- The Good Stuff
- Contact Us
Written by Maxwell Bauman. Maxwell is the Managing Editor of Door Is A Jar literary magazine. He is a nice Jewish boy with a collection of more than 60 different versions of the Kama Sutra spanning 9 languages. To read more of Maxwell’s writing on Jewrotica, check out his piece Shiksa Goddess.
“There are few nudities so objectionable as the naked truth.” — Agnes Repplier
Jews have a complex relationship with nudity. It seems that tragedy follows every time someone is naked. This pattern appears time and again. Like in Shakespeare, when the fool or something beautiful appears, it serves as the set up for something tragic or horrific to follow. However, being in the buff can lead to redemption and the completion of mitzvahs under the right conditions.
The laws regarding nudity appear in Exodus 20:26, for not exposing nakedness before the altar. Exodus 28:42 commands the use of linen trousers to cover nakedness that from the waist to the thighs. Leviticus 18: 6-19 covers the laws about the specific types people and times not to uncover one’s nakedness with (people not to have sex with).
Narrative wise, the issues with the birthday suit begin with Adam and Eve. The first reference to nudity is in Genesis 2:25, “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed.” They are aware of their nudity, but unaware of it as something to be ashamed of. That changes after they eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
They become aware of their nakedness as something to feel guilty about. Are they ashamed because their bodies are exposed, or has their state of undress been compounded into the exposure to sin? The way the story is presented connects the concept of nudity with ignorance, implying that nudity and knowledge do not go together.
In chapter nine of Genesis Noah passes out naked while drunk. His son Ham, father of Canaan, witnesses his father au naturel. He tells his brothers, Shem and Japheth and they back into the tent and cover their father without looking at him. When Noah awakes, he curses Canaan, and makes him a servant to Shem and Japheth. Ultimately, God promises Canaan’s land to Shem’s descendants, starting with Abraham, and is achieved by the twelve tribes of Israel.
Joseph’s story is largely about being stripped down before being built up again. In Genesis 37, his brothers take his coat of many colors, or with long sleeves (depending on the translation) and he is thrown into a hole. The betrayal happens again in Genesis 39 when Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Joseph and gets a hold of his garment, leaving him without a stitch on. Joseph is then imprisoned for two years. Arguably, Potiphar’s wife stripping Joseph is necessary, because without it, he wouldn’t have been thrown in jail, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to interpret Pharaoh’s dream, and there would have been countless lives lost from the famine, include those of his family.
Even kings do not escape the ravages of nudity. In 1 Samuel 19, Saul is overtaken by an evil spirit from the Lord and seeks to kill David. When Saul consults with prophets to find David and kill him, we get the line about Saul in 1 Samuel 19:24, “And he stripped off his clothes also, and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Wherefore they say, ‘Is Saul also among the prophets?'” This is a flip from when the line “Is Saul also among the prophets?” appears in 1 Samuel 10:11. At first, the question was meant to show admiration the people had toward Saul, but now those name people mock him. This further solidifies the end of Saul’s dynastic reign, and paves the way for David.
In 2 Samuel 11, David sees Bathsheba bathing on the rooftop. He falls in love with her, but she is a married woman. This doesn’t stop David from laying with Bathsheba and she conceives a child. David calls her husband, Uriah back from battle to sleep with his wife, and cover up his actions, but Uriah does not sleep with his wife. David then sends her husband Uriah off to be killed. The prophet Nathan calls David out on his transgression. God then strikes down the first child between the two. The punishment for the murder of Uriah continues to haunt David with Absalom’s rebellion.
Nudity continues to haunt the Jewish people even outside of the bible. The first recorded instance of mooning was between a Roman soldier and a group of pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem for Passover. The Roman soldier bent over and showed his exposed bottom to the passing pilgrims and made a fart noise with his mouth. The pilgrims then began to stone the soldier. Roman reinforcements were sent in and thousands of Jewish pilgrims were slaughtered, leading to the First Roman-Jewish War (66-73 CE). The event is recorded by Flavious Joseophus in his book “The Wars of the Jews or the History of the Destruction of Jerusalem.”
This all sounds like good reason to put on some extra layers, but it is important to note the redemptive quality of nudity via the mikvah. The first reference, albeit indirect, to the mikvah is in Leviticus 15:13, “When a man is cleansed from his discharge, he is to count off seven days for his ceremonial cleansing. He must wash his clothes and bathe himself with fresh water, and he will be clean.” One must have water touch every part of their body, which means entering the mikvah completely nude, meaning no clothing, jewelry, or even bandages.
The mikvah needs to be connected to a spring, well, or natural source of water. A cistern filled by rain also works as the source for the water. Rivers can be used as a mikvah too, but due to modesty issues, most are not outdoors. In David’s time, it would have been common for there to be private mikvahs. It is possible that Bathsheba viewed her rooftop as a private place. She when she was bathing, it was to purify for her uncleanness, mostly likely for her menstruation. Meaning David saw and fell in love with Bathsheba when she was in a state of purity.
Most importantly, being nude allows people to the first commandment in the Torah, “To be fruitful and multiply.” God says this to Noah following the flood in order to refill the world. Having children is considered a shared mitzvah, and flesh needs to be exposed for two to become one.
God redeems the Jew when there are more of them in the world. God hears the Hebrews’ cries in Egypt only after they had increased their numbers and filled the land. The same could be argued for when the Jews were in the wilderness. Many were born in order to replace the older stick-necked generation, and also shore up their number of soldiers. These children were necessary for Israel to fulfill God’s promise of not only claiming the land promised to their ancestors, but to become as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand upon the shore.