15 Shevat 5763
I have been bothered by a psak that has been accepted worldwide for MANY years and I’m hoping that you can perhaps explain or clarify things for me. I don’t understand why it is acceptable according to halacha, that women are allowed to swim in a pool that is watched over by a male lifeguard. I was under the impression that the reason why this is allowed, is because of pikuach nefesh, that a man can save a person better than a woman can. I’m not feminist, but I know that there are plenty of perfectly licensed women who are just as capable to save a life as men are. Furthermore, it seems that this must be an extremely big kulah, because I personally don’t think that the male lifeguard’s intensions are l’shaim shamoyim. I’m sure that the men who are lifeguards don’t really care about saving lives for the most part. I love to swim, but shouldn’t the halacha be that if you can’t swim in a kosher way, then don’t swim at all – like it is with many other sports, like skiing, paint balling, rock climbing etc…?
Can you please explain to me why this psak is acceptable, why it doesn’t apply to other sports, and which Rav announced this psak?
Thank you for your help.
Darchei Binah 5763
Dear Name Withheld,
Thank you for a very interesting question. First of all, I was unaware that such a Psak had been rendered in a public manner, so I really can’t help you in determining which Rav may have announced this Psak. Most religious women that I know will only swim at a pool where there are female lifeguards, or will wear a robe if there are males present. I am aware, though, that at separate beaches in Israel it is common for women to swim in the presence of male lifeguards, the rationale being that most women lifeguards may not be strong enough to carry out an ocean rescue if CH”V needed. However, even in this situation, many women will only go into the ocean in their robes, and this is certainly preferable, when possible.
However, you are correct in observing that some religious women don’t have a problem swimming in the presence of male lifeguards in their bathing suits. In their defense, I’d like to explain as follows. The regular Chiyuv to dress in a modest manner only applies in a public area, where Bnos Yisrael dress in this fashion. At a swimming pool or on the beach, if it is designated for women only, it would be permitted to dress as Bnos Yisroel normally do in this venue, in their bathing suits. However, there is another problem, that of “Lifnei Iver”, appearing in front of a man in a manner in which he will have improper thoughts, which applies in all situations. In Halacha we find a concept of “Torud B’Melachto”- when a man is involved in doing a job, we say that he is busy concentrating on properly doing his job, and you are not transgressing Lifnei Iver be appearing in front of him in an undressed manner since he will not be easily distracted from his job, as he would be if he just happened to be sitting there. This can be compared to a male doctor who is doing a routine checkup on a female patient, he is busy doing his job in the most professional manner, and we don’t have to be concerned that his mind might wander. However, if you are certain that this is not the case, it would certainly not be appropriate to swim in the presence of such a lifeguard, or to allow yourself to be examined by such a physician.
I’m not certain what you mean regarding the difference between swimming and other sports. If you don’t mind explaining, perhaps I could better help you.
I hope that this is helpful for you.
Rabbi Aaron Tendler