By DANI RENAN
A look at the history of skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee.
KEVIN YODER, a congressman from Kansas, apologized last week for swimming nude in the Sea of Galilee last summer during a trip with his wife and other members of Congress, who apparently were clothed. Actually, he apologized for “any embarrassment I have caused for my colleagues and constituents.”
I don’t understand the apology at all. His colleagues were with him, and no one said anything for over a year. The only one who appeared upset was Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, who had left early. But before defending the Republican from Kansas, I must admit that I, too, have skinny-dipped in the Sea of Galilee (and the Mediterranean, the Dead Sea and a number of pools).
The Sea of Galilee, also called Lake Kinneret, is the largest freshwater lake in Israel. This is where Jesus is said to have walked on water, and along its shores are many of the sites where Jesus and his disciples preached, worked and healed. But it is also a recreational area. Thousands of people camp on the shores and swim. Every September there is a national swim where thousands join in.
If we look back in history, when people would go down to the lake to bathe, they didn’t wear bathing suits (they hadn’t been invented yet). One of the stories from the Talmud tells of Shimon ben Lakish, a highwayman and former gladiator from the third-century A.D. who became a learned rabbi. One evening, while walking along the shore, he saw a beautiful woman bathing. Being very physical in all senses, he rushed into the water — only to face Rabbi Yochanan (known as a great scholar and to be rather effeminate).
To assuage Shimon’s disappointment and anger, the rabbi told him, “if you think of me as beautiful, you should see my sister.” Intrigued, Shimon followed him home, met his sister, and immediately fell for her, and she for him (bad boy syndrome goes way back). Rabbi Yochanan said “Whoa, we can’t have a criminal in the family, you have to study first.” And thus Shimon became his brother-in-law and one of the great rabbis and jurists of his time.
Jesus and his disciples also bathed in the lake in the nude. (And, yes, they also drank wine, which some lawmakers were reported to have done before taking their dips.) Some of the art of Jesus’ baptism shows him fully clothed (and John wearing a loincloth).
But if you are wearing the only clothes you have, you remove them, bathe, air dry, then put on the dry clothing.