Follow by Email

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Why are tattoos forbidden?

Daf Yomi Gittin 29


Chicago’s Ida Crown Jewish Academy is one of the finest Jewish high schools in America.   It counts amongst its alumni such personages as Rabbi Berel Wein, as well as Rabbi Nosson Zvi Finkel zt”l of the Mirrer Yeshiva.   But probably their most famous alumnus is heavy metal rock-star, David Draiman, lead singer of Disturbed.   

It makes things a little complicated.  On the one hand, which teenager doesn’t want to be like David Draiman?  On the other hand, he no longer really reflects the values of the school.  And so a battle has been raging for some time now, as vigilantes on either side keep going to Wikipedia to add or remove him from the ‘Notable Alumni’ section!

Nevertheless, some values die hard.  Firstly, David Draiman has never ceased in his tireless support and advocacy for the State of Israel.  We are very lucky to have someone so well-placed and articulate speaking for the cause.  Secondly, David Draiman is probably the only heavy metal rocker in the world without a single tattoo.  Because Jews don’t get tattoos.  Now, that’s impressive!

Why don’t we get tattoos?

Mishnah: If an agent was delivering divorce documents in Israel and took ill, he may appoint a second agent in his place.  However, if the husband had instructed him, ‘Pick up a certain item for me (from the ex-wife’s house),’ he may not appoint another agent, since he may not want his item in the hands of another.
Reish Lakish taught: Here, Rebbe is teaching that a borrower is not permitted to sub-lend, nor may a renter sub-let (without the express permission of the owner).

According to Halacha, if someone lends you their item, you can’t simply lend it to some other person without getting the owner’s permission first.  The same is true of renting.  Why?  Because I might trust you with my belongings but not be prepared to have someone else handle it.  And so, in our Gemara’s case, the husband trusts his agent to pick up the Harley, but wouldn’t trust just anybody with his treasure.

But on a deeper level, this Mishnah is a tremendous lesson in our service of Hashem.  Each morning we wake up and thank G-d for the treasures He has entrusted us with and pledge to do our best to look after them.  Our body and soul are not ours, we are merely guardians of these sacred items.   We have no right to treat them poorly; we must return them to their Owner completely intact.

If someone lent you a book to read, would you scribble all over it?  Your body is not yours to deface either.  Getting a tattoo is not just an ancient idolatrous practice; it is also writing on something that’s not yours!  That’s theft!  David Draiman might no longer be Shabbos observant, but he’s no thief!

Every time you are tempted to follow your heart’s desires and indulge in the sins of the flesh, you need to stop and remember that your body is not yours to abuse or over-indulge.  It belongs to G-d.  You can’t simply sub-lend it to the ‘forces of darkness’ of this world.  It’s not your property to lend out!

And that’s also why we wouldn’t dream of ending someone’s life prematurely, even if they are in terrible pain.  They might want to die, but their body doesn’t belong to them.  The decision is not theirs to make.  It would be stealing from G-d!

Likewise, that is why eating healthy and regular exercise are vital.  Certainly, they’re important for you and your personal wellbeing.  But more than that, just like you wouldn’t borrow someone’s pet dog and neglect to take it for walks – how much more so, must you look after the human body the Almighty has blessed you with!


Don’t take your body and soul for granted.  They are gifts from Above and on long-term loan.  May you return your gifts to their Creator in even better shape than they were given to you!