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Is it a sin to watch a naked woman?

In 2 Shmuel 11:2 David watched a naked woman, was that a sin?

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    Doesn't say that she was naked. It says that she was bathing (רחצת) - but people have been known to bathe with clothes on. (Also, it doesn't say that he watched her, just that he saw her (וירא); he might well have immediately turned away.)
    – Meir
    Aug 29 at 22:26
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    sefaria.org.il/… Aug 31 at 12:49
  • @Meir Who bathes with cloths? Come on. It clearly says David watched her and invited her to his room. He was watching a naked woman and lusted. Nothing more.
    – Turk Hill
    Sep 13 at 20:20
  • @TurkHill some people bathe with clothes on. But if she was bathing with clothes on I find it surprising David would still use his authority to have her brought to him and rape her with the power imbalance despite her being married.
    – Aaron
    Sep 30 at 19:37
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Yes, it is, we can't get away from it.

However, if you look at a broader context, you will realize that in the Biblical narrative, prohibited sexual relations are frequently considered a measure to "save the world" especially for the Davidic (Messianic) line, for example:

  • Ruth, David's grandma, came from Moav, which is the result of Lot sleeping with his two daughters (technically not a sin, but still)
  • David's father came from Peretz, who came from Yehuda in an embarrassing encounter with his daughter-in-law.

So traditionally, the Jewish Messianic line seemingly purposefully relies on all kinds of Unkosher relations. While it IS considered a sin for laymen, for the leaders of the nation it is a deep understanding of genuine divine will camouflaged as a sin.

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    While I agree that sometimes God indeed does use sinful encounters to produce positive outcomes, it doesn’t detract from the sin and it does not mean those involved are immediately aware of the outcome.
    – ezra
    Sep 30 at 18:35
  • @ezra Sorry, I didn't understand the last part. I did say that it is a sin. If you claim that they weren't aware of the positive outcome, that makes them automatically sinners, not pious. The tradition prefers to present them as prophets, who knew the positive consequences apriori, and that what allowed them to transgress.
    – Al Berko
    Oct 1 at 8:01
  • So your answer is basically "Yes, it's a sin, but some people are allowed to do it", followed by two examples of things that aren't sins (one of which you admit yourself is not a sin)? Oct 1 at 18:00
  • @Salmononius2 This is called the "Euthyphro dilemma" - is this really a sin if God seemingly allows and supports it? So we run into a problem of the definition of sin - is the breaking of the Luchos a sin if the Torah explicitly prohibits damaging holy scriptures, but God endorses?
    – Al Berko
    Oct 3 at 17:24
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I don't believe it's inherently sinful to watch a naked woman. But I am drawing a distinct difference between sin and forbidden by halakhah. Halakha forbids a man from even walking by the door of a prostitute or a promiscuous woman, but if he did walk by I doubt God would mark that as a sin against him. But walking past the door is halakhically forbidden because it's so easy for a sin to arise that it's best to avoid the situation. The same applies with seeing a naked man or woman.

Adam and Eve saw each other naked in the beginning, and there was no sin mentioned. In fact God seems more concerned about Adam and Eve being concerned than about them being naked. But once sin and potentially lust entered the narrative, things changed. Adam and Eve were embarassed from their nakedness, and this embarassment is inherently linked to nudity and sin later. There's also the concept of desire which is separate from nudity. Consider that some people can lust after a woman who has nearly her entire body covered.

" If one gazes even at the little finger of a woman with the intent to have pleasure from it, it is as though he gazed at her shameful place." Source: Shulchan Aruch/Even ha-Ezer/21

Most of us can look at a woman's pinky without lusting after her, so most of us don't sin by looking at a woman's hand to look at her ring for example. But when it comes to naked bodies most of us are only capable at looking at our direct family members or children without lust and even then some people struggle. And then there's the concept of embarassment, once someone becomes aware of their nakedness it can become improper to see them naked afterward. What was once not a sin becomes so close to sin that we need to separate from it.

"A father is permitted to hug his daughter, kiss her, and sleep next to her [naked] with flesh touching, and so too a mother with her son, as long as they are minors....If the daughter is embarrassed to stand before her father naked, or she is betrothed, and likewise if the mother is embarrassed to stand before her son naked – even if they are minors, when they reach the point of being embarrassed, they may not sleep together except clothed." Source: ibid

But even if it may not be inherently sinful to look at someone who is naked, one must realize that almost all of us will sin when seeing someone naked. Recall that our king Dawid was far from sin most of his life, but one day he saw a naked woman and he could/would not stop himself from doing many sins. First he saw her, then he inquired of her, then he ignored the fact that she was married, then he had her brought to him by royal guards, then he impregnated her, then he killed her husband to hide the fact that he impregnated her. If he wouldn't have seen her naked, I doubt that the sins that followed would have happened.

Conclusion: Just like looking at a pinky finger may not inherently be sinful, looking at a naked women may not be inherently sinful. But don't let that distract you from the reality that even the greatest of us when seeing a naked women or a naked person of the opposite gender will immediately have sinful thoughts or be emboldened to do even worse sins such as the case with Dawid after seeing Bathsheba naked. Therefore it is halakhically forbidden to look at a naked woman and one should refrain from doing so.

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