What’s the halacha of mixed swimming in tzanua attire?
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Questions along these lines are best addressed more personally, so that a response can take specifics of a situation and a community into account. Our response is meant as a general discussion of the relevant issues.
Three Talmudic passages relate to the issue of men seeing (or women exposing) the female body in a body of water: a man may not watch women as they do laundry (Bava Batra 57b), which would typically be done at riverside with clothes rolled up. A man who follows a woman in a river (where she lifts her clothing) loses his share in the world to come (Eiruvin 18b). And a married woman bathing (presumably nude) in a place in which men bathe (also nude) is grounds for divorce (Eiruvin 18b).
Based on these sources and related concerns, halachic authorities have called for separate swimming. Rav Shmuel Wosner considers mixed swimming a Torah-level violation of the prohibition of straying after one’s eyes, regardless of intent (Shevet Ha-levi EH 185). Rav Ovadya Yosef prohibits swimming at a mixed beach (Yechaveh Da’at 5:63), and Rav Moshe Feinstein permits a man to enter a mixed beach only if: he is confident it won’t lead to sexual fantasizing, he makes an effort not to look at what he shouldn’t, and he either needs to pass through that way or has a medical need to be at the beach.
As we discuss here, halachic authorities disagree as to whether there are comparable restrictions on what a woman may see of a man’s body. It is also not clear to what extent concerns remain in place when women wear tzanua bathing gear. On the one hand, one could argue that the physicality of swimming coupled with the difficulty of keeping the body covered in the water preclude mixed swimming in any grouping beyond the immediate family (or a lifeguard, who is there absorbed in his work), and that this connects to broader concerns of gender mixing when there is likely to be kalut rosh. On the other hand, one could argue that the issue is less being in a body of water per se than how people actually dress or conduct themselves, so it could be permissible for a woman to swim in tzanua attire in a number of settings, and for male family members to join in environments in which they can successfully keep some distance from others and in which tzanua bathing attire and conduct is the norm.
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