>Full-body Scan and Modesty

>A group of observant Jews are concerned that full-body scans in airports may violate the Jewish law of tzniut, or modesty. In an article published in Forward, Josh Nathan-Kazis wrote:

Observant Jews are voicing concerns over modesty and looking for compromise on the Transportation Security Administration’s plan to expand the use of whole-body imaging machines for airport security, after last month’s failed attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound jetliner.

Leaders in both Conservative and Orthodox communities are debating how scanners with the ability to see through clothing intersect with Jewish laws of tzniut, or modesty, which are observed differently among denominations but generally require Jews to cover their bodies.

“It creates a tension between the Jewish value of protecting lives, which is very strong, and the Jewish value of modesty for women and for men,” said David Rosenn, a Conservative rabbi and the executive director of Avodah, a Jewish service program.


Conservative and Orthodox rabbis have voiced concern over the scanners, and in some cases they’ve requested compromises to ensure that their modesty concerns are met. Last June, the Washington office of Agudath Israel, which represents traditional American Orthodox communities, sent a letter to a Senate subcommittee reviewing a TSA-related bill, promoting an amendment to the House version of the bill that limited the use of the full-body scanners to situations in which passengers had already failed a metal detector test, and which would require that those passengers be offered the option of a pat-down search.

“As an organization that represents observant Jews, Agudath Israel finds [full-body imaging] to be offensive, demeaning, and far short of acceptable norms of modesty under the laws and practices of Judaism and many faith communities,” the letter read.

Read the article in its entirety by clicking here.

Full-body scan is an invasion of privacy because full-body scanning machines can see pictures of the naked body of the person being scanned. In addition, there is no guarantee that the TSA officers looking at the scanned images will be of the same gender as the individual being scanned.

This new procedure to be introduced nationwide by the TSA raises an important question: should travelers be concerned about someone looking at their naked bodies or be assured that when they travel that they are secure and protected from potential acts of terror?

Unfortunately, it does not matter how one answers that question, the terrorists have won. The aim of terrorists is to disrupt our lives and cause as much inconvenience and disruption as possible. The introduction of full-body scans in airports is evidence that their tactics work.

I believe that the government has an obligation to protect the privacy of individuals even in these perilous times. Maybe the solution is to begin with the metal detector test, the puffs of air to test for explosives, or even a pat-down search, thus limiting the use of full-body scans to selective situations where a passenger fails one of these tests.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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