Is it Mutar L’Halacha to Walk Through Full Body Scanners?


body-scannerBy Rabbi Michael Green

We have formally entered the month of June. And yet, while all across the world the sun is shining, the official start of summer is not until June 21st. With the onset of summer, many individuals and families travel to sleep away camp, visit relatives in other states or countries, and so on and so forth. Indeed, the airlines capitalize on this fact and have imposed a “Summer Travel Fee!” If you thought you have seen everything, you haven’t seen nothin’ yet! Nowadays, depending upon your airline you may be charged for your hand luggage to the use of a headset, pillow or blanket. What’s more, due to the tragic events of 9-11, passengers are taxed with an additional “Security Fee.” These funds typically go to the TSA or other security needs at each airport. However, between a still lagging economy, and all of the additional fees that are lopped onto a ticket these days, there are many a person who find it cumbersome to travel via airplane. Moreover, travelers find it literally a shlep just getting to a particular gate.


Due to increased security measures, it seems like an astronomically long time before one even enters the terminal! And so, in an effort to move people along quickly all while providing better security, there are now more than twenty-three airports across the United States using Full Body Scanners.

Indeed, last year, when these scanners where beginning to get more public attention, I posed the question here of:

According to Jewish Law, is it permissible to walk through the Full Body Scanner?

At the time, I didn’t get the chance to properly answer this question. Additionally, those Poskim whom I consulted with told me that they wanted to learn more about it before reaching a conclusion. Since posing this question, we have unfortunately experienced the “Underwear Bomber” as well as the misunderstanding that led many to believe that there was a “Tefillin Bomber!” All things considered, ever since the “Underwear Bomber” tried to blow up a plane over Detroit last year, these devices have been more readily adopted by airport security throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, etc. To that end, it appears inevitable that they will continue to be introduced to airports around the world. And so, while there are those who believe that these scanners increase safety, there are reputable experts who are of the opinion that they are “worthless.” See also here. Moreover, for some time now it has been reported that Al-Qaeda has been practicing how to get past these scanners! On another note, I’d be remiss to point out that for certain people there are potential health risks involved. Hence, one should consult their physician prior to stepping in a Full Body Scanner. For instance, it has already been reported here that pregnant women and children should not be subject to this scanning.

However, aside for such individuals, your average passenger may very well have to pass through a Full Body Scanner for their very first time this summer. Hence, while there is certainly room to debate if this device is truly effective, I believe that’s a moot point, as these machines are now going to be part of the travel experience. And so, I believe it’s imperative to answer the question of:

According to Jewish Law, is it permissible to walk through the Full Body Scanner?

To best address this matter, we need to determine if there is even any Halachic cause for concern in using a Full Body Scanner?

While I’m certain that there are several elements of concern a pious Jew may have before walking through this machine, arguably the greatest issue is the element of: Tznius. Indeed, there are those who suggest that these devices clearly break child pornography laws. Likewise, CNN recently reported that the government is misleading the public regarding the ability of these nude airport scanners. Truth be told, these machines that see beneath people’s clothing, do have the potential to be abused by TSA insiders and hacked by outsiders. Not only would this be a grievous  invasion of privacy, but it would clearly not be within the realm of Tznius, and hence possibly forbidden to use by Jewish Law.

Indeed, a TSA worker assaulted a colleague who made a joke after his fellow employee walked through the revealing scanner! As such, we certainly see that this machine can be revealing-and not for simply security intentions!.

And so, as pious Jews, we must turn to the words of our contemporary Sages to see if it’s permissible to consider using these machines.

Earlier this year, the European Jewish Press reported here that The Rabbinical Centre of Europe (RCE), comprised of hundreds of Rabbis, expressed concern about the installation and implementation of Full Body Scanners in European airports.  Asher Gold, the RCE spokesperson remarked, “the implementation of Full Body Scans leaves us concerned. In line with child protection agencies in America we feel this violates the rights of [all] Religious Women whose Modesty would be compromised.” Accordingly, he vocalized the Rabbis conclusion as far as using this device by remarking that while they appreciate the concern of passenger safety, “we would recommend that men are scanned by men, and women by women, akin to body frisk.”

However, one of the foremost Poskim of today, Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlita, reportedly stated clearly that, “he saw no Halachic questions with using these scanners for airport safety!” Similarly, when I recently asked this question to two other Poskim, one in America and one in Eretz Yisrael, they both remarked that using these devices would be akin to going to a doctor. If medically needed, a Jewish physician is allowed to inspect a person of the opposite gender. Likewise, if medically needed, a Jewish patient is permitted to expose themselves to a medical professional of the opposite gender. The reason for this, is beyond the scope of this post, but stems from the verse in Devorim 4:15 which states, “ushmartem me’od es nafshoseichem” (you shall carefully preserve your lives). Likewise, the Poskim whom I spoke to explained that it would be permitted by Halacha to partake in this “revealing” scan as it is needed for physical safety, and would also fall in line with the above mentioned verse and rationale.

In summation, the consensus opinion is that a Jewish person is allowed to walk into a Full Body Scanner. While it may be additionally pious to try and follow the statement of the RCE that, “men are scanned by men, and women by women,” there are many other Poskim who are of the opinion that one need not be concerned for this measure.

Have a safe and meaningful trip!

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  1. although true that venishmartem meod lenafshosechem, but if women could inspect women like frisking, and there is absolutely no benefit if a man inspects (like sometimes there is that issue about doctors, that the male doctor is more competent let’s say), then there shouldn’t be any hetter whatsoever for a woman to go through the scanner if a man is inspecting, and she should insist it to be a woman.

  2. Great Article! However in response to Anonymous I gotta say that if the more competent scanner was a Man and there was an increased Terror alert, that for all we know there may be for a day or two, so then likewise it would be muttar…they are trusted in their profession to be doing their profession

  3. This is not comparable to going to a doctor and there is no element of “ushmartem me’od es nafshoseichem”. In going to a doctor the scan is for my benefit I need to find out if I have a disease, here I know I am not carrying a bomb the scan is for the benefit of the airport personnel and the other passengers that they should know that i am not carrying a bomb. Who says an isha can do it for the benefit of yener goy?

  4. be aware all the pictures are kept inn a database together with the name of the person and after 40 years or so it will be called “archives” and be public!!

    and the higher ups and the hackeers will have access to them asap, wait 4 the news it’s coming

  5. #6 Are we concerned that when we leave this world, someone will see how i looked in an airport scan when i was 40 yrs old?

  6. Can someone can please explain this? i dont understand the comparison. it is indeed better for ones physical safety if the ones carrying the bombs are checked. how is it like going to a doctor when the danger is not directly caused by your body, but by someone elses? it does not protect you if they inspect your body. i understand thet generally checking is for a positive cause but halachically how does this relate on a personal basis. There is much controversy as to how effective the scan is as well. I am not chas vesholom arguing with the poskim, i would just like to understand this or see a formal psak in writing.

  7. With all due respect, when quoting the Chumash, try to quote correctly. The verse reads “venishmartem me’od lenafshoseichem,” not “ush’martem me’od es nafshoseichem.” Misquoting the Holy Book kind of compromises your credibility, kwim?

  8. Now that the whole USA is in an uproar over the new airport security measure, we know that we have a choice between submitted to a full body scan or to an” enhanced pat-down”