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Shabbat Parashat Mishpatim | 5770
Ask the Rabbi: Full Body Scans for Security
Question:What does halacha have to say about full body scans that are being implemented in airports for security checks?
Answer: We base our answer on the situation as it appears to exist (based on our basic level research) at this time. The body scans enable security agents to view the exterior of the subject's body, including the private parts, as if his or her clothes were not on. However, the quality of the picture, which is more like a sketch than a photograph, is such that it is difficult to recognize the subject. The current system also seems to be that while one security guard takes the pictures at a portal, the agent(s) who views it is in a closed booth nearby, only informing other agents if something suspicious is detected.
Under these circumstances, the matter is permitted for the following reasons. There is a concept of b'avid'tei tarid (Bava Metzia 91a), that one who is preoccupied with his professional activities is not aroused by what he sees. This is commonly used to permit doctors to examine all different parts of a patient's body without special tzniut precautions (Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah III, 54). The same applies to X-ray technicians who see parts of the body exposed that they should not normally see. Some other, albeit not universally accepted, applications are lifeguards and photographers, the matter depending on the context and the likelihood that they will not normally view their subjects in an inappropriate manner. Thus, the agent and, thereby, the traveler in our case do not have tzniut problems from these pictures. It is hard to believe that a normal person who would see these not particularly clear pictures would be aroused by what he saw. While one who sees such images on a one-time basis might find them suggestive, one who sees thousands of such images daily is not likely to be exposed to emotions other than boredom (or perhaps ridicule at someone's obesity or scars, which appears to be behind much of public objections).
There are further reasons for leniency. The gemara (Megilla 15a) says that whoever said the name Rachav would be aroused, but only if he knew her. Based on this, some say that the prohibition of hearing a woman's singing voice applies only when the one listening has seen the woman who is singing (Yabia Omer, I, Orach Chayim 6). In this case, where the guard does not know the person and would not recognize her based on what he saw, there is little cause for concern that he will be aroused.
Let us consider the possibility that some of the security men are the type to be aroused anyway. If such a security agent were to ask the halachic question, we would forbid him (as well as such a doctor, etc.) to take the job, given his unusual "sensitivity." However, this is not the unknowing traveler's concern. The gemara (Berachot 24a) says that it is forbidden for a man to look at a woman's finger to get enjoyment from it. Yet, since it is not the norm for this to happen, women may certainly keep their fingers and other permitted parts of the body uncovered, even if they can assume that from time to time someone will look at them improperly. That is the problem of the person who looks in an improper way, not the person who dresses reasonably.
If the security agent is a non-Jew, who may not engage in illicit relations but is not commanded to refrain from improper thought, the matter is even less problematic since there is no reason to believe that the situation could bring about contact that could cause sin. Although this leniency would not be of much help in Ben Gurion Airport, we have already seen ample grounds for leniency and conclude that this system is permitted. Note that the ultimate purpose of these checks is to save lives (although there are disagreements as to whether it is the most effective system). Note also that one of the major alternatives, to replace it with a full body search, is more problematic when it involves members of the different genders.
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