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by Kefa

“You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves: I am the Lord”

Leviticus 19:28

There has been a lot of debate in the Mishnah about the application of the latter half of the aforementioned verse. After a lengthy discussion, Maimonides concluded that, ‘regardless of the intent, the act of tattooing is prohibited.’ (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Idolatry 12:11)

Recently, I have noticed an influx of sites promoting tattoos in a Jewish context or culture; tattoos of Hebrew letters, tattoos of verses from the Tanach in Hebrew, etc. At first blush, this seems incredibly ironic, if not oxymoronic; what’s next, Hindus working at Coach? After a little digging, we find that the general idea behind this is to use tattoos as an expression of your dedication and zeal for your Jewish roots; an outward representation of the pride you take in your ancestry.

What is the justification? How are you able to slip past the clarity of the text? I’ve heard that tattoos were used in pagan culture and/or idol worship. Since you’re certainly not getting a tattoo to worship a pagan god and are more likely getting it to embrace your heritage as the People of G-d, you may be able to find security in this justification. G-d was simply separating us from the pagan worship of the nations, right? Therefore, since you have a pure mindset, you are excused from this command.

No! May it never be! Remember Solomon, who thought he understood what G-d meant in Deuteronomy 17:17 (He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself) and subsequently was turned from G-d by his many wives. Shall we belittle G-d, in His omniscience, by daring to comprehend the reasoning behind His commands? Shall we elevate ourselves over the One who laid the foundation of the earth?

In conclusion, do not feel compelled to break one of HaShem’s commands to express your zeal; instead, consider channeling that energy into demonstrating your love for Him by keeping His mitzvot.

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.

1 John 5:3


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