Ask the Rabbi

  • Halacha
  • Laying of Tefillin

Picture Tattoos Permitted?


Rabbi Moshe Leib Halberstadt

Cheshvan 16, 5773
bs"d Shalom, you wrote in your answer "Tattoos are not for Jews" that some authorities permit pictures, but not words. I am a kollel student (yeshivat hamivtar) researching the subject of tatoos, and would like to know who holds that way. I’d also be thankful for any leads in modern shutim or other mekoros you’d recommend looking up. kol tuv, nachman fahrner
For a detailed summary of the Rishonim and Achronim who permit a tattoo of a picture and forbid only with writing, see Sefer Siach Hasadeh of Rabbi Chaim Knievsky Shlita Vol. 2 Kuntres Patshegen Haketav on tattoos (8). It is important to note that it is only regarding the Torah prohibition but as far as the rabbinic prohibition all agree that any scratch is forbidden even if it does not have any special shape. This Kuntres is highly recommended to one who wants to study the issue of tattoo in depth. Additional sources on Tattoo: Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 180, and in Darkei Teshuva on Yoreh Deah ibid. Minchat Chinuch Mitzvah 253. Avi Ezri's footnotes on the Minchat Chinuch ibid. Responsa Minchas Yitzchok (3, 11). On the issue of writing on his skin with non permanent ink with no scratch at all which has no prohibition of Ketovet Kaka, See Responsa Shevet HaLevi 3, 111a. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, quoted in Nishmat Avraham vol. 5 Yoreh Deah 180, 1. See also at length the varies opinions in this issue in Patshegen Haketav of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky 18. He concludes there that one who would like to be lenient in any non permanent writing on his skin has whom to rely on, and so is the common custom. The periodical Techumin (Vol 10 & Vol 18) has two articles about permanent makeup and about a tattoo replacing the eyebrows. See also the following answer I wrote about temporary henna tattoos: Temporary Henna Tattoos Shalom Rabbis Recently a friend and I were discussing whether temporary henna tattoos would be forbidden or not. I argue that they should be forbidden since 1) They last anything from a couple of weeks up to a month 2) There is an issue of Maris Ayin as they are not obviously temporary and someone might be misled into thinking a permanent tattoo is allowed (the minority opinion in the Talmud that only idolatrous tattoos are forbidden) His argument is that they are allowed because; 1) They are temporary 2) There is no wounding and no ink inserted under the skin Can you please let us know which view is correct? Answer: The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 180, 1-3) defines a tattoo as a scratch in his flesh that is refilled with ink or anything else that leaves a mark. Two actions are needed in order to transgress the Torah prohibition of tattoo, a scratch and writing within the scratch. The Rishonim write that the time duration of the existence of a tattoo mentioned in the Torah is forever (Rashi on the Torah Leviticus 19, 28) or at least a long time (Nimukei Yosef Makkot 4b of the pages of the Rif). The Minchat Chinuch (Mitzvah 253) brings evidence from the Tosfot in Tractate Gittin (20b D”H B’ketovet Ka’aka) that if one writes on his body with none-erasable ink, it is rabbinically prohibited even though there is no scratch at all. However many disagree with him. Rabbi E. M. Shach ZT”L quotes (in Gilyonei Avi Ezri on the Minchat Chinuch) Rabbi Chaim Kanievski Shlita (in Patshegen Haketav 18) that also according to Tosfot’s opinion that there is a rabbinical prohibition in one of them, it is if he scratched and did not write, but writing alone without scratching is not at all similar to a tattoo. Rav Shach adds that therefore also according to the Nimukei Yosef in Makkot that permanent writing is not required, it is permitted to write on his flesh even according to rabbinic law because writing alone is not similar to a tattoo. Also the Shevet Halevi (3, 111) writes that the words of the Minchat Chinuch are hard to understand because one who reads the Tosfot Harosh which is the same as the Tosfot above, will see that they did not rabbinically prohibit it unless he scratched his flesh and did not fill it with ink – or filled with ink a place which was scratched already – but writing on the body without a scratch at all is not mentioned in their words. According to this it is clear that in a case of temporary henna tattoos which are placed on top of the skin and do not last for more than a few weeks, there is no prohibition, neither from the Torah nor from rabbinic law. Because even according to the Minchat Chinuch that rabbinically prohibits external writing on the body even without a scratch, that is only with none-erasable ink, but in our case the henna tattoos are very temporary and are erased after a very short time. Regarding Marit Ayin (appearance to the eye - the Halachic prohibition enacted by our Sages where Halacha may be carefully followed but the wrong impression is projected) it seems clear that there is no prohibition here, because there is no prohibition of Marit Ayin in a case where we can assume in was done in a permitted manner. And it is well known that there are all kinds of temporary tattoos.
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