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Home » Miscellaneous

Modesty : Look but don't Touch

Submitted by on November 12, 2004 – 3:45 pmNo Comment | 2,618 views

aphorism ordinarily associated with storefront merchandise has become a
humorous reference to relationships. “You may look at another person’s
wife,’ goes the common adage, ‘but you may not touch.”

The underlying message is that no harm is done when a person admires, and maybe even desires, a member of the opposite sex.

A friend
once confided that shortly after his wedding he and his wife were
waiting at a red light when an attractive woman crossed the street. He
deliberately looked the other way but heard his wife accuse, “but you
wanted to look!” His quick response was, “hey, if I’m gonna get it for
not looking I may as well get it for looking.”

western standards we would pardon the husband and accuse the wife of
unwarranted jealousy. Let’s examine the Jewish perspective.

Midrash teaches that man’s eyes and heart are agents of sin – what the
eye sees, the heart desires. In this vein the Torah instructs us not to
follow the lead of our heart and eyes lest we go astray. (Numbers 15,
39) The Talmud explains that, among other things, this verse speaks to
marital infidelity.

emerging pattern indicates that the Torah views straying eyes as an
enticement to sin. The eyes trigger a desire so overbearing that
extrication is exceedingly difficult.

disagreement exists on whether this Halacha is rabbinic or biblical
there is unanimous agreement that lascivious gazing at a member of the
opposite sex is forbidden. Our sages might have re-coined the phrase
“look but don’t touch” into, “Don’t look so that you won’t touch.”

What is the underlying basis for such radical disagreement between Torah and Western Standards?

values demand that we view our fellow man through utopian lenses and
trust him to live up to moral standards. Legislating where and when he
may look demonstrates a lack of faith in man’s innate ability to be
disciplined when necessary.

in this view is the assumption that when aroused it is correct to cut
off the stimulation and thus stifle the ensuing physical arousal. As
such, what harm is there in looking and risking arousal if we trust it
will never be actualized?

views as counter intuitive the disciplining of passion and the stifling
of arousal. In the Torah’s view, physical arousal is a healthy reaction
to stimulation; it is the way things ought to be. G-d created the human
body with a functional system and we mustn’t disrupt that system.

aroused, we therefore find ourselves in a quandary. It is unhealthy to
cut off the arousal but it is immoral to surrender to it. The first
option destroys the body the second destroys the soul. Torah therefore
concludes that since looking breeds temptation, it should best be

today’s open society many feel free to explore. Yet with all our
openness and understanding the divorce rate is incredibly high. Is it
possible that after years of engaging temptation and subsequently
stifling our natural responses we have lost our healthy ability to
respond to stimulation?