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The Naked Truth

The Naked Truth

Is photographer Spencer Tunick serving the advancement of society?


I was getting out of my car a few weeks ago when I heard on the radio that celebrity photographer Spencer Tunick had beat a previous record. A few years ago he had captured 7,000 nudes on camera, and now he had beaten that record in Mexico City. Over 18,000 people came, took off their clothes, and stood around as he snapped away!

Why did this news strike me as not a cause for celebration and awe? After all, what is so wrong with the beauty of the human body? And why is Judaism so hung up on the idea of tzniyut (modesty) that demands we keep parts of our body covered? Didn't God give us our bodies, and if He gave us something beautiful, shouldn't we showcase it?

In the Garden

Generally, when we want to find the root of an idea, we look at the first time it is mentioned in the Torah. The first reference to clothing, or lack thereof, is in the Garden of Eden. Immediately after the creation of woman, the Torah states, "The two of them were naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed" (Genesis 2:25).

The proximity of the creation of humanity and this declaration indicates a strong correlation between their essence and their nakedness.

Soon after, Adam and Eve sinned. And immediately the Torah tells us: "The eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked. They sewed together fig leaves, and made for themselves loincloths" (Genesis 3:7-8).

Somehow, when the world went through the upheaval from a pre-sin world to a post-sin world, something changed that made them ashamed of their nakedness.

Eve's body was like a translucent casing.

Our Sages explain that prior to sin, when the entire world was fulfilling God's wishes, the physicality of the world didn't hide God, but rather loudly proclaimed His existence. The human body didn't obscure the elevated soul inside, but was a shrine to that soul. When Adam looked at Eve, her body was like a translucent casing, showcasing the beautiful soul within. There was no reason to be ashamed of the body, and Adam and Eve felt no compunctions about being naked.

But with the primal sin, humanity showed that they favored the physical over God's word. This is underscored in the Torah's description of Eve's decision to eat from the tree: "And the woman perceived that the tree was good for eating and that it was a delight to the eyes" (Genesis 3:6).

After the sin, human perception of the physical world changed. It no longer solely reminded people of the reality of God; it had another side, something that hid reality and enticed as though it had a value of its own.

When this happened, Adam and Eve were ashamed of their naked bodies, because now their bodies hid their souls. Any onlooker would see only the physical shell, not the real essence of the human being that lay beneath the surface. Can there be any greater humiliation for a spiritual being than to be sized up as something totally physical?

This explains why animals never feel compelled to put on clothing. They don't have the divine souls that humans have. When you look at them you are seeing what they are, and therefore there is no reason for them to hide behind clothing.

The solution to their embarrassment, Adam and Eve discovered, was to cover themselves, so that someone looking at them would focus on the person, not the body. Indeed, the Hebrew word for clothing is levush, a contraction of the words lo bosh, meaning "not to be embarrassed."

One may think that Spencer Tunick's mass nudity is cute, just fun ‘n games. But look at his underlying message: these are only bodies, not people. He has no interest in them as humans, mothers, fathers, dreamers, givers, thinkers. It lessens our sense of humanity. It affects the souls of those who participate, and it affects the soul of society.

Our world has enough problems with people being objectified. We need to restore the view of every human created in the spiritual image of God. Tunick may have set a world record, but let's not make the mistake of calling that "progress."

June 9, 2007

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Visitor Comments: 27

(27) Arianna, July 3, 2007 5:50 AM

I took part in a Spencer Tunick photoshoot several years ago, and one of the most striking things I took away from it (apart from being a little chilly) was an INCREASED sense of humanity.

Walking along the bank of a river with over a thousand other people, some friends, but most strangers, I was nervous but very powerfully struck by just how similar we all looked. And how wonderful/beautiful. Usually when you look across a crowd of people you see a riot of colour and texture, but looking across a crowd of skin, whether it be black, white, yellow, brown, pink etc., I was amazed to see how similar we all are.

Once you take away our symbols and coverings, we are exposed in all our humanness, all our fragility and strength shown in our physical selves. Our self imposed differences, and those imposed by others, were taken away and it has never been so clear to me just how small the differences between us really are. As a young woman, who has known what it is to be objectified, I most certainly did not feel objectified and I know I was not alone in feeling this.

The experience of being in my natural physical state with thousands of other people made me as an individual feel PROFOUNDLY human and I will always be glad that I had this experience.

And you know what? After a while of standing around naked with a whole lot of other people, waiting for a shot to be set up, you stop feeling nervous and start just chatting to other people.

(26) Anony Mouse, June 19, 2007 3:27 PM

As I skimmed the comments, besides for feeling an undescribable heartache at what I read, some thoughts came into my mind as well.

First of all - do you notice that many (I did NOT say all!) of the comments protesting that there's nothing wrong with it, and that a nude woman is not more attractive, were written by men? Hmmm...

Kayla - you said that you have seen "an Orthodox woman" dressed in a "tight, sexy outfit." I'm assuming you aren't Orthodox, by the way? Only one, you saw? And even if more than that - I've seen it too. And I *am* Orthodox, and live a community heavily populated with Orthodox people. And I am a teenage girl - and I see what my friends wear. (for myself, I somehow didn't end up with that urge to keep up with fashion - my sisters are the ones dragging me out to buy clothing when I really need it. :) No one is saying that "looking good" (in society's eyes) is not a challenge - believe it or not, everyone, Orthodox Jews *are* human! We *do* make mistakes! Yes, we try to better ourselves, and also to be especially careful because we know that many times we are held to a higher standard - we are representatives - but we still aren't perfect! Of course style, etc., is a challenge! But just because something is a challenge, and we might not be perfect - or even so good at it... yet (you have no idea where that woman was coming from, you know - maybe she had just learned about the laws of tzniyut - modesty)- we should just give up? Not try at all? Well then, what's the point of trying for anything in life? (it's funny - I was actually just reading an article along these lines by Mrs. Lori Palatnik - "Judging Others... and Ourselves" - you can find it on aish's website.)

To R. Housman... I have a dog. We've had him since I was three years old. I love him dearly, and we often (half) joke about how he seems almost-human. But no, I don't believe that animals have divine souls - a direct connection to G-d. That is for human beings, who are on a higher level... It almost seems to me that the more vehement all the activist groups in the world get, the lower they bring themselves. For example, pertaining to here, do animals deserve so many rights as to be equal to a human? I don't believe in animal cruelty - my friends can testify to that! - but Judaism has laws against that; it is a sin to cause an animal to suffer. But what is it about all of these movements - perhaps it is low self-esteem. Animals are equal to us; we don't deserve to use certain things in this world for ourselves even though they were put here for our benefit (of course, there's a limit to everything - on both extremes, though!); etc., etc... Do you know that I heard on the radio that someone took a case to court that animals were - gasp! - considered property!!! (it was a divorce case - how should the pets be split up, I guess) Oh my goodness, yes!!! They are animals!!! And as much as I love them, animals they will stay!

Those were the first things that jumped into my mind. I just couldn't bring myself to read all of the comments - perhaps I'd have more to say if I did, or maybe I'd understand the other side better (which I doubt). I just don't know sometimes...

(25) Me :I, June 19, 2007 3:05 PM

I nearly cried when I read some of the comments on this article. What have we come to? And to those who say that it doesn't actually say anything... what could I possibly say, if logic and understanding are already so twisted? A woman who walks around like many of today's ladies do is saying about herself "I think I am nothing but a piece of flesh. I have nothing to offer the world but my body." Think about it - what is the difference between what the (secretary - just an example!!!) wears - i.e. almost nothing, + long red nails, garish make-up, and a ridiculous hairdo - and what the CEO wears. She knows where she stands. She knows that when she walks into that board meeting, she doesn't want all of her workers looking at her body - she wants them seeing her as a person who has opinions, ideas, and a brain, and listening to what she says. The women's liberation movement hasn't freed women - it has made them have to work harder and harder to prove that they can do x, y, and z. Different is not bad, is not unequal - I am a 17 year old, religious girl. I understand that there are reasons for the rules that I follow. Come on - for all of you cynics out there, how much farther can you get than a teenage girl? If all of you looked yourself straight in the eye, and were really and truly and brutally honest with yourselves... If you didn't let society cloud your eyes (especially democracy - not that I'm saying it's bad, and I am eternally grateful to be growing up in a democratic society, but some of the things that come along with it - )... would you still insist that this is the right thing to do? That there is nothing wrong whatsoever with it? That the artist truly is "just practicing an art?" I just don't know. It really scares me sometimes to see what things have come to - and it scares me that I'm saying that when I'm just a child. I'm happy with my way of life - I wouldn't trade it for the world... Once you live it, you see the beauty behind it. May G-d help us all find strength within ourselves and guide us to do His will.

(24) Anonymous, June 18, 2007 10:16 AM

reminded me of holocaust picture

To me these pictures reminded me of pictures of dehumanized masses of bodies that the nazis used to line up.Anyway -Call it art but i think its a case of the emporers new clothes. It appeals to the perverts within the artistic exterior

(23) raye, June 16, 2007 8:27 PM

Voyeurism is not Art

What an appropriate time for Rabbi Burnham's article! The Flesh is so weak that it constantly has to prove itself as in the desire to parade itself, naked or clothed in the "gay parade".
There is a history of serious, not gay, protest marches in the nude. Perhap the Israeli government would get a move on to defend the people in Sderot, if they exposed themselves to the naked truth.

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