The halachah is clear (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 75) that one may not recite Shema, or any other words of Torah or prayer, while in the presence of parts of the human body that should be covered.

What about photos or drawings, though? For example, you may be riding on the subway, and you want to put the time to good use by saying Tehillim or studying Daf Yomi or Rambam or whatever - but you're sitting across from a racy ad. Or (inspired by this post at the Seforim Blog), the title pages of some sefarim on the table in front of you feature drawings of nudes or semi-nudes. Are these indeed considered the same as seeing them "in the flesh," or are they halachically insignificant, at least for this purpose?

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    Your question immediately reminded me of this post on Hirhurim from some years ago regarding learning Torah on the subway in general, which addressed only human immodesty and not the depicted kind but is an interesting (3-part) read nonetheless. hirhurim.blogspot.com/2005/09/learning-torah-on-subway.html
    – WAF
    Dec 29, 2010 at 2:58
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    Eponymous, too!
    – Isaac Moses
    Dec 29, 2010 at 3:31
  • Took me a second, but yes!
    – WAF
    Dec 29, 2010 at 13:45
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    "one may not... that should be covered" Erm... actually the clear Halacha is that a man can't do so while in the presence of parts of a women's body which she usually covers. That's what it says in your source, at least.
    – Double AA
    Sep 2, 2014 at 5:51
  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/56617
    – msh210
    Mar 19, 2015 at 23:11

7 Answers 7


The gemara in Brachos 25b cites the halacha of not being allowed to say K"S in front of the erva of an "akum". The gemara there suggest that this is obvious. The gemara answers that it's not obvious since there is a pasuk of asher b'sar chamorim bisram, however, we see it is erva from the pasuk of V'ervas avihem lo ra'u.

We see from here that without the pasuk of inclusion, the body parts of an akum would not be an erva for kriyas shema despite having the exact same hirhur/erva-like issue.

So, like Shalom and Isaac, the technical issue of erva doesn't exist.

However one can question why specifically kol isha gets included even though it isn't called erva, but arev (sweet). Although the Rambam (et alia) exclude the halacha from K"S, the S.A. cites it as an halacha.

A case that shows the difference between these reasons (nafka mina) would be- would closing one's eyes or turning off the light allow one to say kriyas shema according to everybody? Since there is no hirhur, it should be OK. If it was erva, anything in the line of sight would may preclude you from recitation even if you can't see it.

  • Thank you for your answer, but +0. What does "nafka mina" mean? Please edit. Nov 4, 2013 at 2:46
  • @unforgettableid Nafka mina explained.
    – Shmuel
    Jun 10, 2014 at 5:25

The She'arim Metzuyanim BaHalachah 5:7 concludes that a picture of ervah counts as ervah.


When we were learning the aforementioned halacha in high school, and it seemed to be focused on what body parts you can actually see, I asked my rebbe whether the same rule would apply if you could see the form but not the image (e.g. clothed, but in skin-tight clothing - approximately the opposite of your case). He responded that in general, if what you can see causes thoughts that are incompatible with prayer, you shouldn't pray when you can see it. I'm not sure if your case violates the technical definition of proscribed nudity, but it may violate the more general, subjective, rule.


Rabbi Rakeffet's shiur on "men of tzniut" on yutorah, if I recall correctly, says that the specific law of ervah with its formalities applies only to a real human being.

He then mentioned some case of an indecent poster where someone asked the rabbi, "is it ervah?" And the rabbi answered, "No, it's worse!" Again, common sense as to what precautions are appropriate is vital. But the technical restrictions don't apply.

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    I don't understand what the rabbi's answer meant. In what way was the picture worse than an erva ?
    – WAF
    Dec 29, 2010 at 13:47
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    A picture can be photoshopped and otherwise modified to make it more attention-grabbing than any real human being.
    – Shalom
    Dec 29, 2010 at 14:32
  • @Shalom I still don't understand, how does that make it worse?
    – user9643
    Oct 22, 2017 at 2:35

My chevruta & I discussed this question in regard to the permissibility of recorded women's voices. If a woman singing live is an erva, just like certain parts of her body, a recording of her voice should be equivalent to a photograph of her body.

We didn't discuss learning, but rather praying if you are praying alone in an art museum. His claim was that the fact that it is a picture is a bigger problem than what it is a picture of.


According to Rav Yitzchok Zilbershtein a photo is not considered ervah.


The answer is simple: Close your eyes and don't look. The whole issur is hirhur. If you cannot see, you do not think, etc. Davening in front of any picture is different. It looks bad, so you turn your face away.

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    when suggesting a halachic course of action like this, it's best to cite a source. Also, please use standard capitalization. Could you please edit this answer accordingly?
    – Isaac Moses
    Jun 23, 2011 at 16:07
  • While it is a valid recommendation (despite lacking sources), it doesn't seem, to me, to answer the question, which is whether the photos are a problem, not what to do about them.
    – Seth J
    Aug 3, 2012 at 15:00
  • @SethJ He seems to be saying they are a problem because "the whole issur is hirhur" and these photos would provoke hirhur, and then also that therefore closing one's eyes solves the problem. I agree it's completely sourceless and possibly wrong but I think it is an answer.
    – Double AA
    Aug 3, 2012 at 18:04

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