The Jewish Press (February 16, 2018) asked a number of rabbis to address this interesting but rarely-discussed question: “Some of the most famous and important works of literature contain passages and themes that are immodest in nature. May a G-d-fearing Jew read these works for the good they contain, or must he forego reading them entirely?”
This is the link to the entire feature: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/books/on-the-bookshelf-23/2018/02/16/
These were my thoughts on the matter:
I don’t believe there is a definitive answer to this question, although it is certainly easier just to say “no.” Much depends on motivation, purpose, context, source, and especially the precise nature of the immorality, of which, of course, there are gradations. Perhaps the most important determinant is the message that is being delivered. Ancient and medieval works generally frowned on immorality and as such reinforce a Torah message while more modern and contemporary works often celebrate immorality. Usually, no good comes from the latter and prolonged exposure to values that are antithetical to Torah will eventually dilute the reader’s moral perspective and later his or her practice and commitment as well.
It’s important to note that Chazal (recorded in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 307:16) banned the reading of “divrei cheshek” – loosely, books of romance – as a waste of time that could be spent on more godly pursuits and as a tool that could only increase illicit temptation. Books that might fall under that genre must therefore have some redeeming value. Its prurient aspects must be incidental to its primary message for it to be considered appropriate and worthwhile. Fiction generally, Rav Kook wrote, affords us the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of another person’s experiences and thus can broaden our horizons. But not every lifestyle or experience deserves to be investigated, studied or fantasized about and certainly not emulated. So caution must be applied.
That being said, there is one Book that exposes the vices and venality that can permeate human nature and is unsparing in its accounts of our failings. It is superior to any work of fiction. That Book is the Tanach. And we can rest assured that its moral guidance is always spot on. Anyone who wants to learn about our potential for degradation as well great virtue is urged to study the relevant passages and not just skip over them. They provide a solid grounding in moral instruction and, nevertheless, occasionally put human dysfunction on display. One who is drawn to indulge in problematic works of literature would be well advised to study the works of Tanach instead, especially the chronicles of the early prophets. “Turn in it and turn in it, for everything is in it”( Avot 5:22).