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Avodah Zarah, 20


OPINIONS: The Gemara quotes a Beraisa that relates that once, when Raban Shimon ben Gamliel saw an idolatrous woman who was beautiful, he exclaimed, "How abundant are Your works, Hashem!" (Tehilim 104:24). The Gemara later asks how was it permitted for him to look at her? The Torah commands, "v'Nishmarta mi'Kol Davar Ra" -- "You shall guard yourself from any evil thing" (Devarim 23:10); this verse requires a person to protect himself from seeing things ("Mistakel") which later might cause him to have forbidden thoughts. The Gemara answers that the case of Raban Shimon ben Gamliel was different, because it was a case of "Keren Zavis," a corner. RASHI explains that when a person turns a corner, exiting one alley and entering another, he might suddenly cross paths with another person (who is turning the opposite way) and he will not have time to close his eyes. Raban Shimon ben Gamliel did not see the woman approaching and did not have a chance to close his eyes.

What are the parameters of the prohibition against looking at a woman? (See also Insights to Shabbos 149:2, Bava Basra 168:1.)

(a) The S'MA (CM 154:14) explains that there is also difference between the act of "Histaklus" and the act of "Re'iyah." "Histaklus" refers to seeing by chance, without intention to look at the person or thing. "Re'iyah" refers to intentionally looking at a person or thing. According to the S'ma, it seems that it is prohibited even to briefly glance at a woman, and one should be careful to avoid situations in which he might need to glance at a woman.

(b) Many others dispute this view. The BEIS YOSEF (OC 229) writes that the definitions of "Histaklus" and "Re'iyah" are the opposite of what the S'ma writes. The Gemara in Chagigah (16a) explains, according to one opinion, that when the Mishnah there (11b) says that "anyone who does not have compassion for the honor of his Creator is better off having not been created," it is referring to one who looks at a rainbow. The TUR (ibid.) rules that it is prohibited to "gaze profusely at a rainbow" ("Mistakel Bo Harbei"). The Beis Yosef quotes the AVUDRAHAM who writes that the ROSH was asked how is it permitted to look at a rainbow in order to recite the special blessing for a rainbow if one is not supposed to look at it? The Rosh replied that "Ro'eh" (seeing) is not the same as "Mistakel" (gazing, which is prohibited). He describes "Mistakel" as an act of continuously and intently looking at the object. According to this, the Gemara here, too, is prohibiting only gazing ("Mistakel") at a woman, but not glancing or looking in passing.

The MAGEN AVRAHAM (OC 225:20) discusses a similar question regarding looking at an evildoer. The Gemara says that it is prohibited to gaze ("Mistakel") at the face of a Rasha. What does this mean? The Magen Avraham explains that this means that one is not allowed to take a long look, concentrating on his image and figure. One is allowed to "look" ("Ro'eh") in passing at a Rasha, though.

The SEDER YAKOV cites many authorities who question the statement of the Magen Avraham from our Gemara. If there is a fundamental difference between "Histaklus" and "Re'iyah," then why does the Gemara not answer its question by saying simply that Raban Shimon ben Gamliel merely "saw" ("Ro'eh") the woman and did not "gaze" ("Mistakel") at her? This is also a question on the Beis Yosef.

The NETZIV (in HA'EMEK SHE'EILAH 52) answers that Raban Shimon ben Gamliel clearly did not merely glance in passing at the woman. The fact that he praised Hashem for this woman's beauty means that he concentrated on it. The Gemara answers that he did not purposely look at her; he merely encountered her suddenly at a "Keren Zavis" (see IGROS MOSHE OC 40 who also explains the Gemara in this manner). The Netziv concludes that the premise of the Beis Yosef is correct with regarding to the definition of "Histaklus." He describes the Mitzvah of "v'Nishmarta" as referring to looking in a way that causes one to have forbidden thoughts (as implied by the Gemara on 20b). Looking in a way that will not lead to such thoughts is permitted. However, it is appropriate to be stringent, so that one should not end up looking with improper intentions.

(c) The BI'UR HALACHAH cites support for the Magen Avraham from our Gemara. He says that "Histaklus" can sometimes refer to intent gazing, and sometimes to seeing inadvertently. He points out that our Gemara asks a question only from the Isur of looking at a woman. Why does it not ask about from the Isur of looking at a Rasha, which would apply even if the idolatrous woman was a man? It must be that looking at a Rasha is, as the Magen Avraham states, prohibited only when one gazes intently. This is why the Gemara did not question Raban Shimon ben Gamliel's conduct from the Isur of looking at a Rasha. The Gemara instead questions his conduct from the Isur of looking at a woman, where even looking, without concentrated intent, is prohibited.

The Bi'ur Halachah clearly understands the Magen Avraham to be saying that the Isur of looking at a woman is more severe than the Isur of looking at a Rasha, even though the Gemara uses the term "Histaklus" with regard to both. Since the Bi'ur Halachah, later in the Shulchan Aruch (OC 239), does not discuss this with regard to looking at a rainbow, we may assume that he applies there the same definition of "Histaklus" that he applies to the Isur of looking at a Rasha.

The Seder Yakov challenges the proof of the Bi'ur Halachah. First, why would the Gemara question Raban Shimon ben Gamliel's conduct from the Isur against looking at a Rasha, which is only an Isur d'Rabanan, when it could question his conduct from an Isur d'Oraisa (gazing at a woman)? Second, perhaps the woman was not a Rasha and the Isur of looking at a Rasha did not apply.

Even though this Bi'ur Halachah seems to argue on the other opinions, he might still agree with the Magen Avraham's definition of "Histaklus" in the case of a Rasha as being intense and constant gazing. When the Bi'ur Halachah says that *any* "Histaklus" at women is forbidden, he means merely that if it is done intentionally even for a short period of time it is also forbidden. This is apparent from the words of the MISHNAH BERURAH (OC 75:7), who writes that the prohibition of "Histaklus" involves "looking in order to have pleasure." This obviously does not exclude looking for even the shortest period of time with such intent. He continues and says that simply looking without pleasure is permitted, although it is not proper to do so (it is not "mi'Tzad ha'Musar"). He adds that the MINCHAS SHMUEL writes that an Adam Chashuv, an important person whose conduct serve as an example for others, should be careful even in this case.

The Igros Moshe (OC 1:40, 4:15) also states that the prohibition of "v'Nishmarta" refers to looking at a woman with intention to gaze at her and derive pleasure from viewing her, similar to the explanation of the Netziv. However, he states that it is still imperative that every man look downwards as much as possible while he is walking in a public place. He qualifies this by adding that a person should not make himself into one who never looks where he is going, thereby colliding with objects or with other people, causing injury to himself or others (see Sotah 22b). The Seder Yakov says that this is apparent from our Gemara. After all, Raban Shimon ben Gamliel himself was looking upwards when the woman passed in front of him. (Y. Montrose)


QUESTION: The Beraisa states that we learn from the verse, "v'Nishmarta mi'Kol Davar Ra" -- "You shall guard yourself from any evil thing" (Devarim 23:10), that it is prohibited to have sinful thoughts during the day which might lead to becoming Tamei at night.

There is a similar precept in the Gemara in Berachos (12b). The Gemara there states that the reason why the Chachamim instituted that the Parshah of Tzitzis be recited as part of the reading of Keri'as Shema is because it contains five important topics. One of these topics is that a person must refrain from thinking sinful thoughts about women, which is expressed by the verse, "v'Lo Sasuru [Acharei Levavchem] v'Acharei Einechem" -- "You shall not turn away [after your heart and] after your eyes" (Bamidbar 15:39)."

Why are both of these verses -- "v'Nishmarta" and "v'Lo Sasuru" -- necessary? They both seem to be teaching the same thing!


(a) The SEMAK (Lavin 30) answers that the Isur of "v'Lo Sasuru" is a prohibition against looking at women in a promiscuous manner ("Derech Z'nus"). The Isur of "v'Nishmarta," on the other hand, is a prohibition against looking even without any promiscuous intent, but only with intent to enjoy an attractive sight.

RAV MOSHE FEINSTEIN zt'l in IGROS MOSHE (EH 1:69) gives a similar explanation. Our Gemara prohibits looking at all types of things which might cause a person to have sinful thoughts (such as the colored clothing of a woman one knows, animals mating, etc.). The purpose of this prohibition is so that the man not experience Tum'ah later because of the thoughts he had earlier in the day. It follows that this prohibition applies even when one is not having promiscuous thoughts at the moment that he is viewing these things.

The Isur of "v'Lo Sasuru" is a different prohibition altogether. This Isur mandates that a person not think of committing the sin of promiscuity. (It is reasonable to suggest that Rav Moshe understands the Semak, who says that "v'Lo Sasuru" means looking at a woman with promiscuous intent, means that the Isur of "Lo Sasuru" applies only when the man's thoughts would constitute a sin if they were manifested in action; when, however, there is no prohibition for him to have relations with the woman (for example, she is unmarried and Tahor), then this prohibition would not apply.)

We now understand the different practical aspects of each commandment. The Isur of "v'Lo Sasuru" involves thinking about having forbidden relationships. This Isur, therefore, applies equally to women as it does to men. It would not apply, it seems, to a single woman who is not a Nidah, since having relations with her is not Asur mid'Oraisa. However, "v'Nishmarta" tells us that a man may not look at women for pleasure at all, since it might cause him to become Tamei later. This Isur applies to a single, Tahor girl as well, as the Gemara teaches.

RAV TZVI PESACH FRANK (as cited in TZITZ ELIEZER 15:53) argues with this understanding. He comments on the Gemara's phraseology that a person "should not have sinful thoughts [about women] during the day *and come to Tum'ah at night*." Why does the Gemara need to add the last phrase, regarding encountering Tum'ah at night? It must be that since such sinful thoughts cause a person to transgress the Isur of becoming Tamei, one must do all he can in order to avoid such thoughts which lead to Tum'ah. Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank suggests that if a person had sinful thoughts but they did not cause him to become Tamei later, then he did not transgress the Isur d'Oraisa of "v'Nishmarta." The Torah is merely giving a safeguard to prevent transgressing the Isur of becoming Tamei. The Chachamim therefore state that the Torah is telling us that one should not have sinful thoughts because they will bring him to Tum'ah.

RAV SHLOMO ZALMAN AUERBACH zt'l (as cited in Tzitz Eliezer ibid.) and the TZITZ ELIEZER himself argue that this suggestion of Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank cannot be correct. When the Chachamim stated that it is prohibited to have sinful thoughts, they made a blanket prohibition because of what *might* happen as a result of the thoughts, regardless of whether or not it actually happens. Hence, even if the person does not end up becoming Tamei, he still transgresses "v'Nishmarta" (or at least the Isur d'Rabanan of "v'Nishmarta").

(b) The RAMBAN (in SEFER HA'MITZVOS, Shichechas ha'Lavin 11) says that the main point of the Mitzvah of "v'Nishmarta" is indicated in the context of the verse. The verse is discussing the conduct of a soldier in an army encampment during a time of war. The Torah is saying that especially at such a time one must make every effort to ensure that the Shechinah is with the army encampment. One spiritual mishap by a single individual could cause the deaths of all of the soldiers in the army! Although the Ramban cites our Gemara, he insists that the prohibition itself is not the main point of the verse. Apparently, he means that he understands that the main prohibition against looking at women and having sinful thoughts is learned from the verse, "v'Lo Sasuru."

The SIFRI D'VEI RAV, commenting on the Sifri (Devarim ibid.) carries this thought further. He says that the Torah is telling people in a war that they must be very careful, even with things which are not explicitly prohibited by the Torah (as the Gemara mentioned earlier (12a), such as drinking from the mouth of a fountain erected for Avodah Zarah. (See Tzitz Eliezer (ibid.), who has great difficulty with the approach of the Sifri d'Vei Rav). (Y. Montrose)

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