituted a real problem for some individuals.)

In any event, things have changed in the modern world, for better or worse. Men and women increasingly live within the same social and vocational world. They receive similar educations, they work together in the same occupations, and they interact as equals in the worlds of business, the professions, academia, civil service, etc. Whether or not this is a good thing may be open to debate; it is an unquestionable fact of life, with the possible exception of those who build sequestered, ultra-Orthodox communities in which the old ways still predominant (and I question whether this is really the case even there).

Hence, the implementation of traditional harhakot (laws of separation or distancing) imposes limitations and constrictions that modern women find intolerable. Moreover, the traditional approach is seen by many as one which, by emphasizing the temptation represented by woman as a sexual object, objectifies her and thereby dehumanizes her. These issues thereby bring to the fore a conflict between two values: on the one hand, that of tzeniut and the taking of maximum precautions to avoid sexual misbehavior; on the other, kevod ha-adam, “human dignity”— facilitating women’s expression of their full humanity, in the broadest cultural, intellectual and spiritual way possible. (Daniel Sperber has developed this concept regarding the specific area of women reading and receiving aliyot to the Torah.)

This is well illustrated by the question of Kol Ishah. Let me mention here that two weeks ago Yaffa Yarkoni, one of the outstanding singers of the War of Independence, died at age 87. Her death prompted reflections that, without such women as Shoshana Damari, Yaffa Yarkoni, and Naomi Shemer, Israeli culture, and specifically its music, would be far poorer. Acquaintance with their voices and work would seem to be a basic part of familiarity with Israeli culture in general, just as such figures as Marion Anderson and Joan Sutherland are an integral part of Western musical culture in our day—and to these names one could add many others, both dead and living. More generally, when speaking of the pleasure experienced upon hearing a woman singing, most people would think of that pleasure in aesthetic and cultural, rather than in sexual terms.

This new socio-cultural situation requires a different way of dealing with the problem of sexuality and sexual temptations—a “third scripture that mediates between the two.” The solution lies in what those of us in the Ne’emanei Torah va-Avodah movement sometimes referred to as a “mixed but modest society.” The old way of separation through barriers is no longer feasible. The alternative option is what I would call inner control: that a person, or specifically the man (although part of the new world is a greater awareness of woman’s sexuality, her sexual imagination and desires, and even her ability to initiate a relationship—but that is another subject, that takes us too far afield), learns to remove sexual overtones or undertones from situations of everyday interaction with women. I might add that this is perhaps paradoxically facilitated by the fact that, in our day, what might be called the threshold of the erotic is much higher than it was in the past. Again, for better or worse, our culture is so saturated with sexual images and talk of sexuality—e.g., the most explicit sexual scenes are only a click away for anyone with a computer—that many of those things that, in a gone age, might have been considered erotic—e.g., the sight of a woman’s calf uncovered by stockings, or the proverbial “well-turned ankle”—goes unnoticed today.

In fact, Judaism has always acknowledged the role of what I refer to here as subjective controls. Thus, in Ketubot 17a, it is told that Rav Aha used to dance at weddings with the bride seated on his shoulders, explaining that it was not arousing because he saw her as no more than “a stick of wood.” Or there was Rav Gidal, who used to sit at the gate of the bath-house to instruct the women; when questioned about the supposed immodesty of such a practice, he said “They look to me like white geese” (Berakhot 20a). True, such laxity was traditionally only tolerated on the part of great tzaddikim—but perhaps our world is in some ways different.

In any event, the opposite extreme has its own dangers. A small anecdote to illustrate the point made earlier about the objectification of women. A friend of my wife spoke enthusiastically about a certain musar sefer (Hebrew ethical tract) containing spiritual exercises which she found spoke to her very deeply. From discussion of the book, we turned to a discussion of its author: when she mentioned that he, in fact, lived right in her neighborhood, I asked whether she had ever met him. Surely, if she liked the book so much, she would enjoy meeting the author and clarifying some of his ideas personally? She answered that she never did so, because she knew that, as a strictly pious Jew of the old school, he would not look her in the face while speaking with her but would turn his gaze aside—and this, she said, made her feel extremely uncomfortable, so that she avoided such meetings. (I should add that this woman dresses very modestly and is generally what would be called “very frum.”)

Another point: It seems clear to me that many of those invoking the “indecency” or ervah involved in women’s singing (or in seeing their hair, or elbows, or unstockinged calves) know that in actuality these are not really sexually arousing. Rather, because these things are prohibited by the halakhic tradition, from the Talmud through the Shulhan Arukh and beyond, one is obligated to regard them as such, and act accordingly in terms of one’s behavior—even to the extent implied by Rabbi Levanon’s rhetoric. The issue is thus not one of modesty vs. sexual licentiousness, but rather of literal adherence to the written halakhah vs. what might be called a more situational, cultural-contextually-determined approach. And for the latter, I would argue, there is much historical precedent.

I shall conclude with a story that has been variously told about a pair of Hasidism or a pair of Buddhist monks. Two pious men were walking through a forest. At a certain point they came to a river, where they encountered a beautiful young women, festively dressed, who told them that she was going to a friends’ wedding and needed to cross the river without soiling her fine clothing. One of the two men, without hesitating, hoisted her upon his shoulders, carried her across, and put her down on the other side. She thanked him for his help, and they went their separate ways. The two men continued walking through the forest together and, after some time, the other man turned to his companion: “I don’t understand how you could do it!” “Do what?” “Why, touch a woman’s body in such an intimate way—picking her up, placing her legs around your head, and carrying her!” The other answered: “I put her down hours ago. You’re still carrying her around in your head!”


[1]Rav Levanon’s statement, if not intended as hyperbole, is presumably based on the argument this issue is one of cardinal religious importance, falling under the rubric of יהרג ולא יעבר . The presumption would be that this category includes not only actual acts of giluy arayot, improper sexual acts, but also אבזרייהו דעריות—that is, those acts which are adjunct to sexual prohibitions, and as such are also subject to the law of “die rather than violate them.” (I saw this idea developed, for example, in a pamphlet by the late Rav Unterman on the above concept.)

But if kol be-ishah ervah is not an integral part of the laws of arayot, but simply a Rabbinic seyag, and at that not even adopted by the Sages as a formal takkanah, this argument is greatly weakened. In this context, I would note the distinction between those things to be avoided as kirvah—as intimacy which gives pleasure and which might lead to actual intercourse, defined by Rambam in Issurei Bi’ah 21.1 and Sefer ha-Mitzvot, lav §353 as prohibited by Torah law—and those defined as harhakot—distancing oneself from excessive closeness, which are classified as Rabbinic.

[2]His paper is quite possibly the most important study of the changes in Orthodoxy in the post-World War II world. See Haym Soloveitchik, “Rapture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy,” Tradition 28:4 (Summer 1994), 64-130; reprinted in Jews in America: A Contemporary Reader, eds. R. Rosenberg and C. I. Waxman (Hanover NH: Brandeis University Press, 1999), 276-320.

[3]Saul J. Berman,”Kol ‘Isha,” The Rabbi Joseph H. Lookstein Memorial Volume, ed. Leo Landman, (New York: Ktav, 1980), 45-66; David Bigman, “’Iyyun mehudash be’kol be-isha ervah,’” Kolekh, at www.kolekh.org.il/show.asp?id=28988/. In addition, I would mention a paper by Tamar Ross, “The Feminist Contribution to Halakhic Discourse: Kol Be-Isha Erva as a Test Case,” Emor 1 (2010), 37 ff., dealing primarily with methodological and other issues pertaining to the contribution of women and feminist consciousness to halakhic discourse.

Appendix: Hebrew Sources

בבלי, ברכות כ"ד ע"א

א"ר יצחק: טפח באשה ערוה. למאי? אילימא לאסתכולי בה. והא אמר רב ששת: למה מנה הכתוב תכשיטין שבחוץ עם תכשיטין שבפנים? לומר לך, כל המסתכל באצבע קטנה של אשה כאילו מסתכל במקום התורף. אלא באשתו ולקריאת שמע. אמר רב חסדא: שוק באשה ערוה, שנאמר "גלי שוק עברי נהרות" (ישעיהו מז) וכתיב "תגל ערותך וגם תראה חרפתך" (ישעיהו מז). אמר שמואל: קול באשה ערוה, שנאמר "כי קולך ערב ומראך נאוה" (שיר השירים ב). אמר רב ששת: שער באשה ערוה, שנאמר "שערך כעדר העזים" (שיר השירים ד). בבלי, סוטה מח, א אמר רב יוסף: זמרי גברי ועני נשי, פריצותא. זמרי נשי ועני גברי, כאש בנעורת.

רמב"ם, הלכות קריאת שמע, פרק ג

טז כשם שאסור לקרות כנגד צואה ומימי רגליים, עד שירחיק, כך אסור לקרות כנגד הערווה, עד שיחזיר פניו. אפילו גוי או קטן, לא יקרא כנגד ערוותן. ואפילו הייתה מחיצה של זכוכית מפסקת, הואיל והוא רואה את הערווה, אסור לקרות, עד שיחזיר פניו. וכל גוף האישה ערווה; לפיכך לא יסתכל בגוף האישה כשהוא קורא: ואפילו אשתו--אם היה מגולה טפח מגופה, לא יקרא כנגדה.

רמב"ם, הלכות איסורי ביאה, פרק כ"א

א כל הבא על ערווה מן העריות דרך איברים, או שחיבק ונישק דרך תאווה ונהנה בקירוב בשר--הרי זה לוקה מן התורה, שנאמר "לבלתי עשות מחוקות התועבות" (ויקרא יח,ל), ונאמר "לא תקרבו לגלות ערווה" (שם, ו). כלומר לא תקרבו לדברים המביאין לידי גילוי ערווה. והעושה דבר מחוקות אלו, הרי הוא חשוד על העריות.

ב ואסור לאדם לקרוץ בידיו וברגליו או לרמוז בעיניו, לאחת מן העריות; וכן לשחק עימה, או להקל ראש. ואפילו להריח בשמים שעליה, או להביט ביופייה--אסור; ומכין המתכוון לדבר זה, מכת מרדות. והמסתכל אפילו באצבע קטנה של אישה, ונתכוון ליהנות--כמי שנסתכל במקום התורף; אפילו לשמוע קול הערווה, או לראות שיערה--אסור.

ג וכל הדברים האלו, אסורין בחייבי לאוין. ומותר להסתכל בפני הפנויה ולבודקה, בין בתולה בין בעולה--כדי שיראה אם היא נאה בעיניו, יישאנה; ואין בזה צד איסור: ולא עוד, אלא ראוי לעשות כן. אבל לא יסתכל דרך זנות, הרי הוא אומר "ברית כרתי לעיניי, ומה אתבונן על בתולה" (איוב לא,א).

ד ומותר לאדם להביט באשתו כשהיא נידה, ואף על פי שהיא ערווה, ואף על פי שיש לו הנאת לב בראייתה: הואיל והיא מותרת לו לאחר זמן, אינו בא בזה לדבר מכשול. אבל לא ישחק ולא יקל ראש עימה, שמא ירגיל לעבירה.

ערוך השלחן, אורח חיים, סי' ע"ה

ז. ועתה בואו ונצווח על פרצות דורינו בעונותינו הרבים, שזה שנים רבות שנפרצו בנות ישראל בעון זה והולכות בגילוי הראש, וכל מה שצעקו על זה הוא לא לעזר ולא להועיל. ועתה פשתה המספחת שהנשואות הולכות בשערותן כמו הבתולות. אוי לנו שעלתה בימינו כך! מיהו, על כל פנים, לדינא נראה שמותר לנו להתפלל ולברך כנגד ראשיהן המגולות כיון שעתה רובן הולכות כך והוה כמקומות המגולים בגופה, וכמו שכתב המרדכי בשם הראבי"ה בסוף פרק ג' וזה לשונו: כל הדברים שהזכרנו לערוה דווקא בדבר שאין רגילות להגלות, אבל בתולה הרגילה בגילוי שיער לא חיישינן דליכא הרהור. עד כאן לשונו. וכיון שאצלנו גם הנשואות כן, ממילא דליכא הרהור (והרי"ף והרמב"ם השמיטו לגמרי דין שיער וקול משום דסברי להון דלאו לקריאת שמע איתמר. עב"י [עיין בית יוסף?]


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