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Is it permitted to go swimming on Shabbos?

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Why might you think it is or isnt'? –  Double AA Aug 26 at 18:17

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The original prohibition as brought in the Gemarah Maseches Shabbos against swimming on Shabbos has to do with concern that one may perform "Gibul" - mushing the dirt at the side of the body of water into mud which would be a toldah of lash, kneading. As Yirmiyahu said there is also the concern of making a raft. Therefore in an outdoor pool most poskim do not permit it, (although R' Leizer Silver seemingly did. See http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2007_01_01_archive.html). Indoor pools are permitted by a minority although most major poskim do not recommend it. Rav Moshe Feinstein writes that the minhag is that one should not immerse even in cold water on Shabbos unless it is for a mitzvah. (Igroth Moshe, Even Haezer 2,13.) There is also the concern of wringing out one's hair. There are those who say that going into the pool with a bathing suit on is laundering. Also see http://www.dafyomi.co.il/shabbos/insites/sh-dt-041.htm .

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Igros Moshe writes the swimming in a swimming pool is mutar on Shabbos. He then notes that in America, the minhag is not to. But he is quite clear that it is allowed, according to the law. And it seems to me that in many communities today in America, the custom has changed people do swim. –  Curiouser Feb 28 '12 at 20:23
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@Curiouser--1. He says it is permitted when it is in an area it is permitted to carry and that even there it is forbidden to do so while wearing a bathing suit. 2. The minhag is NOT discussing "American" practice but Ashkenazi practice not to bathe, which is the authoritative Ashkenazi minhag. –  Yirmeyahu Aug 26 at 3:50
    
This answer could really use some sources for its claims. –  Double AA Aug 26 at 21:47
    
The evidence points to the fact that this person is incapable of reading the Gemara, since the opening line about the "original prohibition as brought in the Gemara" contradicts the fact that it is not completely prohibited at all. So why did it get so many upvotes without adequate sources and making baseless claims? I think it's because it best fits popular politics rather than the halakha.... Kol tuv. –  Maimonist Aug 26 at 22:27

Swimming is prohibited (under most circumstances) out of concern that one might construct a [makeshift] raft.

Indeed, the prohibition against swimming is one of the reasons, as I recall, for the Ashkenazi practice not to bathe even in cold water on Shabbos (which itself precludes swimming in those situations where the prohibition isn't otherwise applicable). The prohibition against laundering prohibits entering the water while wearing clothes.

Shabbos 40b
Misnhen Torah: Shabbos 23:5
Shulchan Aruch: Orach Chaim 339:2
Igros Moshe Even HaEzer 2:13
Shemiras Shabbos K'Hilchasa 14:12

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Any update on those sources? –  Seth J Feb 28 '12 at 18:52
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@SethJ, sources added...and in under 3 and a half years. –  Yirmeyahu Aug 26 at 2:19
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But if you look in the shulchan aruch there is an exception of if the pool has a lip (ledge that will hold the water from splashing out) of it is in a vessel then it is permitted –  hazoriz Aug 26 at 2:41

First, some context:

Unfortunately, the question of whether or not it is permissible according to the halakha to swim on Shabath has become yet another marker of one's neighbor's frumkeit and subsequently their commitment to sh'mirath ha-misswoth. Like so many other humroth that have been contrived in the name of "custom," this too has become a source of false religiosity and sinath hinam. Once again, we encounter those who would shake their fingers condescendingly at Hazal and the rishonim and instead choose to forbid the permitted - something which is just as detrimental and just as against the halakha as permitting what is forbidden.

The Talmudh Yerushalmi states in Masekheth Terumoth (5:3):

"k'shem sh'asur l'ttaher eth ha-ttame kakh asur le-ttame eth ha-ttahor - Just as it is forbidden to pronounce that which is impure to be pure, so also is it forbidden to pronounce that which is pure to be impure."

The Sefer Ha-Tashbess (siman 537) writes regarding this statement:

"k'shem sh'asur l'hatir eth ha-asur kakh asur l'esor eth ha-mutar - Just as it is forbidden to permit the forbidden, so also is it forbidden to forbid the permitted."

And this is the principle brought by nearly all of the poseqim.

As it will be seen, swimming (under certain reasonable constraints and conditions) is permitted by the gemara, the Mishneh Torah, a plethora of rishonim, and even the Shulhan Arukh. With all due respect to k'vodho ha-rav Feinstein (and others), the apparent Ashkenazi "custom" to forbid it, despite it being permitted explicitly by the sources, is dubious at best.

Now, to answer your question:

In MT Hilkhoth Shabath 23:5 it states:

"ein shattin `al p'ne ha-mayim g'zera shema y'thaqan havith shela-shayattin : barekha she-b'hasser mutar lasutt bah sh'eino ba' la-'asoth bah havith shela-shayattin wa-hu sh'tihye bah sapha muqepheth sh'lo' ya'aqor mimena ha-mayim k'dhe sh'yihye heker wa-hefresh bena uvein ha-yam - We do not swim in [open, natural bodies of] water [on Shabath]. This is a rabbinic decree lest one come to construct a barrel of reeds [i.e. for a flotation device]. A [man-made] pool inside of a courtyard [i.e. enclosed with an eruv] is permissible to swim in as long as it has a lip surrounding it so that the water cannot run out of it [onto the ground around it], and in this way there will be a definite distinction between it and the sea.

So we see that it is indeed permissible to swim on Shabath, provided that it is in a pool, with a rim, within a valid `eruv.

[See also `Arokh HaShulhan, Hilkhoth Shabath, siman 339, se'iph 4 for a fuller explanation of the halakhic difference between swimming in a river or lake and swimming in a pool.]

Now, beside swimming itself there are several other issues raised by the occasion of swimming that have halakhic concerns, both regarding hilkhoth Shabath and otherwise:

  1. Swimming attire - In ancient times, swimming was done without a bathing suit. In other words, the one swimming would do so while nude. Therefore, this halakha is likely dealing with such a scenario. Given the prohibition on kibus (laundering), how can one wear an article of clothing while in the water, isn't this kibus?
  2. Wet hair - We know that it is prohibited to wring out things on Shabath (s'hitta as a derivative of disha), so wouldn't wringing out wet hair fall under this category?
  3. Ssani`uth (modesty) - Is mixed bathing/swimming permissible? Can one go to a public pool on Shabath?
  4. Heating water - Most pools are heated and heating water is forbidden on Shabath so is it prohibited to swim in a modern "heated" pool on Shabath?

The answers to these questions are a bit complex in their explanation, but I will attempt to answer them concisely.

A. There are many issues with regard to kibus that could be discussed, but essentially the question is whether one can get clothing wet and for what purpose. A clean suit worn into clean water is not considered kibus since it essentially effects nothing. As for drying, the second part of kibus, since people do not seek to immediately dry their suits but instead remove them while still wet, there is no issue there either. As for wringing out a bathing suit, as long as it is made of synthetic materials (such as polyester or nylon) there is absolutely no issue since we have a principle of "ein disha ela b'gidule qarqa` - there is no concern for [the melakha of] disha except with articles made of [plant] materials that grow from the ground" (cf. b.Shabath 75a et al). Therefore, there is no prohibition of squeezing synthetic materials (more on this in the next section). And even if one were to wear cotton while swimming, it would be fine as long as one does not wring them out or squeeze them - provided they are clean and the water is clean.

B. Pursuant to the previous section, wringing out wet hair also does not present a halakhic issue. It states explicitly in Mishne Tora (Hilkhoth Shabath 9:11) that there is no prohibition of "squeezing" or "wringing" (s'hitta) with regard to hair or leather. There are those who maintain that the Rambam holds here that there is no isur of s'hitta min ha-Tora, but a mi-divrehem prohibition still applies, however this is incorrect as is explained by the pirush of Rav Yosef Qafih z"l (there, #32). The hair or beard may be squeezed and wrung out on Shabath without any concern at all.

C. Mixed swimming is not permissible. There are those who are liberal who will certainly argue on this, but it is nevertheless not permitted for modesty reasons. The sources for this are abundant and there is no need to list them here. However, it appears l`aniyuth da'ati that immediate family swimming together while CLOTHED (i.e. not in underwear, bikinis, etc.) is perfectly fine. This may be derived from the laws permitting even qiruv basar while sleeping between nuclear family members in the same bed of the opposite gender. Once the child has shame, clothing or a blanket to separate between skin and skin is required. Swimming together while clothed in a private pool (without other people) should be fine, and the small children who are still toddlers unaware of their own bodies could swim in any bathing suit or even without clothing. [See MT Hilkhoth Isure Bi'a 21:6-7 et al].

D. The prohibition to heat water on Shabath is only in regard to the temperature of yadh soledeth bo (around 110 F). Thus, a slightly-warmed pool is not an issue. [See `Arokh HaShulhan, Hilkhoth Shabath, siman 326 , se'if 3]

In closing, there are those who claim that swimming is not in the "spirit" of Shabath. However, we must ask ourselves what determines this "spirit." It seems that Hazal felt that the "spirit" of Shabath was to be determined by the halakha - i.e. through prohibiting melakha, not discussing melakhoth, nor doing things that may lead to halakhoth. Swimming (within the guidelines set by Hazal) does not fit any of those descriptions. Instead, it seems that taking a permissible "dip" on the Seventh Day may actually fall into the category of `onegh Shabath (this view is also expressed by Rav Yisshaq Abadi shlit"a, as can be found on his website kashrut.org).

A helpful teshuva by Rav Rasson `Arusi shlit"a on this subject - containing much of what has been explained here - may be found HERE.

But hey, if you can't find a pool to swim in on Shabath, you can always swim in the hot miqwa'oth in town - these are permitted by even the most haredi of authorities.

Hope this helps. Kol tuv.

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Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. –  Monica Cellio Aug 28 at 1:31

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