In his Sefer on laws of Nidda, Darchei Taharah, Former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ZTL addresses the question of ערווה.
In his Sefer on laws of Nidda – “Darchei Taharah”, Former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu ZTL addresses the question of ערווה.
He writes in chapter 25 page 296: “Women that are accustomed to showing up to the top of the elbow or open their shirts up close to their breasts, this is a bad custom, about this it is said “bad laws” (Yechezkel 20:25) and (the rule) ‘טפח באישה ערווה’ only refers to parts of the body that are normally revealed.”
I have some questions on this passage (see below).
There is no question that according to all halachic authorities exposing cleavage is absolutely forbidden, your arguments notwithstanding. Indeed, Poskim have some choice words to say about this prohibition specifically. Chazal tell us that specifically in this area of halacha people have a strong tendency to seek attempts to minimize the Issur and look for excuses to justify their desires. They therefore tell us to seek caution when studying about forbidden desires, lest one get carried away by wrong interpretations.
As for your specific questions, see below in line.
1. Throughout the Sefer Rav Eliyahu is very exact with his words, when the act is forbidden or permitted he says so explicitly. Why in this case does he write “a bad custom” – it almost sounds like he is saying “by the letter of the law it’s permitted, but in bad taste.”
He is quoting from another source, Tiferes Shmuel, and using the exact terminology used there. Upon reviewing the original source, it will become apparent that the language used is to highlight the reverse: how severe this prohibition is.
2. Is it significant that Rav Eliyahu is bringing a verse from the prophets to prove his point considering that we do not decide Halacha with prophetic verses? Is he reaching or just trying to be poetic?
Again, this is a direct quote. The author was bemoaning the unfortunate laxity in Tznius in his community in this specific area.
3. Berachot 10a asks why human babies nurse from their mother’s breasts, which are near their heart and not like the rest of the animal kingdom from below. Rebbe Yehuda answers כדי שלא יסתכל במקום ערוה (meaning the lower region.) This would indicate, that at least according to Rebbe Yehuda, breasts are not even defined as ערוה in the first place.
– Meforshim deal with your question. The commentaries prove from here that although a child is below the age of Chinuch, a child who is not yet ready to be educated in the intricacies of law, nonetheless there mere viewing of such sights has a significant effect on the child. Clearly, viewing the actual ערוה is much more significant in this regard. Indeed, Chazal use strong language about a husband looking at מקום הערוה of his wife, though he may see all other parts of the body.
4. Even if breasts are defined as ערוה (source?) showing off cleavage is very common in our day. If so, the rule “טפח באישה ערווה” would apply to cleavage as it does hair, thus women could show up to 7-9cm of cleavage (depending on who you rely.)
– Sources for the breasts have the status of Ervah are many Poskim, beginning from Rabbeinu Yonah.
– Your assumption that the rule of טפח באשה ערווה applies to hair is heavily debated on its own (see Igros Moshe Even HaEzer, Vol. 1: 58 who seems to permit it, however see Halacha2go #492 and in the references at length.) and this argument defiantly doesn’t work here. because regarding Ervah Mamosh, no one suggests it’s okay to expose.
ראה ס׳ היראה לר״י רלח. ס״ח קי. משנ״ה ז, רמד. שבה״ל ז, י. י, יד. ובארוכה – באתי לגני ארבל. מב. לבושה של תורה א, לד ואילך.