What are the issues with mixed swimming, from a tzniut point of view? Does it make a difference if the swimmers are or aren't Jewish? For example, are there issues with me swimming with my wife and a non-Jewish male friend, provided that both me and my wife are modestly dressed? Does it make a difference whether it's a small body of water (swimming pool) or a large one (lake or ocean)?
TK, although I cannot definitively answer your questions, I can touch on some of the issues that I have discussed with an authority:
"Mixed swimming" is a subset of forbidden relations (abizrayhu d'arayos)- loosely translated as promiscuity. However this would apply only when in the pool in proximity, but not when a male is on one side of a large pool and the female is on the other. I don't know of any distinction between Jewish and not.
Another issue that would apply at all times is stray thoughts about women. Again, I don't know if it makes a difference if the "thinker" is Jewish. I was once involved with a group who were going for advanced swimming lessons, using a separate part of the pool and where thoughts were less of a problem because of the age of the other females in the pool. I was told that I did not have to protest.
Although you may be thinking at this point that this seems doable, I must bring a 3rd point:
- Based on the Shulchan Aruch EhE 21, those who are careful about mitzvos avoid mixed social events, especially where the sole purpose of the event is to have a good time together.
It is incorrect (and according to some poskim assur) for her to go to a mixed swimming pool even when she is fully dressed. The poskim say that it is a lack of tznius for her to look at the men, and to be in such a place, there is also an issue of maris ayin for her to be in such a place.
Source: Halichos Bas Yisroel 7-17
There's no consensus among the poskim as to what is the basis of the mixed swimming issur, so it's really hard to answer your question. However, two main issues that consistently come up are:
- The women at the beach or pool are not modestly dressed.
- The act of a woman bathing in an area designated for men is seen as a promiscuous act (See gittin 90b).
Now the first issue one can easily avoid if one is careful to swim in a large body of water where women aren't close by (or seen from the distance). Or in the instance of the OP, where the woman is modestly dressed and swimming with a non-Jewish male (Even if the woman would not be modestly dressed, there would be no issue for her to cause the non-Jewish male to have impure thoughts). However, the second issue would be harder to get around. The reason why she would not be allowed to swim with the non-Jewish male in the pool in this instance is because some would consider it as if the woman is bathing in an area designated for men.
However, there are a lot of holes in this argument. Firstly, since the swimming pool is not designated specifically for men, it is hard to see how this could be considered a promiscuous act. In the gemara gittin cited above the women is bathing in a bathhouse designated for men (which are by the way nude), or bathing with them, so it is easy to see why this act would be considered promiscuous; but in our case the pool is not designated for men but is a public area, the fact that a woman and man are swimming in the same pool each going their own way would not raise any red flags, and would not be seen as an overly promiscuous act (especially since both the men and women are not completely nude). Nowadays, it is accepted practice that women and men go to the beach and swim together, modern society does not consider this indecent behavior for any of the sexes. Especially since separate beaches are not always available, the fact that a man chooses to swim in a public area where other women are around, or vice versa, should not be seen as a promiscuous act. Secondly, in the gemara the woman is clearly trying to be provocative by walking into a men's bathhouse, this does not apply to a woman walking into a public swimming pool trying to enjoy herself without the intention of arousing other men. This issue is actually raised in Asher chunan (6-7, siman 108), although the author merely concludes that the husband would not be able to divorce her on the ground of her going to the beach, it does illustrate why comparing one swimming at the beach to a woman bathing in a men's bathhouse is highly contentious. See also yechaveh daas 5:63, the author clearly writes that this is assur.
In any case, this discussion only holds in the case where the women is immodestly dressed; if the woman would be modestly dressed as in the OP's case, even this would not be an issue (issue no. 2 is clearly only a problem when the women is somewhat immodestly dressed, there is no issue with bathing in the same area as men, per se), and the Jewish woman may swim freely in a pool where there is another male around, Jewish or non-Jewish, or even a mixed beach provided that she is modestly dressed. I have also verified this with a local Rav (strictly from a halachic perspective, however one should refrain from doing so if their minhag is not to).
Now of course, for a male to swim in a public crowded beach would be prohibited for reason no. 1, since it's not possible for a man to guard his eyes in such a place. But if the male were to swim in a public beach far away from other people, it is hard to make the case that such an act is indeed prohibited, or that it is considered as if he's bathing together with women, or that such an act is provocative or inherently indecent. So to answer your question, yes it does make a difference whether the body of water is large or small.
Even if one were to insist that swimming in a mixed pool is prohibited (regardless of dress code or that the area is not specifically designated for a specific gender), I think most would agree that if the beach is relatively empty, and the man and woman swimming are quite far from each other that we would not consider this as if they're bathing together in any way (or in the same area), thus such an act would clearly be permitted.