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Historically "bathing suits" are a relatively new phenomenon... all swimming / bathing in rivers / lakes / seas was unclothed. Culturally things have changed but does that affect halacha? There seem to be places in the Gemara which mention swimming without saying anything about the unclothed issue. The question assumes that it is in a place where one would not be observed (i.e. deserted area in nature or one's own backyard pool)

However, when you contrast this with the strict halachos about being covered in the bathroom, it seems to be a contradiction.

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The basic idea is to always remember that we are standing (or sitting, lying, etc.) in the presence of Hashem, and that we therefore have to maintain decorum as much as possible. So while we uncover our bodies when necessary (like to bathe), we try to keep it to the minimum possible (as in the bathroom, where as Yahu pointed out in the question about that, it is possible to do so without baring too much). –  Alex Jan 17 '11 at 1:25

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

I'm not so sure that the premise of the question ("all swimming... was unclothed") is necessarily correct. If you look back a century or so - on the contrary, their idea of "bathing suits" was actually clothing that covered all, or at least most, of the body. That may well have been true in earlier times too.

In halachah, we find a discussion about crossing a river on Yom Kippur (Yoma 77b, and from there in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 613:5); there are cases when one is allowed to walk through water up to his neck (despite the prohibition against bathing on that day), "provided that he doesn't stick his hands out from under the hem of his garment." If I'm understanding this correctly, a person in this situation on weekdays would typically raise up the bottom of his robe to chest level or so, drape it over his arms, and walk through the water; whereas nowadays we might expect a person in such a situation to take his clothes off and carry them on his head. Granted that this is talking about walking rather than swimming, it still seems to show that it was quite normal to go into the water at least partially clothed.

On the other hand, of course, people commonly bathed in rivers and ponds, and naturally they'd do so naked. Shulchan Aruch Harav (Mahadura Basra 2:4), summarizing information from the Gemara (Shabbos 41b), Magen Avraham (2:4), and Pri Megadim (2:4), says that (a) it's not a problem, any more so than in a bathhouse; (b) one should undress and re-dress as close to the riverbank as possible, so as to minimize unnecessary nudity; (c) a man shouldn't cover his privates when going down into the river, since that makes it seem like he's embarrassed about being circumcised; (d) on the other hand, he should cover them (with his hand, or by crouching) when he comes out of the river, since then he's facing other people.

Based on this, it sounds like skinny-dipping isn't necessarily a problem, provided that standards of tznius are maintained out of the water.

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@Alex, when I said "historically" I meant more than just a century ago... I don't think people started wearing clothing in the water before about the 1700s –  Desert Star Jan 16 '11 at 16:39

Whats the problem?

There is a difference between going to the bathroom and swimming. In the bathroom you are uncovered if you uncover yourself. In the lake or ocean or wherever you swim you are covered with water. You can even make a Bracha while in a Mikva as ladies do when they are Toivel.

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Well, it seems like there are such strict halachos about covering up in the bathroom, it seems like there is some issue about being unclothed –  Desert Star Jan 16 '11 at 3:48
    
DS, please consider incorporating this point into your question. –  Isaac Moses Jan 16 '11 at 4:45
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Only Ashkenazios say the bracha in the mikva. Sephardiyot say it in a side room before taking off their last clothing. –  Double AA May 10 '12 at 3:29

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