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What does Judaism say about tattoos?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht

  

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A. The body is the sanctuary of the soul, and just like a sound mind deserves a sound body, so does the soul. Tattoos, hazing cuts, permanent discoloring of the skin or other destructive insults to the body are prohibited. You wouldn't kick holes in your walls, would you? So why do it to your soul's house?1

Another reason for this prohibition is because it was a common practice in ancient times for people to brand themselves as "slaves" of their idols.

You wouldn't kick holes in your walls, would you? So why do it to your soul's house?
The prohibition of tattooing consists of have an indelible inscription etched into one's skin.2

B. In ancient times, and probably in some cultures today, deep cuts or other such injuries were inflicted on one's self in mourning for a lost loved one. Besides being a violation of the Torah's body-maintenance guidelines3, they are also considered idolatrous practices because of their ritual nature--and the Torah doesn't like idolatry.

C. Another bodily injury with idolatrous roots is the practice of manually pulling one's hair out to mourn for one's dead. While grief may oft-times be powerful enough to warrant a most original haircut, it is forbidden4, because it was an accepted practice of ancient idolatrous cultures.

Footnotes

  • 1. It is permitted for women to pierce themselves for (commonly accepted) beautification purposes. It is forbidden for men to pierce themselves, and it is forbidden for a woman to pierce in concurrence with a fad or trend.
  • 2. Leviticus 19:28
  • 3. Deuteronomy 14:1
  • 4. ibid
TAGS: tatoo, tatoos

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COMMENTS

tattoos

Posted by: Max Green, Margate, FL on Dec 19, 2005

Hello

While I found your answer and explanations interesting I have to tell you that they sound a bit trite

To say the torah says this or that is insufficient and needs to be backed up with quotations and citings.

As far as tattoos and piercings I dont see how that is different from rhinoplasty and breast implants.

You need to do better than that

but it is interesting

Shalom

Editor's Comment

The prohibition against tattooing is explicitly stated in Leviticus 19:28: "You shall not make cuts in your flesh for a person [who died]. You shall not etch a tattoo on yourselves. I am the Lord." Obviously, rhinoplasty and breast implants -- while not necessarily encouraged by the Jewish value system -- cannot be forbidden based on this verse. Piercing oneself following a societal trend is not forbidden based on this verse either. Rather, the prohibition is based on Leviticus 18:3: "Like the practice of the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you, you shall not do, and you shall not follow their social practices."

tattoo's

Posted by: Avigayil, Malibu, CA on Jan 26, 2006

in the article it says that tattoing was used as branding yourself as a slave to your idol. we also know that ear piercing was a sign of being a slave and now it's for beauty whats the difference?

Editor's Comment

1. Every mitzvah has multiple reasons and meanings. 2. Tattooing was a practice unique to idolworshipers.

Proof of tattoos?

Posted by: Marci-Joy, Vancouver, WA, USA on Apr 18, 2006

I found while researching the history of tattoos that many groups of Christians and Jewish people tatooed their bodies with symbouls of their religion. While the Torah may have one passage about strictly forbidding such a thing, if you dig deeper maybe you will find evidence of contradiction?

I know the Christian Bible says something about certain people having "the mark of God" or something to that effect. Possibly a reference to tattoos?

Just a thought.

Editor's Comment

The Torah, as well as all ensuing Jewish literature, is very clear about this prohibition. It is certain that any Jewish group which tattooed themselves was a splinter movement which did not follow Torah law.

what if it's too late?

Posted by: Anonymous on Aug 26, 2006

My husband and I both received tattoos in our youth, before we were serious or involved in our faith. We are now very involved in our faith and our heritage, but the tattoos are still there, obviously. Is there something we should do, or should we leave it be?

Editor's Comment

See "Do I have to remove my tattoos in order to become Jewish?" (http://www.askmoses.com/article.html?h=194&o=2057349). The same answer applies to your circumstance

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Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.