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Men's Health magazine has been in the news lately because of a contest in which people can vote on who will be on the magazine's cover. Currently leading in the voting is a transgender person who was assumed to be of female gender at birth, but has since transitioned and identifies as male. There is a picture circulating of this person without a shirt. The person looks very much like a (very muscular) man, even with facial hair. So my question is, would looking at this person's male-looking chest constitute viewing erva?

That is, for the purpose of technical prohibitions involved with observing erva, does this person's body count as a female erva or not? This is a particular detail of a more general question about how Jewish law views the gender of a transgender individual, and it may well be distinct from other considerations, since it specifically concerns the body itself and observation thereof by others.

As a tack-on to this question, would looking at the chest of a person who was formerly considered male but transitioned and is now considered female be considered viewing erva?

  • Can you cite this "technical prohibition" on "viewing erva"? Ervah is a category of women whom a man cannot marry. Is that what you mean? Do you mean the general prohibition on looking at erotic things (in which case I fail to see what gender has to do with anything)? – Double AA Apr 20 '15 at 15:17
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    @DoubleAA "erva" is also used in rabbinic Hebrew to refer to portions of the body in whose uncovered presence one may not recite prayers. – Isaac Moses Apr 20 '15 at 15:22
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    @IsaacMoses Yes. Is the OP asking about praying, then? (By "one" do you mean "men"?) – Double AA Apr 20 '15 at 15:25
  • Possible duplicate of How is gender halachically determined? – sabbahillel May 18 '18 at 11:51
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    @sabbahillel I think an underlying presumption of the question is that even if this person is halachically male, perhaps regarding tznius the rules are different. Consider the related case of a man who undergoes gender reassignment, which according to some opinions on the linked question actually changes gender. His body will look like a man’s for some time, but halachically he is a woman according to those opinions. Perhaps you could hear in that case better that in spite of being a woman there’s no issue of shmiras einayim. – DonielF May 18 '18 at 13:14
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The Gemara in Berachos 24a, which states that "tefach b'isha erva" (a handsbreath of uncovered skin of a woman is "erva"), explains that where one is not intending to derive pleasure, a woman's skin is erva if a tefach is uncovered in a place that is normally covered, for the purposes of davening in front of it. Meaning you cannot daven in front of a tefach of uncovered skin even if you are not intending to derive any pleasure (or even if it is your wife's skin where pleasure is permitted). Because, this rule of erva is arguably not dependent on its ability to cause pleasure (an argument can be made otherwise), I could hear that uncovered skin of a transgender man (i.e. born female) would still be problematic.

In contrast, the Gemara also states that כל המסתכל באצבע קטנה של אשה כאילו מסתכל במקום החורף. Histaklus is explained by the Tzlach (aka the Noda BeYehuda) and others as meaning gazing to derive pleasure. Therefore if one is gazing at a woman's skin, even her little finger, with intent to derive pleasure there would be an issur.

I would submit that in this case, there is no intent to derive pleasure (because the person does not appear to be female) and therefore there is no issur of histaklus.

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    Please go into more detail, summarize what is found in Berachos 24a and how it applies to this question. – sabbahillel Dec 10 '15 at 1:44
  • I have edited the answer to explain the gemara more. – conceptualinertia Dec 10 '15 at 14:27
  • Your sources are good, but your conclusion doesn’t follow. Why else would the picture be desired if not for pleasure? – LN6595 Mar 24 at 22:57
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First off, if you paint a house to look like a castle, it's still a house. I don't see why a woman believing herself to be a man and altering her body would halachically change that.

Whether or not it is erva, most authorities prohibit gazing at any skin of the torso and thighs that is more than a tefach, even if you're in a culture where women wear less clothes and those areas are not considered erotic. The back of a woman, for example, which looks as ordinariy as the back of a man, may not be looked at by a man, no sexual arousal needed. So the altered chest of a woman is also a problem.

Regarding a man who makes himself look like a woman, there may be a different prohibition of impure thoughts for looking at him if someone would actually find that attractive. But it would be more like looking at a nude painting as a puffed up man's chest is just a man's chest that's puffed up.

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    You've asserted a lot of things here without any basis. Why should we trust you? – Double AA Jan 8 '16 at 6:37
  • @DoubleAA Do I need sources? What specifically is in dispute? Do you believe a woman maybe can become a man? Do you dispute the halacha that you may not gaze upon more than one square tefach of a woman's torso? Or are you simply saying that since sources are so plentiful that I should take the timeto list some? Anyone is free to edit my answer with sources if they want, perhaps I will do so in the future otherwise. – Uncle Jan 8 '16 at 7:16
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    Both those points are disputable, actually. The fact that you didn't know that isn't a problem, but it should emphasize to you in the future why always sourcing yourself is important, because you can't always know when it will matter which opinion you are holding like. – Double AA Jan 8 '16 at 7:18
  • forearms maybe (become) need to be covered but they (do not become) are not ERVA depending on society (if I am wrong please bring a source), BTW there are sources that the real gender is decided when the baby is born, ie if it is a tumtum when it is born , even if later we see it is a man we do not consider him a full man – hazoriz Jan 8 '16 at 11:57

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