Here is an interesting blog I wanted to share with you. The main point that this 'professor' makes is that Jesus was expressing an opinion. The professor explains, in typical Jewish manner, that whether or not it is OK to look at a woman depends on what rabbis you want to follow! Rashi and Ramban taught the looks was wrong, although Ramban thought refusing to look at a woman was not the law, it was a 'fence' meant to keep you from going further and breaking the Law.
Sermon on the Mount: Jesus, Women, and Sex: Matthew 5:27-28
Jesus continues his instruction to his disciples, teaching them: "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart."
During the presidential campaign of 1976, Jimmie Carter gave an interview in Playboy magazine and, when asked if he had ever been unfaithful, he responded:
Did Jimmie Carter commit sin? Jimmie Carter and many Christian theologians believe so (although he later went on to state that God had forgiven him, pursuant to traditional Protestant theology).
There are two interesting aspects to this Gospel passage: The first is that Jesus seemingly is putting a "fence around the Torah" (something that I explain immediately below). The second is that Jesus seems to teach that mere thoughts may be sinful. We tackle each of these points in turn.
As to the first aspect, note how Jesus seemingly puts a greater "burden" on his students than the Torah does: the Torah limits the act of adultery; Jesus seemingly demands more, as President Carter acknowledged. This is something that the ancient rabbis often did, what is referred to as, making a "fence around the Torah." This means that the ancient rabbis enacted rules to make the breach of a Torah commandment more difficult. Thus, for example, by rabbinical enactment, a Jewish man is not to be alone with a woman not his wife, daughter, or mother, all with an eye toward not violating Exodus 20:18 the Eighth Commandment of the Decalogue, prohibiting adultery.
What has often fascinated me is that more than a few Christian theologians and writers criticize the Pharisees for enacting these additional rules (the Pharisees began the "fence around the Torah"), referring to them as burdensome rules. Yet, in his own stress on purity, this is exactly what Jesus does in his Sermon (don’t get kill and don’t’ even get angry; don’t commit adultery and don’t even look).
As for Jesus’ "fence" of not even looking, was this appropriate from a Jewish perspective? Well, it all depends on which rabbi you ask. One rabbi, like Jesus himself, taught that one should not look "admiringly" on a heathen woman (would it be okay to look admiringly upon a Jewish woman?). Yet another rabbi responded that it is not only not wrong to look upon such a woman, but when doing so, one should declare, "How great are your works [of beauty] O Lord!" (referencing Psalm 111:2, "The works of the Lord are great"). So, some thought it was not okay to look; others thought it was okay.
In any event, we now come to the second aspect of this part of the Sermon on the Mount: did Jesus (and at least some rabbis) prohibit mere thoughts? Recall that Judaism is a religion of deed, not creed (see posts of April 15 and April 18, 2010). As such, while one should always strive for pure thoughts, there is no sin occasioned by thinking base thoughts. Indeed, even the Tenth Commandment of the Decalogue (Exodus 20:17), "You shalt not covet," does not prohibit mere thoughts; the ancient rabbis interpreted this to mean that the commandment prohibits only actions in furtherance of these thoughts.
As to Jesus teaching against "looking on a woman to lust after her," I do not believe that Jesus and (at least) some rabbis were teaching that thoughts alone can be sinful. Both Jesus and the rabbis were dealing not just with thoughts, but with an act--looking.
Hence, thinking base thoughts about a woman is not sinful, notwithstanding Jimmie Carter’s view; the act of looking, however, may be such an act, at least according to Jesus and some rabbis, while other rabbis believed that beauty is to be admired and for which God is to be praised.
The sages of the Talmud were all "down to earth men." They all had occupations (there were no paid rabbis during those times). They all had families. They had sexual urges. They looked at pretty women. Some thought it was quite all right to look; others did not.
As I have stated in previous posts, such is the nature of Judaism: put 12 Jews in a room and you will get 13 different opinions.
The blog site is called "Jesus and the professor" and contains many interesting insights about Jesus, Judaism and the Gospels.