Tattooing: Under your skin
A Jew is prohibited by the Torah against tattooing his body - namely to
arrange to have an indelible inscription etched into one's skin (Vayikra
In contemporary Western society, there is a morbid fascination with body
What emerges from tattooing - the process of which entails scratching the
skin and applying ink so that the writing or design is of a permanent
nature - is an erroneous perspective of the human body where a person is
free to do with it whatever his heart fancies.
Whether as a decorative design or as an object of fashion, the Torah
emphatically forbids a tattoo on any part of the human body. The Torah
framework educates how, in truth, man cannot consider himself the true
owner of his body; for he is merely the humble custodian of this divine
It is not him, even though it is his to put to excellent use. It is his to
hold, his to safeguard and his to protect for the duration of his limited
period of his lifetime on Earth. It is not his to abuse, to deface or to
Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe ztl observed how an astronaut can only walk and survive
in space dressed in a spacesuit. Similarly, the only way how a soul can
operate in this physical world, for any period of time, is by being
enveloped in a body, a suit of flesh and blood. Without this, he cannot
But the 'body' is not simply the clothing of the 'soul'.
The human anatomy itself expresses the mystical forces of how G-d
engineered His Creation whose climax was the fashioning of man. Indeed,
the structure and bodily organs therein correspond to the spiritual
building blocks of the universe – to the extent that the human body is
said to 'bear' the imprint of G-d: "In my flesh shall I see G-d" (Iyov
That means that the body is itself the chosen vehicle for holiness and
spirituality. Cue the famous kabbalistic correspondence between the 248
limbs and 248 positive commandments. Or the 365 bodily sinews and tendons
and 365 negative commandments. Or the formulation of the blessing "...[G-
d] Who sanctifies us with his commandments..."
The 'body' is designed for the 'soul' to interact with the physical world
to serve G-d. However its very nature is to be a temporary garb – one that
it shed upon arrival to the World to Come – akin to the astronaut takes
off upon his return to Earth. It is not permanent. Hence any permanent
mark on its skin, such as a tattoo, goes against the very nature of its
The Jewish nation is an inward looking rather than an outward projecting
people. The beauty of the body lies in its internal workings on and its
divine occupation. It is not a superficial, 'skin deep beauty', an
extraneous man-made addition that goes against the spiritual function that
the body serves.
The course is presented by Osher Chaim Levene, author of SET IN STONE (2004: Targum) about the meaning of mitzvah observance and PEOPLE OF THE BOOK (2007: Targum) about the biblical personalities. A London-based writer and educator whose website www.mitzva.org explores the wisdom of the commandments, he learned at the Gateshead and Mir Yeshivas, holds a Bachelor of Science (Honors) business degree from London's City University, and is a Member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.