Tattoos in Halacha-Everything you need to know

Making a Tattoo:[1]

The verse[2] states “And the writing of a tattoo you shall not place on yourselves.” From here it is learned that it is Biblically forbidden to make a Tattoo on one’s skin.[3] One who does so transgresses the above negative command, and according to some Poskim[4], also transgresses the negative command of “Lo Seilechu Bechukos Hagoyim.”

Definition-How is it done? The tattoo [that is forbidden by the Torah] is made by making a cut in one’s skin and then filling it with sand, or ink, or other pigments that leave a mark.[5] Alternatively, one first marks an image on the skin using a pigment and then cuts open the skin for the ink to enter into its pours.[6] [Today, tattoos are made through first sketching an image onto the skin and then using a fine needle that is filled with ink to puncture the skin and enter the ink. Thus, the cutting and filling is done simultaneously. Certainly, this method of making tattoos is also under the biblical prohibition.[7]]

Where on the skin?[8] The Biblical prohibition against making a tattoo applies anywhere on the skin.

What writing is forbidden?[9] The Biblical prohibition against making a tattoo applies to any type of writing. [Some Poskim[10], however, rule that it only applies to letters of a language, and does not apply to making a mere mark, or line, and the like, although doing so is Rabbinically forbidden.[11] Seemingly, however, tattooing a picture or design falls under the Biblical prohibition of making a tattoo even according to this opinion.[12] Other Poskim[13] rule that the Biblical tattoo prohibition applies irrelevant of whether one writes letters or makes marks and the like, as the mere act of engraving ink into the skin is the Biblical prohibition.]

Having someone else make the tattoo on one’s body: If someone else makes a tattoo on one’s skin, then if he assisted him in the tattooing, he is liable. If he did not assist him in making the tattoo, then he is exempt from Biblical liability.[14] Nevertheless, it remains Rabbinically forbidden.[15]

Placing a pigmented ointment on a wound if will leave a mark:[16] It is permitted to place ash [or any other ointment[17]] onto a wound [even though it will leave a permanent mark].[18]

Branding a slave: One who brands his slave is exempt from Biblical liability[19], although it nevertheless remains initially forbidden [if the slave was circumcised and immersed in a Mikveh[20]].[21]



Why did the Torah prohibit tattoos?

The act of tattooing is rooted in the act of idol worship[22], in which the worshipers would tattoo their god onto their skin, thus showing their subordination to him.[23]


If a tattoo is made for non-idolatry purposes, is it under the biblical prohibition?

Some Poskim[24] rule that only tattoos which are made for idolatry purposes are under the biblical prohibition while all others are only rabbinically forbidden. However, other Poskim[25] rule that all tattoos irrelevant of intent are biblically forbidden, so is a simple implication of the Shulchan Aruch.


How long must a tattoo last to be under the biblical prohibition?

From some Poskim[26] it is implied that the biblical tattoo is permanent and its coloring lasts forever [unless surgically removed] and hence a tattoo that fades with time would not be under the biblical tattoo probation. Other Poskim[27], however, explicitly rule that so long as the tattoo lasts a long time it is under the biblical prohibition even if it is not permanent and fades with time. Practically, one is to be stringent in this matter that so long as the tattoo lasts for some time [and certainly if it lasts for three years] is considered permanent and under the biblical prohibition.[28]


May one make a tattoo on the skin of a gentile?[29]



May one write on one’s skin?[30]

  • Example: One does not have paper and needs to write down a phone number, may he do so on his skin? Likewise, may one doodle a picture on his skin?

One who writes on his skin, without making a cut into his skin which allows the ink to penetrate, is exempt from Biblical liability.[31] Nevertheless, some Poskim[32] rule it is Rabbinically forbidden to do so. It is however unclear if this applies even with ink that is erasable.[33] Other Poskim[34], however, rule it is permitted to do so even Rabbinically. Practically, the widespread custom is to be lenient even initially.[35] However, if the ink is permanent and cannot be removed at all from the skin even with the passing of time, one is to be stringent.[36]

May one place a Tattoo sticker on his skin [i.e. temporary tattoo]?

A temporary tattoo, or a tattoo sticker, involves stamping a picture or design onto the external layer of the skin, which lasts for anywhere between a few days to several weeks. Its Halachic status follows the same debate mentioned above regarding writing on the skin, in which the conclusion was that it is not Halachically considered a tattoo. Nevertheless, making a tattoo like design on the skin seemingly falls into a separate prohibition of “Thou shall not go in the ways of the gentiles.” Just as the Torah prohibits one to wear clothing of gentiles, and have a haircut like a gentile[37], so too, and even more so, should he not make a tattoo like gentile.[38] [In any event, regardless of the technical Halachic discussion, it is certainly not a proper thing for a G-d fearing Jew to do, aside for the possible Biblical prohibition involved, as mentioned above. This applies even for children, and hence one is to prevent one’s children from placing a color tattoo on their skin. Nonetheless, those children who place mild images, such as a flower and the like, and do so out of mere playfulness for temporary purpose seemingly have upon what to rely.[39]]

May one get a cosmetic or makeup tattoo [i.e. permanent makeup or micropigmentation]?

For beauty purposes: According to many Poskim[40], and the simple understanding of Halacha, permanent makeup in all of its different types and names [i.e. Cosmetic tattoos, Makeup Tattoos, permanent makeup or micropigmentation] is forbidden [at least Rabbinically, and possibly Biblically] due to the prohibition against making a tattoo on one’s body.[41] It is hence not to be done for beauty purposes. However, some Poskim[42] permit it to be done even for beauty purposes if it will fade with time.[43] Practically, this is not the suggestive approach for a God-fearing Jew, although those who choose to be lenient have upon whom to rely.

For medical reasons: If one desires the permanent makeup for the purposes of removing a scar or blemish and the like, and not simply to add beauty, then most Poskim[44] conclude that it may be done.


May one have a temporary mark or number stamped on his hand when entering a park and the like?


May a Jew who has a tattoo be buried in a Jewish cemetery?

A Jew that has a tattoo must be buried in a Jewish cemetery just like any other Jew.[46] Despite the common misconception, there is no Halachic source that bares a Jew with a tattoo, or a Jew who has committed any sin, from being buried in a Jewish cemetery and this is also not the common practice.

Should one who had a tattoo placed on his skin try to remove it?[47]

We do not find any Halachic obligation for one who received a tattoo to try to remove it, as the prohibition was already transgressed once it was done, and removing it will not abolish this transgression. Furthermore, regarding the tattoo numbers found on Holocaust survivors some Poskim[48] even encouraged them to retain their numbers as a sense of pride that they survived the treacherous Nazi regime and Holocaust. Furthermore, even regarding a regular tattoo, some Poskim question whether it is allowed to be removed being that doing so will involve an unnecessary painful medical procedure, which may be prohibited due to the fact that one does not own his body and cannot cause it unnecessary pain or injury.

Is a tattoo considered a Chatzitza?[49] 

No, a tattoo is ink that is engraved into the skin and hence is not considered an Intervening substance , as stated in the previous Q&A.[50]


[1] Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 180; Mishneh Makos 21a

[2] Vayikra 19:21

[3] Chinuch Mitzvah 253

[4] Bach 180 in implication of Tur 180 who writes that a tattoo is “Mechukei Hagoyim Hu”

[5] Michaber 180:1; Rambam Avoda Zara 12:11; Mishneh Makos 21a that one must both cut and fill it with ink; Ritva Makos 21a

[6] Shach 180:1; Bach Y.D. 180; Ritva Makos 21a; Rivan Makos 21a [brings only this option]; See Lehoros Nasan Y.D. 10:64

Other opinions: Some Poskim rule that one is only liable if he enters the ink into the skin after he cuts through it. [Mishnas Chachamim 122b based on Biurei Maharshal on Semag Lav 63]

[7] Lehoros Nasan Y.D. 10:64

[8] Shach 180:2

[9] Shach 180:2; Beis Yosef 180; Tur 180; Rabbeinu Yerucham 5 Nesiv 17; Chachamim Makos 21a

Other opinions: Rebbe Shimon rules one is only liable for lashes if he tattoos the name of an idol. [Makos ibid] We do not rule like this opinion. [Beis Yosef ibid]

[10] Meil Tzedaka 31, brought in Pischeiy Teshuvah 180:1, based on implication of Rambam Pirush Hamishnayos Sanhedrin 19 and Avoda Zara 12:11 and Minyan Hamitzvos Lav 41 who constantly calls it a Kesav/writing which implies letters; Implication of Semak Mitzvah 72 “Write similar to letters”; Karban Ahron on Sifri Kedoshim chapter 6; Birkeiy Yosef Y.D. 180:1-2 and Machazik Bracha O.C. 340:3 based on Sefer Hachinuch Mitzvah 253 who writes “and one who writes even one letter receives lashes” and Ritva Makos 21a; Mutzal Mieish 51 who questions whether there is liability for writing only one letter or only if one writes two letters; Sefer Natan Piryo Makos 21a in name of manuscript of Tosafus Yisheinim “Keiyn Osiyos”; Tosafus Rabbeinu Peretz; Piskeiy Tosafos Makos 32; Bartneura Makos 3:6; Orchos Chaim 2:22-4; Zera Emes Y.D. 3:111; See Lehoros Nasan Y.D. 10:64

[11] The reason: As the Torah calls it “Kesoves Kaka” which implies writing, and writing is defined as letters of an agreed upon language, and so is implied from all Poskim who use the term “One who writes a tattoo.” [See Poskim ibid; Chinuch ibid who writes “and one who writes even one letter receives lashes”]

[12] Implication of Michaber 180:1 who does not differentiate between letters and pictures; Implication of Michaber 180:3-4 regarding branding a slave; See Meil Tzedaka ibid that so long as its defined as “Kesav” it is forbidden and so rule regarding Shabbos, that drawings have the same status as writing: Admur 340:10; M”A 340:6; Rambam Shabbos 11:17; Degul Merivava 340. Vetzaruch Iyun from the wording of Admur ibid, as well as 302:5.

[13] Raavad on Toras Kohanim Kedoshim Chapter 6 “It does not need to be actual letters [to be liable] but rather even a mere mark is considered a tattoo”; Rash Mishantz on Toras Kohanim ibid “he fills it with ink and this is what called a tattoo even though he did not write any letters”; Initial understanding of Meil Tzedaka ibid as is implied from wording in Michaber 180:1 and Rambam “Kesoves Kaka, which is that he marks on the skin” as opposed to “writes on the skin, as writes Tur 180; So is also implied from Michaber 180:3-4; Minchas Chinuch Mitzvah 253 based on Rambam; Yad Haketana Avoda Zara p. 280 Lo Sasei 37 Minchas Ani 87; Aruch Laneir Makos 21a; See Lehoros Nasan Y.D. 10:64 who rejects many of the implications stated above which implies that the prohibition is only by writing a letter] The Meil Tzedaka however rejects this interpretation in his conclusion.

[14] Michaber 180:2 and 11

[15] Shach 180:4

[16] Michaber 180:3; Makos 21a

[17] Taz 180:1; Shach 180:5

[18] The reason: As the wound shows that it was not done for the sake of tattooing as do the idol worshipers, but rather for healing purposes. [Shach 180:6; Taz 180:1] Even after the wound heals there is still some mark left of the wound which shows the intent of the remaining ink mark. [Taz ibid]

[19] Michaber 180:4; See Get Pashut E.H. 124:30; Chasam Sofer Gittin 20b; Tosafus Gittin 20a regarding writing a bill of divorce on the skin of a slave

The reason: As one is only liable for making a tattoo if the intent is for the sake of the tattoo itself and not when it’s done for identification purposes. [Get Pashut E.H. 124:30]

[20] Noda Beyehuda Tinyana E.H., brought in Pischeiy Teshuvah 180:2

[21] Rama ibid “however it appears that initially..”

[22] Shach 180:6; Chinuch Mitzvah 253

[23] Rambam Avoda Zara 12:11

[24] Tosefta Makos 3:9, brought in Biur HaGr”a Y”D 180:1; Rabbeinu Yerucham Sefer Ha’Adam, Nesiv 17, cheilek 5; Chasam Sofer Hagahos to Gittin 20b; Maharam Shick Sefer HaMitzvos 254; Shoel U’Meishiv Tinyana 1:49; Get Pashut 124: 30; Passhegen HaKsav Chapter 9 [of Rav Chaim Kanievski] proves that most Rishonim hold this way as well, that there is no Biblicla prohibition unless the tattoo is done for the sake of idolatry

[25] Tosafos Gittin 20b; Aruch La’Ner ibid; Minchas Chinuch ibid; Setimas Haposkim of Rambam and Shulchan Aruch who make no mention of this requirement hence strongly implying that it is always forbidden; Lehoros Nasan Y.D. 10:64

[26] See Rashi on Torah Kedoshim 19:28 “the ink does not fade forever” Gittin 20b; Chinuch Mitzvah 253; Rivan Makos 21a; Ritva Makos 21b; Or Zarua 1:716; Piskeiy Tosafus Gittin 73; See Passhegen HaKsav [Rav Chaim Kanievski] Chapter 6 who proves that most Rishonim hold this way as well, that there is no Biblical prohibition unless the tattoo is permanent; This follows the Biblical definition of permanence as recorded in chapter 317 regarding making a knot on Shabbos

[27] Nimukei Yosef Makos 21a; Pirush Rabbeinu Yonason; Setimas Michaber 180:1 and Rambam Avodas Kochavim 12:11 who make no mention of length of time that the tattoo will last

[28] See Lehoros Nasan Y.D. 10:64

[29] Noda Beyehuda Tinyana, brought in Pischeiy Teshuvah 180:2

[30] See Minchas Chinuch Mitzvah 253:1; Nishmas Avraham Y.D. 180

[31] Michaber 180:1; Mishneh Makos 21a

[32] Minchas Chinuch ibid based on Beis Shmuel E.H. 124:16 “Even if the witnesses just wrote their signatures and did not fill it with ink, nevertheless they become Rabbinical Reshaim” [However see next footnote for alternative explanation of Beis Shmuel]; Implication of Rambam in Avodas Kochavim 7 who writes exempt; Implication of Tosafos Gittin 20b

[33] The law if the ink is erasable with time: The Minchas Chinuch ibid writes that even according to the stringent opinion, the Rabbinical prohibition is only regarding ink that is not erasable, however if the ink is erasable then the prohibition does not apply. So records also Shevet Halevi 3:111-1 in name of Minchas Chinuch. See however Pashegen Hakesav of Rav Chaim Kanievski p. 74-75 that such ink does not exist, as all writing on skin is erasable and hence one must conclude that according to the stringent opinion, any writing on the skin is Rabbinically forbidden. So is also implied from the Mishnas Chachamim brought in next footnote that according to the stringent opinion any writing is Rabbinically forbidden.

[34] Mishnas Chachamim 57; Kesef Mishneh on Rambam ibid; Shevet Halevi 3:111-1 that all the above Poskim in previous footnote, recorded by the Minchas Chinuch ibid only referred to one who made a cut into the skin and did not fill it with ink, in which case it is Rabbinically forbidden, however to simply write on the skin without making any cut was never discussed by them and there is thus no such source to Rabbinically prohibit it [Rav Chaim Kanievsky, brought in Nishmas Avraham ibid makes the same claim]; Implication of the Poskim who all omit the above Rabbinical prohibition against writing on the skin even without cutting it, including the Michaber 180, Chochmas Adam 89:11; Kitzur SHU”A 169:1; Ben Ish Chaiy Maaseiy 2:15

[35] Rav SZ”A, brought in Nishmas Avraham ibid, rules one may be lenient even initially; Rav Chaim Kanievsky, brought in Nishmas Avraham ibid that the Achronim write the custom is to be lenient; See Minchas Chinuch ibid that even according to the stringent opinion, if the ink is erasable it is permitted. [see previous footnotes]

[36] As rules the Minchas Chinuch ibid; To note however that to date there does not exist any ink that permanently remains on the skin with simply writing on it, without cutting into the skin with a needle and the like. If such a thing existed, the entire tattoo industry would change to this method which is painless and woundless.

[37] See Michaber 178:1

[38] See Bach 180 based on Tur 180 that in addition to the tattoo prohibition, a tattoo also transgresses the prohibition of Bechukoseihem Lo Seileichu. Seemingly, there is no reason to limit this latter prohibition to only a case that an incision was made in the skin, and hence even a temporary tattoo, would transgress this prohibition. However, perhaps one can suggest that only by an incision, which is done for the sake of mimicking idolatry and showing one’s subservience, does one transgress, however a sticker tattoo which is not done in such a way, and one does for decorative purposes, would not transgress the above, as it is done for a reason, and is not considered an immodest or idolatry tainted practice. So is also implied from the fact that all Poskim ibid who discussed the question of writing on one’s skin, made no mention of the separate prohibition of Bechukoseihem Lo Seileichu, hence implying that it does not exist. Vetzaruch Iyun.

[39] As explained in the previous footnote, that there is room to learn that it does not transgress the Issur of Bechukoseihem Lo Seileichu, especially if it is done for reasons of playfulness and beauty, and hence has no similarity to the actions of gentiles. However, stickers that contain horrible looking images, as is done by the gentiles, would certainly be more severe.

[40] Shevet Halevi Y.D. 10:137 “We should be stringent against making the eyebrow tattoo due to it being similar to a tattoo, or due to it being a promiscuous act.”; Lehoros Nasan Y.D. 10:64; Techumin vol. 18 p. 114 in name of Rav Elyashiv; Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, brought in Nishmas Avraham Y.D. vol. 2 180 p. 132 [permits for cosmetic surgery but not beauty]; Nesivos Adam ibid., 24 in name of Rav Chaim; Mishpetei Uziel 2 Y”D 22:3, pg. 89; Betzel Hachochma 5:81-82, Shraga HaMeir 8:44-45 [only for medical need]; Shav V’Rafa vol. 1, pg. 156 – 157 [only permits for medical need]; Megillas Sefer (on Orach Chaim and Yoreh Deah, 16); Minchas Asher vol. 2:56 [only permits for medical need]

[41] The reason: 1) As for the argument that it does not contains letters and therefore is only rabbinically forbidden, in truth this matter is under debate in the Poskim, and some rule that even a mark is under the biblical prohibition of making a tattoo even if letters are not written. 2) As for the argument that since it fades with time therefore it is not a biblical prohibition of a tattoo, first of all there are Poskim who explicitly negate this and write that it is transgressed simply if it lasts a long time. Furthermore, it is possible that in this regard permanence is not literal and simply lasting a long time is considered permanent. 3) As for the argument that since it is not being done for the sake of a tattoo of idolatry that therefore it should be permitted similar to medical ointment, this is incorrect, as anytime the Torah prohibits a matter due to reasons of idolatry, the matter is forbidden to be done whether one’s intent is for idolatry or not. Hence, there is no allowance for one to shave his head and beard on the basis that he is not doing so for idolatry, and hence here too it is forbidden to make a tattoo on one’s skin whether the intent is for idolatry or for other reasons such as makeup. As for the reason why we permitted earlier for medical ointment to be placed despite leaving a permanent mark, this is because it does not involve cutting the skin as is done by regular tattoo, and hence it is not similar at all to the original biblical prohibition against tattooing which requires both a cut of the skin and an insert of ink to be prohibited. Thus, at most medical ointment would only be rabbinical prohibition, and since one’s intent here is to do so simply for medicinal purposes and not even for the sake of leaving a mark, therefore it is permitted. Accordingly no leniency can be learned from this case to the permanent makeup which is an actual tattoo made for the sake of remaining in the skin. So can also be proven from the discussion in Poskim regarding the prohibition of tattooing a bill of divorce on the skin of the slave, even though the intent there is not for the sake of idolatry. [Lehoros Nasan ibid]

[42] Taharas Habayis 3 inei Chatzitza 8 pp.29-34; Rav Ezra Batzri in Techumin 10:282; Palgei Mayim 2:52; Nesivos Adam 1:43;

[43] The reason: As 1) According to some Poskim, makeup tattoos would not be a biblical prohibition being that they do not contain any writing but simply a mark of ink on the skin. 2) Furthermore, perhaps it is not even rabbinically forbidden being that it is not permanent, and fades with time. 3) Furthermore, even if it were to be permanent, one could argue that there is no prohibition involved being that it is no different than the allowance for one to place ash or other ointment on a wound even though it will leave a permanent mark, and the reason for this is because one has no intent to do so for the sake of tattooing for the sake of idolatry but rather for the sake of healing, and hence perhaps here too since the entire intent is for beauty and not for tattooing as do idol worshipers, then it should be permitted even if permanent. [Poskim ibid]

[44] Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, brought in Nishmas Avraham Y.D. vol. 2 180 p. 132 [permits for cosmetic surgery but not beauty]; Nesivos Adam ibid., 24 in name of Rav Chaim; Mishpetei Uziel 2 Y”D 22:3, pg. 89; Betzel Hachochma 5:81-82, Shraga HaMeir 8:44-45 [only for medical need]; Shav V’Rafa vol. 1, pg. 156 – 157 [only permits for medical need]; Megillas Sefer (on Orach Chaim and Yoreh Deah, 16); Minchas Asher vol. 2:56 [only permits for medical need]

[45] As a) We rule that if it is temporary and does not penetrate the skin it is not considered a Halachic tattoo, and b) It is done for identification purposes, and hence does not transgress the prohibition of Chukos Hagoyim.

[46] See Yoreh Deah 362:5; Sanhedrin 47a that one is not to bury a Rasha next to a Tzaddik, which is the source we find for the custom of having a Jewish cemetery that is free of gentiles. Based on this, it would likewise be prohibited to bury a Rasha who is a Jew near a gentile, and hence one with a Tattoo may not be buried with gentiles even though he has committed a sin. See Igros Moshe 147 that even a Jew who is married to a gentile must be buried in a Jewish cemetery.

[47] SeeMinchas Yitzchak 3: 11; Shu”t B’tzeil HaChochma 5:81-82; Shevet HaKehasi 5:154 in name of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach that one is not required to remove a tattoo, nevertheless advises that if possible, they should still try to get it removed. Techumin vol. 22 pg. 387 – 391; Kav V’Naki Y”D 271 in name of Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv that one may remove a tattoo b’makom kavod habrios, even though its removal will probably be considered transgressing the prohibition of wounding oneself

[48] Shut Mimamakim 4:22

[49] Minchas Yitzchak 3:11; Betzel Hachochma 5:81-82; Piskeiy Teshuvos 27 footnote 57

[50] The law if one has an immodest tattoo on his bicep: See Minchas Yitzchak 3:11; Betzel Hachochma 5:81-82; Piskeiy Teshuvos 27 footnote 57

About The Author

Leave A Comment?

You must be logged in to post a comment.