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Why do very religious Jewish men avoid looking at women?

by Rabbi Baruch Emanuel Erdstein

  

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Every ism in the world acknowledges the power of sexuality. Every spiritual tradition thus demands of its spiritual masters either complete self-denial or the channeling of one's sexual energy in one way or another. Unlike other cultures, in which a select few remove themselves from the general society in order to attain "perfection," Judaism encourages each one of us to not only aspire to be a spiritual master in our own right, but to do so within a productive worldly context. But because the holy creative potential of sexuality is so great, it is that much more susceptible to perversion and must be carefully guarded.

The root of all aspirations for holiness begin with sanctifying the mind, and more than any other sense, that of sight has the most influence upon one's thoughts.

For a person who has come to develop his spiritual stature, having refined his sexual energies, it is that much more apparent that sights which might distract one's spiritual focus are to be avoided, even at great expense. Especially in modern society, where so few are attuned to the holy creative power of sexuality, often dressing immodestly (or even intentionally provocative!), many choose to protect themselves by not even glancing in the direction of a strange women.

This should not be taken as a sign of arrogance or disdain. However "unfriendly" it may appear to someone less familiar with the importance Judaism stresses upon guarding our sexuality, great respect is due to those who maintain their steadfast commitment to their spiritual path.

It should be noted that Halachah does not require a man to turn away his eyes at the sight of a woman. However, it is forbidden for a man to stare at a woman other than his (prospective) wife.


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Staring

Posted by: Anonymous on May 11, 2005

It is forbidden for a man to stare at a woman? Where is this halacha from? And does it apply to women as well - ie not staring at men? Technically speaking, what's considered "staring"?

I've never heard of this one....

Editor's Comment

1. This Halachah is taken from the Talmud (Shabbat 64b; Avodah Zarah 21a).
Concerning forbidden sexual relationships the verse says (Leviticus 18:6) that one should not "come near" to uncover their nakedness. From the prohibition not to "come near" (as opposed to just prohibiting the sexual act) we extrapolate that one must keep a distance so as not to be tempted.
The Talmud (Shabbat 64b), Maimonidies (laws of Forbidden Relationships 21:2), and numerous other books of Jewish law state clearly that it is forbidden to gaze at women for the purpose of enjoying their beauty.

2. The law does not clearly prohibit women from staring at a man because women by nature are not as easily seduced by good looks as are their male counterparts. Naturally, if a particular woman, or any woman in a particular situation, finds herself erotically attracted by the appearance of a man, she may not stare at him either.

3. A man does not have to avert his eyes when speaking to a woman. "Staring" means looking for the sake of gaining pleasure from the person's looks.


RELATED CATEGORIES

Women & Judaism » Women's Issues

Halachah
Jewish Law. All halachah which is applicable today is found in the Code of Jewish Law.