Are Tattoos Taboo? (The Torah’s Take)

3 months ago Hannah Butcher 0

In December, after I turned 18, the first thing my friends asked me was if I was going to get a tattoo. Something inside me held me back from jumping head-first into a tattoo parlor, however.  At the International Shabbaton I realized why, exactly, I hesitated to get inked.

Like me, many Jewish teens stand on this same tattoo precipice, mulling over whether getting a tattoo is right or wrong. To tattoo or not to tattoo, that is the question. But where can we find the answer? (Here’s a hint: this place holds every answer to every question).

The Torah explicitly tells us its stance on tattoos in Leviticus 19:28: “You shall not etch a tattoo on yourselves.” Unlike some Jewish laws, there is no interpreting involved with this one. It is plain, blunt, and matter-of-fact.

The Torah’s prohibition applies to all tattoos, according to Baruch S. Davidson from Chabad.org, except for those made for medical purposes. If someone must be tattooed for the sake of good health, (for instance, if a surgeon needs to make one to guide an incision), then it may be done.

Humans like to give themselves constant reminders that they are in control of their own bodies; this especially relates to teens.

“Teenagers are usually first to get a tattoo because it’s a big decision as to what they can do to themselves on their own,” Leah P., high school graduate, said. However, there is one thing fundamentally wrong with the “this-is-my-body-and-I-can-do-what-I-want-with-it” mentality: humans do not own their bodies. They never did. Believe it or not, your body does not belong to you. Instead, it belongs to Hashem who manifested it into existence.

Imagine if someone let you borrow a car for free for a couple years. You would never want to purposely damage the car, especially since the person was generous enough to let you borrow it for free. Doing so would be an insult to the one who gifted you.

The same applies to human bodies and tattoos. “Judaism does not like the idea of tattoos because they’re permanent and you are putting marks on G-d’s creation,” Alon O., college freshman, said.

Additionally, tattoos hold a very tragic connotation in Jewish history. Specifically, Nazis at Auschwitz would brand Jews like cattle by tattooing numbers on their arms. Many Jews refuse to get a tattoo solely for the fact that it is, in some ways, a symbol of the struggle against attempted genocide– some Jews feel that, if they do get a tattoo, they would simply be scorning their relatives’ horrific and unjust deaths.

It is important to remind yourself that you are not in control, but you also need to trust in the One who is. My mother, a proud Jewish woman, has two tattoos yet still holds her Jewish beliefs. Her take on tattoos is that they are simply an expression of the self and should be done with thought, care, and spiritual intention.

Whether you believe in tattoos or not, I hope this article has helped you decide whether to jump into that tattoo parlor or erase the thought from your mind. Either way, I wish you the best of luck and a safe summer in which you nurture your connection with Hashem.