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Viewing Immodest Art

Since the Gemara in Sotah (8a) clearly rules that ein yeitzeir hora sholeit ela bameh she’einav ro’os–does this mean that one will suffer no ill consequences from seeing private areas of a woman who is now dead? What can be wrong with visiting a museum of renaissance paintings?


Concerning the teaching of the Gemara, I don’t think the proof is valid.

The Gemara is referring to a case where a woman is killed by Beis Din. The Gemara writes that onlooking people will not be led to improper thoughts, because the woman is dead. The Gemara asks that perhaps the onlookers will have improper thoughts about living women, due to the sight of the dying woman. The Gemara responds that the yetzer hara does not wield a hold over that which the eye does not see.

This thus means that when a person is looking at a living woman, the memory of the dead woman will not entice them to sin.

The question, however, is what about improper thoughts at the time of her death? Are we to say that because she dies, and therefore there is no concern for sin, we do not care about improper thoughts? This would be in contradiction with a number of sources that teach of how a person must be wary for his thoughts, even when they will not lead him to actual sin.

It therefore seems that concerning the killed woman, there is no concern for improper thoughts, because the situation of a woman being killed does not inspire improper thoughts (a similar sevara is stated concerning a funeral).

This is not the case for works of art, which are often painted in a manner that especially inspires improper thoughts. Gazing at such works can be an infringement of megareh yetzer hara bekirbo, awakening the yetzer in oneself.

Furthermore, irrespective of the Gemara, the reality is that such works of art do inspite improper thoughts. If we were to permit nudist art, we could for the same price permit photos and video material. There might be room to make a distinction, but hardly enough for a convincing argument.

I understand that these halachos do present problems for the art-lover, but I don’t see a reasonable heter.

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  1. What is the justification then for seforim printed many a long time ago that had images of woman bare breasted?

    (I will refrain from posting examples from seforim easily available online to see the cover pages — unless someone is in fact interested…It is known that there were gedolei achronim who had these seforim with such covers … However they never wrote anything against this.)

    I am certainly not coming to say one should look at art work with improper images, rather trying to understand what exists already among us — how can that be muter!
    Also see the gemorah in Avodah Zara where one of the chochamim was in a bath house with a naked stature of aphrodite, how could that be?
    Also see one place in Nach where it writes that in the Beis HaHamikdash there were paintings of angels in intimate embracing…(although the location of this escapes me at the moment.)

    1. The justification is that for medical purposes, for halachic purposes, and so on, there is no prohibition of seeing diagrams etc. This is possibly true even for “decorative” purposes. However, if the poses are specifically designed to be erotic, inspiring desire and improper thoughts, I don’t see a justification. I think experience teaches us that there is a fairly significant difference between diagrams etc. and nude-art. I understand that there remains a significant distinction between art and pornography, but nonetheless it is difficult to permit the practice.

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