Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Shmiras Einayim - How Far Must One Go?

Shmiras Einayim (guarding your eyes) is the idea that one should take care to avoid looking at images and people who might elicit sexual thoughts and fantasies.

The question arises as to what those images are. Are they the same for all people? Is it the same for men as for women? Do individual differences come into play? 

I don’t think that this is an issue for women. It is a male problem. And the answer to the question is subjective.

A lot depends on nature and a lot depends on nurture.  I happen to believe that the nature of the human male to respond to erotic visual images is dealt with in Judaism by the laws of Erva. Anything beyond that is nurture. So in a vacuum when a normal heterosexual man sees a woman who is dressed immodestly by Torah standards it will elicit improper thoughts.

On the other hand in those cultures where it is common for women to dress slightly less modest by Torah standards, such sights do not generally give way to improper thoughts since men are so used to seeing them that way… as long as the society in which one lives considers it modest.  A woman wearing a sleeveless dress for example will rarely elicit improper thoughts in most American men.

Unfortunately in our time some women feel very comfortable wearing the most immodest of clothing by any standard of western civilization. Especially in the summer time. Although impulses by men who encounter them are for the most part controlled, most men will definitely notice these women and improper thoughts may soon follow. This is where Shmiras Enayim comes in. One should try and avoid staring at improperly dressed women like that. Just as they should avoid looking at provocative billboard ads like those of Victoria’s Secret.

But nurture can go the other way. If one rarely sees any women publicly as is the case in certain Chasidic circles, then even a Halachicly very modestly dressed women may elicit improper thoughts. This is why many Chasidic publications do not publish pictures of women no matter how modest their dress is… even if they are covered from the neck down to the toe in a loose fitting outfit. In my view – it is the desire to reach that demographic that magazines like Mishpacha and Ami have decided not to publish any pictures of women  even though they world probably agree that there is nothing wrong with it, Halachicly.

Taking nurture to the extreme - Muslim women who cover themselves up in Burkas would probably elicit improper thoughts in Muslim men if they would dare to dress in the more revealing standard of a Meah Shearim woman.

Bottom line - once you are past the basic requirement to cover up Erva it’s all about what you’re used to.

How far does a man have to go to avoid seeing a provocatively dressed woman (or image of a woman)? As always, common sense and self restraint should prevail. You do the best you can to avoid staring at those images. If you accidently encounter it, you should simply avert your eyes.

But in certain circles common sense and self restraint has nothing to do with how one lives. As with many other things it’s all about going to any extreme to accomplish the goal. Some of which are so ridiculous that it would make a laughing stock out of us if we were all to adopt them.

There was a letter in Hamodia’s May 16th issue in the Reader’s Forum that promoted a ‘genius’ of an idea in this regard. This fellow has had difficulty in airports and in airplanes. I guess seeing female flight attendants or some of the female passengers have caused him to have impure thoughts.

His solution? Transparent stickers over your glasses that will blur everything you look at. And if you don’t wear glasses, buy a pair of glasses with clear lenses and place the stickers over them. This way you could look straight at people and have no clue what they really look like. Problem solved.

Does the individual who wrote that letter really think that no one would realize what we were doing if all of us would start wearing ‘stickies’ on our glasses?

I can see it now. The next Asifa:  Shmiras Enayim - Solutions to the Pitfalls of the Street.  Will these stickers be promoted as one of the solutions? What’s next? Will someone come up with an even more ridiculous idea that will offer even more protection? Like maybe a blindfold and a seeing eye dog?

If Hamodia hadn’t published this story, I would have thought this was some sort of parody. Sadly, it isn’t. The writer was as serious about it as a heart attack. And Hamodia must have felt the same way since they published the letter without comment.