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.

Acharei Mos/Kedoshim – Can Fear of Heaven be Measured?

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This dvar Torah is based on part of a shmuz given by Rav Moshe Chait zt”l, who was Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim Yerushalayim, zechus yagen aleinu.

When speaking in terms of Fear of Heaven, Yiras Shamayim, if a person is a real Yirei Shamayim he will do a mitzvah at the highest level he can reach.

There is a story of a new yeshiva student in Slobodka who was entrenched in his frumkeit, and would daven very loud in a minyan. The Alter of Slobodka, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, asked one of his students to pass by this yeshiva bachur’s room one time when he was davening alone to see if he davens very loudly alone too.

There is an expression in the world called Yiras Shamayim, people are called “Big Yirei Shamayim” but what kind of instrument is used to measure Fear of Heaven?
This week is the double Torah portions of Achrei Mos and Kedoshim in the portion of Kedoshim in one of the pesukim it says, “You shall not curse a deaf person. You shall not place a stumbling block before a blind person, and you shall fear your G-D. I am Hashem” (Vayikra 19:14).
on this pasuk writes, “and you shall fear your God: [Why is this mentioned here?] Because this matter [of misadvising someone] is not discernible by people, whether this person had good or evil intentions, and he can avoid [being recriminated by his victim afterwards] by saying, “I meant well!” Therefore, concerning this, it says, “and you shall fear your God,” Who knows your thoughts! Likewise, concerning anything known to the one who does it, but to which no one else is privy, Scripture says, “and you shall fear your God.” – [Torath Kohanim 19:34]”
Rashi explains that this person is not literally blind, but, for example, he does not know how to conduct his business affairs properly. So one should not give him bad advice, such as if  someone were to ask if he should sell his field and his friend says I’ll buy it for a donkey. The friend’s intent was only for his own gain, to acquire the land.

About this kind of thing the Torah says: “And you shall fear Hashem your G-D.” These kind of cases could turn out badly and someone will lose, but the person who gave the advice will say ‘It is not my fault, I only tried to help, I am your friend,’ when in fact he purposefully thwarted his plans. No one will ever know what his real intentions were. That is why it says “and you shall fear Hashem your G-D;” for He knows.

Later in the perek it says, “Before an elder you shall stand and you shall glorify the face of a sage, and you shall fear your G-D, I am Hashem” (Vayikra 19:32). 

on this pasuk points out, “one might think that he may close his eyes [when the elder approaches], as if he did not see him [and thus evade the obligation to rise before him]! Therefore Scripture adds here, “and you shall fear your God,” for this matter is privately known to the one who commits it, and no one knows about it except the person himself, and, concerning any matter known only in the heart [of one person,], Scripture says, “and you shall fear your God,” [for God knows man’s thoughts]. — [Torath Kohanim 19:80; Kid. 31b, 32b]”
What are a person’s real intentions? When an old person or a sage walks by he looks away and claims he never saw him, but what was he really thinking? Fear of Heaven is purely a private experience between man and Hashem so no one can really claim this guy is a big Yirei Shamayim. Only Hashem knows and any one that tries to judge is acting like they are G-D.

The Alter of Slobodka said that Yiras Shamayim is pure ruchniyus, unadulterated spirituality, and one cannot measure pure ruchniyus.