Acharei Mos/Kedoshim – Tattoos in Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah Siman 180)

The Torah in this week’s double portion of Acharei Mos/ Kedoshim mentions in Kedoshim, “You shall not make a cut in your flesh for the dead, and a tattoo shall you not place upon yourselves, I am Hashem” (19:28). The B’chor Shor remarks about tattoos, “that it is one who tears open his flesh and places within the tear dye which he wants to be seen permanently. This is also a statute of idolatry, for they write the name of their idol on their flesh.” Therefore, the pasuk concludes, “‘I am Hashem’ too Great of a King, to do before Me these types of meaningless acts.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The B’chor Shor holds that tattooing is forbidden because it’s the way of the gentiles to tattoo their god onto their bodies, which was supposedly a sign of honor and respect for the god. However, Hashem says that that is belittling to Him, to etch onto one’s body, even if it’s permanently, which shows commitment. If a tattoo would show dedication, commitment and pride towards Hashem, why did Hashem say it’s forbidden?

 If one thinks deeply into what it means and the ramifications of Hashem being the King Of All Kings, Master Of The Universe who created each and every one of us with perfect precision (besides the bris milah which he tactfully left for man to do with reason), and we are the stewards of The King, who represent His Majesty, then it would be demeaning and belittling to deface our bodies, that Hashem has perfectly molded and constructed for us, even if it was with in mind to honor Him.

Imagine someone painted graffiti all over the White House which said, “long live the president!” That wouldn’t be an act of patriotism, it would be defamation. So too, tattooing one’s body even for the sake of Hashem’s honor is belittling the Great King that created us and endowed us with a pure soul to serve Him and represent His Majesty.

In fact, what the Bechor Shor is saying the message of “I am Hashem” in the pasuk is that I am a great king and doing these things in front of me is frivolous. He also said earlier that tattooing is a statute of idol worship for no particular reason, meaning they really weren’t showing pride and commitment by inscribing the name of their god into their flesh it was just a rule they had to follow and we shouldn’t copy the rules of the heathens, but furthermore it’s belittling to the Great King to have people who act in this manner, tattooing themselves with any type of tattoo. There is no basis for it in the Torah, The Great King’s handbook for life and the fad is taken from the outside world, so it’s a frivolous act therefore one shouldn’t copy it. Sticking within the boundaries of halacha, of the way Hashem the Great King wants the world to be run, having His nation serve Him and live life according to His guidance and advice is most productive. Anything else is inconsequential and not the Almighty’s ways, thus forbidden.