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I was thinking about Bereishith 9:20-27, where Noah is drunk and becomes uncovered, exposing ervah. Ham sees his father's ervah and tells his brothers, who then cover him without looking in order to avoid seeing their father's ervah. Afterward, Noah curses Ham's line but blesses the other two sons.

This got me thinking. Is it wrong for men to see the ervah of other men? If so, would this prohibit men, even male relatives, from dressing and showering together? If not, why does the Torah appear to condemn Ham for seeing his father's nakedness?

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    Thr Talmud if I'm not mistaken, as well as many commentators explain that Cham did more than uncover his father - whether he castrated him or performed some other type of bodily mutilation.
    – Harel13
    Apr 16, 2022 at 21:39
  • @Harel13 Granted, it doesn't say as much in the passage itself, the passage just shows the difference as being due to his looking at his father's nakedness. That said, maybe it's a stretch to conclude that men are prohibited from seeing male relatives dressing or showering. What does the Halacha teach on such?
    – The Editor
    Apr 17, 2022 at 1:54
  • It is not strictly forbidden and can happen at times, e.g., in the changing room of a mikve But modesty rules also apply to men, such exposure should therefore be minimized to the minimum necessary
    – mbloch
    Apr 17, 2022 at 3:25
  • @mbloch In saying modesty rules also apply to men, are you including settings of just men? For example, can two brothers dress together in the same room, as can be common at home where brothers share the same room? Also, what about a father and son?
    – The Editor
    Apr 17, 2022 at 12:38
  • Modesty is to dress with once’s back turned. Seeing one’s father naked is certainly not respectful especially when it can be avoided. See also SA OC 3:2
    – mbloch
    Apr 17, 2022 at 13:08

3 Answers 3

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The Torah condemns Cham for disrespecting his father, as the Ramban (9:18) says:

והנה החטא שראה חם ערות אביו ולא נהג בו כבוד

The respectful thing to do is to cover him, not announce to the world that they should come and see his unbecoming state.

BTW: The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (72:13) does state that one may not shower with one's father, father-in-law, bother-in-law and teacher, if they are not minimally covered. (Unless one is needed to help them; a proof that it's a respect issue.)

אָסוּר לִרְחוֹץ עִם אָבִיו וְחָמִיו וּבַעַל אִמּוֹ וּבַעַל אֲחוֹתוֹ. וּבְמָקוֹם שֶׁנּוֹהֲגִין לְכַסּוֹת עֶרְוַתן בְּבֵית הַמֶּרְחָץ, מֻתָּר. וְכֵן הַתַּלְמִיד לֹא יִרְחַץ עִם רַבּוֹ, וְאִם צָרִיךְ לוֹ שֶׁיְשַׁמְּשֶׁנוּ, מֻתָּר.‏

From here we see that showering with other men - even fully undressed - is allowed.

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  • Thanks for the reply! Does the fact that the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch doesn't mention brothers in 72:13 imply that the prohibition doesn't apply to brothers (other than brothers-in-law)?
    – The Editor
    Apr 24, 2022 at 12:29
  • For a more general application, is one's father, father-in-law, brother-in-law, and teacher the only males one must shower with, or are other types of males included?
    – The Editor
    Apr 26, 2022 at 17:38
  • In the Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 23:6 it says "in the Talmud they forbade one to wash with his father or brother or mother's husband or sister's husband. ".
    – Shmuel
    Apr 28, 2022 at 19:21
  • @Shmuel I see. What about non-relatives (e.g., friends)?
    – The Editor
    Apr 28, 2022 at 21:02
  • I do not think you are going to see more distinctions. I think there is a deeper meaning why it is forbidden.
    – Shmuel
    Apr 29, 2022 at 14:50
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The Shulchan Aruch; Even HaEzer 23:6 writes:

Furthermore, in the Talmud they forbade one to wash with his father or brother or mother's husband or sister's husband. But now they are accustomed to allow this since they cover their genitals in the bathhouse, we need not be concerned about sexual thoughts (Agudah).

The Pitchei Teshuva (Shulchan Aruch; Even HaEzer 23:5) shares something familiair:

הואיל ומכסין. כ"כ ג"כ ביו"ד סי' רמ"ב סעיף י"ז בהג' ולפ"ז בזמנינו שאין מכסין אין היתר בדבר ולא ידעתי על מה סמכו העולם להקל בזה ומצאתי בס' תולדות אדם פ"ו הביא שם כי הגאון הצדיק מו"ה זלמן זצ"ל מוולינא פ"א הלך לבית המרחץ וכאשר בא אל פתח בהמ"ר ומצא את חותנו שמה שב לאחוריו וברח משם כבורח מארי ואמר דאף שרבינו הרמ"א המציא היתר לפי זמנו דיבר וכן האגודה שהביא הרמ"א בזמנו היה מנהג אצל כולם לילך במכנסים במרחץ אבל עכשיו החוש מעיד על הפוך הדבר והוא איסור גמור מדינ' דגמרא בלי שום חולק ע"ש:

This story from the Pitchei Teshuva is cited here:

Rav Zalman once went to the bathhouse and, as he approached the entrance, he saw his father-in-law there, "and he fled as one flees from a lion." The Pischei Teshuvah writes that he does not know why people are lenient nowadays in this regard. The ARUCH HA'SHULCHAN is also unsure why people are lenient. It could be that people rely on the ruling of the Maharam Chalavah, who permits a son to bathe with his father provided that they are covered until they enter the water.

The Beit Shmuel writes:

עוד אסרו לרחוץ עם אביו וחמיו ואחיו ובעל אחותו ובעל אמו. כצ"ל וכן אסור לרחוץ עם רבו אא"כ אם הוא במרחץ קודם לרבו אז מותר אבל עם אביו וכו' אסור משום הרהור מ"ה אסור אפילו אם הוא כבר במרחץ ועיין דרישה: They also forbade bathing with his father and father-in-law and his brother and his sister's husband and his mother's husband. It is also forbidden to bathe with his rabbi, etc. If he is in the bath before his rabbi, then it is permissible... (please correct this translation if necessary. Hebrew is work in progress)

The main point seems to be preventing sexual thoughts. That seems to be the main point behind the above mentioned explanations. So, to be honest. The Halacha here applies to a father, brother, mother's husband, sister's husband etc... but why does the Halacha forbids this? Because it might arouse certain sexual thoughts. Therefore, it seems to me that this can be applied also to a friend. However, I could not find any mefarshim that discusses my view.

However, the Gemara (Pesachim 51a) says:

Two brothers may bathe together, and there is no concern that doing so is immodest or will lead to sinful thoughts. However, the custom was that two brothers do not bathe together in the city of Kabul (see I Kings 9:13). And there was an incident involving Yehuda and Hillel, sons of Rabban Gamliel, who bathed together in Kabul, and the entire city denounced them and said: In all our days we have never seen that type of conduct. Hillel stole away and went out to the outer chamber and did not want to tell them: You are permitted to do so. He preferred to obey the city residents rather than rule it permitted for two brothers to bathe together.

See also the commentary of the Meiri on this Gemara.

The point in Bereishis 9 is not so much that the sons saw Noach naked, but what happened before, as the mefarshim explains. The Sforno for example states:

וירא חם אבי כנען את ערות אביו, he saw the shameful deed his son כנען had done to his father Noach when he had castrated him. (according to some of our sages in Sanhedrin 70) According to the historian Berussi Hacaldaii, (compare Genesis 6,9) Canaan castrated his grandfather not surgically, but by some means of sorcery. His father Cham watched his son invoke the witchcraft without protesting or trying to stop him. Disgrace, shame, is also called ערוה, “nakedness.” Compare Ezra 4,14 וערות מלכא לא אריך לנא למחזא “it is not right that we should see the king being disgraced.” Also, in Deuteronomy 21,4 the expression ערות דבר does not refer to either literal nakedness, or to sexual licentiousness, or incest, but refers to “a disgraceful thing.”

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  • Thank you and please let met know if there is something else. Good Shabbos!
    – Shmuel
    Apr 29, 2022 at 20:13
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In the Noah narrative Bereshit 9:23 it says: "וַיִּקַּח֩ שֵׁ֨ם וָיֶ֜פֶת אֶת־הַשִּׂמְלָ֗ה וַיָּשִׂ֙ימוּ֙ עַל־שְׁכֶ֣ם שְׁנֵיהֶ֔ם וַיֵּֽלְכוּ֙ אֲחֹ֣רַנִּ֔ית וַיְכַסּ֕וּ אֵ֖ת עֶרְוַ֣ת אֲבִיהֶ֑ם וּפְנֵיהֶם֙ אֲחֹ֣רַנִּ֔ית וְעֶרְוַ֥ת אֲבִיהֶ֖ם לֹ֥א רָאֽוּ" But Shem and Japheth took a cloth, placed it against both their backs and, walking backward, they covered their father’s nakedness; their faces were turned the other way, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness. This implies to me that the disrespect of Ham was not castration but of looking at his father's nakedness.

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  • Welcome to MiYodeya David and thanks for this first answer. Great to have you learn with us!
    – mbloch
    Sep 15, 2023 at 2:24
  • "This implies to me that the disrespect of Ham was not castration but of looking at his father's nakedness." I don't see that [as necessarily implied]. All it says is that they did not see their father’s nakedness. It could as easily mean that they didn't share in their father’s humiliation, of seeing him without his manhood (as the result of castration), which would only be visible when that area was exposed.
    – Tamir Evan
    Sep 15, 2023 at 5:44

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