Tag Archive: tzniut

Jewish Law & TSA Full Body Scanners

We have formally entered the month of June! And yet, while all across the world the sun is shining, the official start of summer is not until June 21st. With the onset of summer, many individuals and families travel to sleep away camp, visit relatives in other states or countries, and so on and so forth. Indeed, the airlines capitalize on this fact and have imposed a “Summer Travel Fee!” If you thought you have seen everything, you haven’t seen nothin’ yet! Nowadays, depending upon your airline you may be charged for your hand luggage to the use of a headset, pillow or blanket. What’s more, due to the tragic events of 9-11, passengers are taxed with an additional “Security Fee.” These funds typically go to the TSA or other security needs at each airport. However, between a still lagging economy, and all of the additional fees that are lopped onto a ticket these days, there are many a person who find it cumbersome to travel via airplane. Moreover, travelers find it literally a shlep just getting to a particular gate.

Why?

Due to increased security measures, it seems like an astronomically long time before one even enters the terminal! And so, in an effort to move people along quickly all while providing better security, there are now more than twenty-three airports across the United States using Full Body Scanners.

Indeed, last year, when these scanners where beginning to get more public attention, I posed the question here of:

According to Jewish Law, is it permissible to walk through the Full Body Scanner?

At the time, I didn’t get the chance to properly answer this question. Additionally, those Poskim whom I consulted with told me that they wanted to learn more about it before reaching a conclusion. Since posing this question, we have unfortunately experienced the “Underwear Bomber” as well as the misunderstanding that led many to believe that there was a “Tefillin Bomber!” All things considered, ever since the “Underwear Bomber” tried to blow up a plane over Detroit last year, these devices have been more readily adopted by airport security throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, etc. To that end, it appears inevitable that they will continue to be introduced to airports around the world. And so, while there are those who believe that these scanners increase safety, there are reputable experts who are of the opinion that they are “worthless.” See also here. Moreover, for some time now it has been reported that Al-Qaeda has been practicing how to get past these scanners! On another note, I’d be remiss to point out that for certain people there are potential health risks involved. Hence, one should consult their physician prior to stepping in a Full Body Scanner. For instance, it has already been reported here that pregnant women and children should not be subject to this scanning.

However, aside for such individuals, your average passenger may very well have to pass through a Full Body Scanner for their very first time this summer. Hence, while there is certainly room to debate if this device is truly effective, I believe that’s a moot point, as these machines are now going to be part of the travel experience. And so, I believe it’s imperative to answer the question of:

According to Jewish Law, is it permissible to walk through the Full Body Scanner?

To best address this matter, we need to determine if there is even any Halachic cause for concern in using a Full Body Scanner?

While I’m certain that there are several elements of concern a pious Jew may have before walking through this machine, arguably the greatest issue is the element of: Tznius. Indeed, there are those who suggest that these devices clearly break child pornography laws. Likewise, CNN recently reported that the government is misleading the public regarding the ability of these nude airport scanners. Truth be told, these machines that see beneath people’s clothing, do have the potential to be abused by TSA insiders and hacked by outsiders. Not only would this be a grievous  invasion of privacy, but it would clearly not be within the realm of Tznius, and hence possibly forbidden to use by Jewish Law.

Indeed, a TSA worker assaulted a colleague who made a crack about the others genitalia after his fellow employee walked through the revealing scanner! As such, we certainly see that this machine can be revealingand not for simply security intentions!

And so, as pious Jews, we must turn to the words of our contemporary Sages to see if it’s permissible to consider using these machines.

Earlier this year, the European Jewish Press reported here that The Rabbinical Centre of Europe (RCE), comprised of hundreds of Rabbis, expressed concern about the installation and implementation of Full Body Scanners in European airports.  Asher Gold, the RCE spokesperson remarked, “the implementation of Full Body Scans leaves us concerned. In line with child protection agencies in America we feel this violates the rights of [all] Religious Women whose Modesty would be compromised.” Accordingly, he vocalized the Rabbis conclusion as far as using this device by remarking that while they appreciate the concern of passenger safety, “we would recommend that men are scanned by men, and women by women, akin to body frisk.”

However, one of the foremost Poskim of today, Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlita, reportedly stated clearly that, “he saw no Halachic questions with using these scanners for airport safety!” Similarly, when I recently asked this question to two other Poskim, one in America and one in Eretz Yisrael, they both remarked that using these devices would be akin to going to a doctor. If medically needed, a Jewish physician is allowed to inspect a person of the opposite sex. Likewise, if medically needed, a Jewish patient is permitted to expose themselves to a medical professional of the opposite sex. The reason for this, is beyond the scope of this post, but stems from the verse in Deuteronomy 4:15 which states, “ushmartem me’od es nafshoseichem” (you shall carefully preserve your lives). Likewise, the Poskim whom I spoke to explained that it would be permitted by Halacha to partake in this “revealing” scan as it is needed for physical safety, and would also fall in line with the above mentioned verse and rationale.

In summation, the consensus opinion is that a Jewish person is allowed to walk into a Full Body Scanner. While it may be additionally pious to try and follow the statement of the RCE that, “men are scanned by men, and women by women,” there are many other Poskim who are of the opinion that one need not be concerned for this measure.

Have a safe and meaningful trip!

What are your thoughts on these Full Body Scanners?


Want to schedule Rabbi Green for a talk, or Shabbaton? Got a question? Need an answer? Click here to contact Rabbi Green.

Listen to Rabbi Green's most recent podcast here.
Subscribe or View Archives.