Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden

Posing naked in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem

I understand the happiness of making a living through one’s craziness, so the delight of exhibitionists who are able to shock, get publicity and make lots of money from exposing themselves. The question is, however, can society tolerate this.

There are several topics involved in this news item.

But for starters, I have no tolerance for people cursing them and threatening them. Their sin does not warrant ours.

  1. A Jewish Vision on the History of Nude Posing

The nude Olympics were in the buff because that society celebrated hedonism. It is pleasant to see nude athletes. Hedonism is: the more feelings of pleasure, the better one’s life. (By the way, these were terrible cultures, with very few rich men living it up and the rest considered worthless.) Judaism tries to help us elevate pleasures so that they’ll be deeper and longer-lasting.

Classical Christianity tried to go the opposite direction, declaring holy anyone who wished to avoid all pleasures as much as possible. Sex especially became totally the work of the Satan. Nuns and priests should not even marry and the ordinary faithful should keep sex to the absolute minimum just enough to create the next generation.

Five hundred years ago, European nobles sometimes let themselves be portrayed in the nude to show their nobility. They were so pure, they had nothing to hide. This would be unthinkable in Jewish society, though King David once danced revealing himself to the delight of the city’s girls but that seems the exception that confirms the Jewish rule.

In modernity, nakedness is often seen as a sign of sophistication and progressiveness. The pendulum seems to have swung back beyond Christianity towards the old Greeks again. Jewish Law tries to protect us against the fads (and craze) of the day.

Meanwhile, Jews hold that earthly pleasures must be enjoyed as G^d’s gifts to us – within set limits. To completely refrain is offensive to the Giver and arrogant as if you stand above human needs. For public nudeness though, there is no Jewish middle ground.

  1. Judaism has a Clear Position on Nudity

First a few introductory remarks.

Nowadays, some Orthodox Jews in their prudery seem to endeavor to imitate classical Christians, a hallmark of assimilation that they mistake for holiness. The would never use the word sex (“intimacy” is already lewd to them) as if that would be unclean. I will not go into that here.

A special case is fanatical young Jewish men refusing to look at women. It says that we should not spy on or investigate women, meaning looking at them from the corner of our eyes or checking them out, or staring at them. But simply looking (and smiling) was never forbidden.

Judaism sees sexuality as holy, rather than sinful. Boundless sex does not dirty us but insults its holiness, specialness. Sexuality should be reserved for special occasions and conditions. Therefore, Judaism does not consider overexposure of skin as filthy. Rather than degrading the person, it cheapens sexuality.

Since sex is holy and should be about two people deeply connecting and it’s not good to be alone, pornography for Judaism is out of the question. One person’s trash is another’s porn. It depreciates sexuality, the people portrayed and especially the people watching.

The Jewish Tradition has three elegant reasons to limit exposure of skin

A. Person

So, nudeness is not out because it’s filthy. There is a special reason why people should dress modestly. When we show too much flesh, most people won’t be able to see our person anymore. That’s why the rabbis won’t encourage veils. In faces we see personalities. Veils are tantalizing and counterproductive.

If you don’t want to be seen as a sex toy, maybe dress up so that people more easily can see who you are, hear what you think and connect to your soul, without being blinded by sexual fantasies when looking at your outside. (People who dressed down instead of up, still should be treated with full respect. That responsibility is on the onlooker.

B. Privacy

Openness is good. It connects us and so diminishes isolation and loneliness. The Torah tells us early on that it’s not good to be alone.

However, there are things that are private. Not because they can’t stand up to the light of day, but because our closeness and intimacy are diminished when we reveal to all which should be kept between lovers.

Besides, since jealousy is such a big thing, not exposing all one’s assets (in the widest sense of the word) would help many people not to envy

C. Prayer

Also, we are taught not to mix prayer, blessings or Jewish learning by men with: bareheadedness (lack of awareness of G^d), sex (when you connect to Him, don’t connect to her), or too much female flesh or male genitalia including your own (remembrances of foreplay).

  1. Is the Holy Wall Holier Than Thou?

The Rabbis take sinning in public as graver than in privacy. (But the Sages see a thief by night as worse than a thief by day, because the latter obviously doesn’t know the difference between mine and thine, while the former appears to have shame and fear to be caught by people but is lacking a fear of Heaven and its punishment.) Sinning in public not only lowers the threshold for others to follow suit but also reveals a brazenness that compounds the severity of violations. Bashfulness is so much a Jewish trait that a lack of it questions one’s Jewishness.

On top of that, a high degree of selfishness is exposed (pun intended) when one wants to do what feels good without taking into account the feelings of bystanders. This is especially true for immodesty that would lead normal heterosexual men to sexual fascination. That is not fair as they are extra vulnerable in that area. It would be comparable to men walking the street scanning “Sex, sex, sex, sex.” Nothing wrong with it at first glance but very intimidating nevertheless.

(Of course, it’s kind of ironic that Judaism’s modesty principles designed to stop men seeing women as objects for lust are now experienced by many women as restraining them.)

Still, if walking around stark naked in public is worse than at home, would it be still more disturbing in front of the Holy Wall? Why?

We’ve had the recent “scandal” when new cars were showed off at the Temple plaza. Their mundaneness would have degraded the Wall’s holiness. But did it?

The Rabbis teach that we should not undress in front of holy books. Obviously, that is not because the books would get hurt. It would rather teach you not to have respect for their holiness.

The person posing stark naked in front of the Western Wall (from a rooftop) obviously doesn’t know about holiness, modesty or intimacy in the Jewish sense of the word. She degrades herself and is not even aware of it. But she does not disgrace the Wall when she includes it as a gimmick. The Wall is greater than that. (Besides, she’s protesting the anti-sexuality obsession of the RC Church of her native Belgium, which – as I mentioned above – has no bearing on Judaism.)

My Conclusion

This affair reminds me of a story from Amsterdam where one day, a confused man walked into the synagogue completely naked. One of the richest men had the modesty to rush over to the guy with a coat to cover him up. No one was offended; everyone felt bad for the fellow.

About the Author
DES survivor born in 1953, to two Holocaust survivors in The Netherlands, and holds a BA in medicine. He taught Re-evaluation Co-counseling, became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three kids. Wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. For decades known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. Always trying to bring something original, and to avoid boring you or wasting your time with the obvious.
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