Tattoo Prohibition

August 20, 2011 | by

My husband wants to get a tattoo, but I said that if he does, he could not be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Is that true? He wants me to show him proof, and if this is true, he promises not to get one.

The Aish Rabbi Replies

The Torah states explicitly: "You should not put a tattoo on your body" (Leviticus 19:28). This is accepted Jewish practice, as recorded in the Code of Jewish Law (Yoreh Deah 180:1). This is not limited to "classic" tattoos, but applies to almost all forms of permanently marking the body, such as micro scalp pigmentation (Shevet HaLevi X 137; Piskei Din - Jerusalem, Dinei Mamonont IV 153).

If someone already has a tattoo, he does not have to have it removed, though many people will have them removed because they feel uncomfortable about it.

Although after the fact a person with a tattoo will not be denied burial in a Jewish cemetery, this is not even a question in your husband's case. Since Jewish law prohibits tattooing in the first place, surely he should not get one.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (19th century, Germany) explains the reason for this prohibition. God made man in the image of God Himself (Genesis 1:26). Of course, this doesn't mean that God looks like us, but it does mean that our body is a finite expression of God's infinite wisdom. One Midrash even says that Abraham figured out all the mitzvahs by looking at different parts of his body! And as Job said, "In my flesh, I see God" (Job 19:26).

Imagine that you own a house with a huge glass window overlooking the beautiful mountainside. Imagine how clearly you see the trees, the snow, even the deer running down the mountain. Now imagine a toddler full of dirt and chocolate smears his hands all over your window. When you look out the window, what do you see? Nothing but a glaze of dirt, chocolate, and a fuzzy mountain in the background.

The body is a window to the soul, which is a spark of the Infinite. Tell your husband: Don't muddy up the window with handprints.

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