Is watching pornography hypocritical? Most people watch porn, but when I imagine that my daughter would come to me one day with something like “Dad, I decided to play in porn“ (well, it would probably by a neighbor and not my daughter...), I don't think I could take that (I think that most people couldn't take that) and those “actresses“ are someones' daughters, too. Problem is that when I start to consider pornography to be hypocritical, I start to be judgmental, and since (I think) most people watch porn, it is quite a problem. (Moreover, I think that being judgmental is definitely worse than watching porn).
I should probably add that I am a secular Jew, but for most secular people pornography is not a problem, so I ask here.What do Jewish values tell us about this?
Thank you for any answers.
Part of the challenge in offering an answer to a question like this from a secular Jew is that the question itself starts with assumptions that I have to question. Whether or not "most people watch porn," doesn't tell us whether it is a good or bad thing to do, and as soon as I start speaking in those terms, the specter of "being judgmental" raises its head.
Let me give it a try, nonetheless. From an Orthodox perspective, sexuality has only one proper expression, and comes with the challenge of being easily overindulged. In a marriage, sexuality can and should contribute to strengthening a relationship, bonding the couple more closely to each other, and helping them build a life and a family together. Other than that one circumstance, Orthodoxy sees no legitimate outlet for human sexuality.
This clearly runs counter to the experience of Westerners today, and I recognize the countercultural element in what I’m saying. Nonetheless, that’s the way it is. Orthodox Judaism sees the Biblical prohibition against looking at inappropriate things as including sexual sights, sees a prohibition against being alone with anyone with whom sex is a possibility (other than a spouse), and, according to Maimonides, ruled many of what we call incest prohibitions specifically so that people should not be thinking about sex excessively.
If I can step away from a purely Orthodox point of view for a moment, let me add that you sort of answered your own question, on your terms. Hypocrisy, we’ve often been told, is the tribute vice pays to virtue. That many people fail to live up to certain standards of conduct is one tragedy; to allow it to shape our morality is, I think, almost worse. The fact that you know you wouldn’t want your daughter involved in such activities should make clear that it is distasteful, for reasons that secular people can appreciate just as much as religious ones. What will take each of us from realizing that we are acting wrongly to actually giving up that activity is a hard question, but certainly the difficulty of relinquishing our failings shouldn’t lure us into abandoning our understanding of right and wrong.
At the risk of sounding judgmental, I would have to say from both a personal and Jewish perspective, pornography is both wrong and immoral. The fact that ‘everybody’ watches porn, as you claim, (a premise that I don’t believe) doesn’t make it right, any more than a German supporting the genocidal policies of the Nazi regime was right because most Germans supported their government’s policies.
There is a difference between being judgmental of others and forming a value judgment on what one believes to be the right path that one should follow in life. Even if one falls short of consistently living up to that standard, one can still believe that there is a higher moral standard that people should strive for in life. Of course, if one consistently says something is wrong but chooses act contrary to that standard then one could argue that such a person is hypocritical, not judgmental.
That said let me address your primary question: What do Jewish values tell us about pornography? Jewish tradition begins with the premise that we are created in the image of God and that the miracle of God’s creation is reflected in both body and soul. That means that our bodies and the bodies of others must be treated with respect and reverence. They are not to be used or exploited.
One of the ways we do that is by expressing modesty in dress, language and in the type of images to which we expose ourselves. Pornography demeans and objectifies other human beings. It makes their bodies and the private sexual acts of others a source of personal stimulation. To use the language of Martin Buber, it turns another person into an “it” rather than a “thou.”
This is not a matter of prudery or Victorian prudishness. We cover our bodies not because we are ‘embarrassed’ by them or because we consider them ‘dirty,’ but because we consider them holy. That means they must be treated in a respectful way and that certain acts should be private. An example of this is the way we treat the Torah when it is read publically. In between each section that is read from the Torah, it is customary to cover the scroll with a cloth and not to leave it exposed. We cover the Torah not because we are embarrassed by it but out of reverence for what the Torah represents. Similarly, we cover ourselves and do not expose our naked bodies of others because it is our way of showing reverence for the person as God’s creation.
Whether or not one accepts the religious basis of this explanation, I believe a strong argument can be made both philosophically and practical for declaring pornography immoral. Pornography is a means of degrading others. While one might argue that nudity and sexuality in the context of art and literature serve some higher purpose, pornography, by definition, serves only to stimulate others. Sexuality like all creation is a gift but it is best expressed between two caring people who have entered into a meaningful and committed relationship.
In an article which appears on the American Humanist Association website (a decidedly secular organization) the authors write: “The role violence plays in pornography trivializes rape, sexual aggression, and other forms of abuse. When we encourage males to include dehumanizing acts in sex and teach women to accept various forms of violence against them as a “natural” part of sexual activity, we are condoning violence against women.”
Because an act involves consenting adults doesn’t make it all right. Is that a judgmental statement? I guess it is. But unless you are prepared to say that there are no such thing as moral standards by which people should live, then I am willing to risk being judgmental. In any case, one does not have to be judgmental to accept upon oneself a standard of behavior that makes pornography wrong, no matter what other people may be doing. Consensus doesn’t make something OK.
This is an important question for a variety of reasons. First, the hypocrisy of pornography. Second, the judgmentalism of those watching it. Third, you are right: that is someone's daughter.
Watching pornography has been around for a long, long time. It feeds into the sexual parts of our brains and is stimulating. But, like anything, it can become addictive and destructive.
Linda Lovelace - who was born Linda Boreman - was the main character of "Deep Throat." In some ways, she was a remarkable woman but in no way more so than when she spoke up about the abuse, rape, degradation of women, drugs, corruption and immorality of the pornography industry. In fact, according to 'Wikipedia', in 1986, Boreman published Out of Bondage, a memoir focusing on her life after 1974. She testified before the 1986 Attorney General's Commission on Pornography in New York City, stating, "When you see the movie Deep Throat, you are watching me being raped. It is a crime that movie is still showing; there was a gun to my head the entire time." Following Boreman's testimony for the Meese Commission, she gave lectures on college campuses, decrying what she described as callous and exploitative practices in the pornography industry." And she should know: she was at the top of it.
The truth of the matter is that these men and women are actors and they are someone's son and daughter. They are looking to get famous and pornography is a relatively easy way to do it. They are searching for a lifestyle usually reserved for the rich and famous and they prostitute themselves to do it. Few of them succeed. Many get used up and discarded like trash. And participating in the exercise even by watching is, yes, hypocritical if you feel that exploiting young women and men is a sin. We know it happens and even by not watching, it will still happen. But watching it puts the viewer on the same continuum as the exploiter. From a point of view of Jewish law, participating in a sin, even as a secondary participant, is still a sin (although this is an overly-general principle). [For instance, a person has a moral obligation to prevent someone from engaging in sakana - a dangerous activity and is considered to have sinned if they could have stopped it but did not.]
I don't understand why you are worried about being judgemental to those who watch pornography. Sometimes judging someone is necessary. Judaism is founded upon justice. Pornography is not just. It is immoral. We can judge that which is immoral. In fact, you might say we have an obligation to stand up to injustice and accuse the unjust. Sometimes judgement is needed. However, the judgement may come in a form of leaving the room when porn is shown or perhaps not going to the strip bar with the guys. Live morally by taking a stand. You may be judged but better to be judged by doing something right than by simply following the crowd.
Having said all that, please don't think that I am somehow advocating asexuality. I am hardly asexual. Judaism discusses sex and, though many of our Talmudic discussions may be dated and, frankly, sexist, they are remarkably progressive for their time. Our teachers and Sages knew the importance of sex, the enjoyment of sex and were not afraid to experience and talk about sex. A famous story is related in gemara Berachot 62a, in which Rav Kahana hides under his teacher’s bed and listens as Rav Shemaya, his teacher, talks to his wife and takes care of his needs (a phrase that Rashi interprets as having sex.) When the teacher discovers Rav Kahana’s presence he is understandably angry, and demands that Rav Kahana leave. Rav Kahana refuses and declares that “this too is Torah” that he is obligated to learn. (This passage is used both to teach the healthy attitude Jews have toward sex as well as a critique of Rabbi Shemaya who would not speak openly about sex which is why Kahana had to hide under his bed in the first place! Ignorance about sex is still quite prevalent in many Jewish communities, by the way.)
Of course, the Song of Songs is an erotic love song between a man and a woman. And there are dozens of other references and discussions about sex.
But I want to be clear: it is my opinion that pornography is not about kosher sex. It serves the need of the animal which we have turned into an 'art form' - the need to orgasm. It is fake. It is all acted. And it is dehumanizing both to the actors and to the viewers. Jewish values stress the importance of 'in a place where there are no people, strive to be a person.' Strive to be a person in what you do and say, in public and private. In my opinion, pornography has nothing to recommend it in any way which is morally justifiable.
Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. Jewish Values Online
N O T I C E
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED IN ANSWERS PROVIDED HEREIN ARE THOSE OF THE INDIVIDUAL JVO PANEL MEMBERS, AND DO NOT
NECESSARILY REFLECT OR REPRESENT THE VIEWS OF THE ORTHODOX, CONSERVATIVE OR REFORM MOVEMENTS, RESPECTIVELY.