Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Blessings and Television

One may not recite a blessing in front of an immodestly dressed woman (see here and here). Does this also apply to when one is in sight of a television screen with the picture on it of an immodestly dressed woman? For example, I was recently sitting at an airport gate in a seat that faced a TV that constantly played CNN, which has frequent images of women who are not dressed according to halakhic requirements. Could I recite a blessing on food or was I obligated to turn my back before reciting the blessing?

R. Shlomo Zalman Braun, in his She'arim Metzuyanim Ba-Halakhah (5:9), addresses this question. He points out that this is different from the case of "ervah ba-ashashis," immodesty behind glass (e.g. a naked person outside a window), because this is only the image of immodesty and not immodesty itself. "Ervah ba-ashashis" requires turning one's back, but perhaps the image does not. R. Braun continues to suggest various analogous cases and concludes that because an immodest image can cause one to have improper thoughts (hirhurim!), one must turn one's back.

I don't understand his conclusion. As he points out, we are dealing here with an image -- pixels on a screen -- and not an actual person. If it causes improper thoughts, then don't look at it. But if you aren't looking at it, and therefore it doesn't cause improper thoughts, why should you be obligated to turn your back in order to recite a blessing or learn Torah? I asked my rabbi, without leading him to any conclusion, and he said the same thing. Don't look at the screen and you can recite a blessing. Ask your rabbi.

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