How Do Orthodox Jews Go Swimming? (Details For Giveaway At End of Post!!)

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Dear Jew in the City,

This might seem like a silly question, but how do Orthodox Jews go swimming? Do they have places that are separate for men and women? If women cannot swim with men then can you ever swim with your whole family or just your husband if it’s private or is that not allowed?

Thanks,

Jody

Dear Jody,

It’s not a silly question at all! I’m sure it’s hard to imagine how people who adhere to a high level of modesty handle water activities. As someone who didn’t grow up Orthodox, I was like most secular people who, when I went to the beach or pool, walked around in nothing but a bathing suit. By the time I hit my teens – I insisted on wearing only bikinis. But then I started learning about Jewish modesty and realized that I was essentially walking around in my underwear!

I mention this not to pass judgment on people who wear bathing suits in mixed company (because I never thought twice about it back when I did it) but rather to make the point that although swimming covered up or going to a single sex pool or beach seems like an odd thing to do, there’s actually something kind of odd about walking onto a patch of sand and willingly taking all of your clothes off in front of strangers!

As I’ve written before, both men and women have specific laws of modesty geared towards them. Men are more the “lookers,” so they’re restricted more in terms of what they can see. Women are more the “show-ers,” so they’re restricted more in terms of what they can bare.

When it comes to nuclear family members, it gets a little more complicated and different communities do different things. In more centrist and modern circles, as a certain age is reached (even the age I speak of has a range), sisters and mother’s walk around (or swim with) brothers and sons in a less modest way than they’d be around men that were not part of their immediate family, but still generally have a sense of not being provocative around these family members. So families in these circles could have the entire family swimming together in private pools or private beaches. In the most right wing circles, sisters and mothers dress totally modestly around brothers and sons from a young age.

If private pools or beaches aren’t an option, another possibility are swimming pools with separate hours for men and women or going to single sex beaches. The last thing that could be done is for the woman to dress modestly at a regular beach and for a man to go to a regular beach that’s basically empty.

But what if all the women are covered appropriately – is mixed swimming OK for non-family members? I’m sure there are communities that don’t, but I recently spoke to my rabbi about it and he said that as long as the women are dressed modestly co-ed swimming is fine as the prohibition on mixed swimming is about the state of undress, not the water.

There are different ways to handle dressing modestly at the beach and pool. In the past I’ve worn a thick, loose t-shirt that covers my elbows, a draw-string skirt, a bandanna on my head, to go for a sporty look. Modest swim dresses that kind of look like elbow length surfing attire (just with a skirt) have been getting more and more popular in the last few years too.

But there’s a new concept for swim dresses which combines a cute sundress you’d wear around town made of out material that is fit for water. This dress can be an everyday dress, a cover up, or a swim dress. I was recently contacted by ba’al teshuva (returnee to obsevance) fashion designer Amanda Sculnick, who came up with this idea and is part of an up and coming modest fashion line she created called Sarah á la Mode.

Amanda explained how she struggled early on in her religious journey with how to dress as an observant Jewish woman, especially in the summer, as she didn’t want to lose herself and her style in the process. Amanda’s struggle is something that resonates with me very much as I believe that the healthiest way for a person to take on observance is to make sure they incorporate as much as their old self (as Jewish law permits) into their new religious self.

What’s fabulous about these dresses is that you don’t order by size – they’re custom made for you. Amanda sent me one which I absolutely love and have been wearing all over the place. We decided to spread the modest fashion fun to one of you and create a contest on Facebook so you (or the woman in your life) can win a free dress too! Just like the JITC Facebook page to learn how to enter the contest. Happy modest fashionable swimming!

 

All the best,

Allison (aka Jew in the City)

 

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Allison is the Founder and Director of Jew in the City. Please find her full bio here.

Comments

  1. Aliza Hausman says:

    Love this! I was a bikini girl until I became religious. I love to swim and I take Aqua Fitness classes so shorts and a big t-shirt were just weighing me down and impossible. I finally found a frum designer Regine, like Sarah, who had women like me in mind and I started buying a modest 3-piece bathing suit from Aqua Modesta. I have gotten many compliments on my suit. It comes with a shirt, a bra-top underneath and a skirt with built-in undies. Women who are NOT religious have asked me where they can get one because they would like to be more modest when they swim or for sun issues or because they would rather not show it all. I can’t wait to check out Sarah a la Mode!

  2. What about intense lap swim? Sundresses and 3 pieces are great for the beach or relaxed swim but they don’t work so well if you really want to get an olympic style work out! Is there any way around it or am I just expected to give it up?

    • Probably the best way to handle serious swimming is in private pools or women’s only hours. It certainly limits where you can do this, but doesn’t take it completely off the table. Being an observant Jew should hopefully be a balance of stuff you enjoy doing fitting into a larger picture of obligation that is meant to create purposeful/meaningful living. It doesn’t always allow us to do things exactly as we’d want to have if the rules weren’t there, however, I think for most pple, the trade off is worth it.

  3. I live in a super small Jewish town, separte swimming is non-existent. But, as an avid lap swimmer and an orthodox Jew, I wanted modest/appropriate swim attire for my lap swimming. I wear a normal bathing suit and a long sleeve surfer shirt, also known as rash guards. Takes care of the top! On bottom I wear men’s swim shorts, though I have seen Skirt/capri swimming combinations (search for “Hydrochic” company)

  4. batsheva says:

    I figured out that the idea of “normal” swimsuits was absurd when I was a teenager, almost 30 years before I became observant. It just did not make sense to me, that everyone would laugh at me, and maybe I could even be arrested, if I went to the beach in my bra and panties, but make them out of swimsuit material, and it’s perfectly fine. Just completely irrational. I haven’t swum in decades as a result. I think the idea of the surfer rash guards with long swim shorts could work though. What I don’t get is how it’s even possible to go in the water in a skirt of any kind. Doesn’t it just balloon up around you, and wouldn’t that defeat the point of wearing it in the first place? Amanda’s outfit is gorgeous though.

    • Allison Allison says:

      Well – Amanda’s dress could be to wade in the water at the beach. She also makes matching pants to stick under the dress. There are also some styles where you can snap the dress down at the bottom.

      Whenever I want to do serious swimming I just try to find a private pool or all women’s hours…

  5. Fashion-isha says:

    You did a great job! I love ‘Men are more the lookers and women are more the barers!..FAbuluos girl!’ We each have our jobs ;)
    xo
    Sharon

  6. just a question: is ‘form fitting’ considered immodest?

    for instance, a wet t-shirt, shirt or dress (no matter how big or loose) is plastered to the body and/or transparent when wet.

    • Allison Allison says:

      Let’s start with transparent since that’s easier – that’s a “no” for everyone – transparent defeats the purpose of being clothed if you can see right through the clothes. Then we come to form fitting – in that category you’ll find a range of opinions. Everyone would agree that “plastered” or “skin tight” is too tight. But many say that form fitting is OK. Though there are those that believe the clothes should be baggy.

  7. I wear a swimming dres (made out of swimming costume material) when swimming in an area that non jewish men are around.(if they get into the pool I jump out). When I swim with my brothers, fathers and nephews under age nine, I wear a tshirt and shorts and when I go the beach I go intot he water in my swimming dress (my mother wears her stockings! proud of her, yet that is not my cup of tea. I wear stocking to the beach and take them off before I go into the water).

  8. Chana Oshira Block says:

    I loved seeing this! I’m a convert, and I haven’t been swimming since I began the process. Even though my studies covered a mind-numbing amount of information, somehow, I realized a few days ago in a conversation with my husband, that I have no idea about the rules for women swimming! I was so happy to find answers here. Thank you!

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