Ask The Rabbi

Ask the Rabbi #73

Become a Supporter Library Library

Ask the Rabbi

15 July 1995; Issue #73

  • Tattoo Jew
  • Yiddle Riddle
  • Subscription Information
  • Ohr Somayach Home Page

  • Tattoo Jew


    A reader in England wrote:

    Hi there!

    I am a BT (newly observant). Before I became observant, I got a tattoo of "Snoopy" on my arm. It doesn't really bother me. That is, except for occasions such as going swimming or to the mikva where other frum people can see it. I occasionally consider having it removed, but I understand that it would be as wrong to have it removed as it was to have it put on in the first place, since in both cases you are damaging your body. Is this correct? Your guidance on this would be most helpful.

    Name Withheld upon request

    Manny Saltiel wrote:

    In Ask the Rabbi column #56 you wrote that it was permitted for a man to wear earrings, provided that the earring had no forbidden symbolism in the society in which it was worn. Why doesn't the prohibition of not damaging one's body (e.g., tattoos) also apply to earrings? After all, a hole is formed where there was none before. And wouldn't this be a problem for women, too?

    Dear Manny and Name Withheld,

    The Torah forbids getting a tattoo - scratching your skin and filling it with ink. This prohibition applies only to getting a tattoo, but says nothing about having one removed, getting your ear pierced, or otherwise defacing your body.

    There is, however, a separate Torah prohibition - "Lo Yosif" - not to inflict a wound upon yourself. Removing a tattoo involves "wounding" yourself, and often includes painful skin-grafting. Piercing your ear makes a hole in your body. Would this make it forbidden to remove a tattoo or to pierce your ear?

    Someone once asked Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zatzal, about a young woman who wanted to increase her marriage prospects by undergoing cosmetic surgery. He permitted it, since the surgery is done with her will and is essentially for her good.

    In support of this ruling, Rabbi Feinstein cites the Rambam: "A person is forbidden to inflict a wound, whether upon himself or upon others. And even without inflicting a wound, merely hitting someone in a hostile or insulting way - whether he hits a child or adult, a man or a woman - he has transgressed a Torah prohibition." From this it is clear that the prohibition applies only when "hitting someone in a hostile or insulting way."

    The Talmud relates an incident where one of the Sages lifted up his frock when walking through thorns. "Skin heals, clothes don't," said the Sage. Even though he was scratching his skin by walking through the thorns, it wasn't done in a hostile or degrading manner. Rabbi Feinstein cites this as corroboration for the Rambam's ruling.

    Furthermore, writes Rabbi Feinstein, the mitzva "V'Ahavta L'Reyacha Kamocha" (Love your neighbor as yourself) would allow you to wound someone with his consent and for his benefit. Since the cosmetic surgery is for the woman's good and is done with her consent, therefore it is permitted.

    According to this, it seems pretty clear that it's O.K. to remove a tattoo and to pierce your ear. I consulted Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, shlita, on the issue of removing a tattoo and he said yes, it is permitted to have the tattoo removed.

    Speaking of changing appearances, I am reminded of the following encounter:

    A: "Steve! You lost so much weight! You dyed your hair! And you got a nose job!"
    B: "I'm sorry, but I'm not Steve."
    A: "What! You changed your name, too?"
    • Leviticus 19:28, Tractate Makkot 21a.
    • Deuteronomy 24:3.
    • Iggrot Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 2:66.
    • Rambam, Hilchot Chovel U'Mazik 5:1.

    Yiddle Riddle:


    In what situation is it a mitzvah to eat, but you may eat only foods that are Parve?

    • Written by Rabbi Moshe Lazerus, Rabbi Benzion Bamberger, Rabbi Reuven Subar, Rabbi Avrohom Lefkowitz and other Rabbis at Ohr Somayach Institutions / Tanenbaum College, Jerusalem, Israel.
    • General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
    • Production Design: Lev Seltzer
    • HTMIL Design: Michael Treblow

    © 1995 Ohr Somayach International - All rights reserved. This publication may be distributed to another person intact without prior permission. We also encourage you to include this material in other publications, such as synagogue newsletters. However, we ask that you contact us beforehand for permission, and then send us a sample issue.

    This publication is available via E-Mail
    Ohr Somayach Institutions is an international network of Yeshivot and outreach centers, with branches in North America, Europe, South Africa and South America. The Central Campus in Jerusalem provides a full range of educational services for over 685 full-time students. The Jewish Learning Exchange (JLE) of Ohr Somayach offers summer and winter programs in Israel that attract hundreds of university students from around the world for 3 to 8 weeks of study and touring.
    Copyright © 1995 Ohr Somayach International. Send us Feedback.
    Dedication opportunities are available for Ask The Rabbi. Please contact us for details.
    Ohr Somayach International is a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation (letter on file) EIN 13-3503155 and your donation is tax deductable.