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Why are tattoos so hated in judaism?


Rabbi David Sperling

Shevat 26, 5781
I understand where the tattoo prohibition comes from, but it is only one line in the Torah. I don’t see how getting a tattoo which takes an hour (and the only part that is expressly forbidden on the Torah is getting the tattoo, not having it), is any worse than eating unkosher food or breaking hundreds of rules of Shabbat every week. Is the transgression we see so much worse than the one we don’t? And why? All transgressions are problematic in the eyes of g-d, so why do so many Jews feel they can be so judgemental about a tattoo simply because they can see it, as opposed to the thousands of other transgressions that are committed that they can pretend haven’t happened because they can’t see it.
Shalom, Thank you for your question. You are, of course, correct in that getting a tattoo is a sin of similar nature to many other sins – and that we are unable to judge the relative severity of different sins. Not only that, a sin has a different “weight” depending on the situation and person who did the sin. This being so, probably many (most?) Jews who get a tattoo are sinning less than many of the people who might judge them poorly – because those who get the tattoo may be unaware that it’s a sin, or unaware of the severity of the sin, or under the influence of a secular non-Jewish society that even values tattoos. But the religious Jews who are judging them should probably know better than to judge others in a negative light, which itself is a grave sin. I’m not sure of the experiences you may have seen in this matter – it certainly sounds like this issue is one that upsets you greatly. All I can say is that I have seen many religious Jews who have the opposite reaction. They reach out with love to all their fellow Jews, regardless of background or level of commitment. May you merit to find such a community, and benefit from a Judaism that is able to spread love and acceptance of all peoples. In the meantime – please, in your own quiet way, without upsetting anyone, continue to add your positive light to all. Take upon yourself to be the one who is extra loving to those with tattoos. Be the person in your community who never talks badly about another Jew. Who doesn’t judge. Who only adds light and love. Blessings.
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