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Is Cosmetic Surgery Permissible According to Jewish Law?

Is Cosmetic Surgery Permissible According to Jewish Law?


The issue of cosmetic surgery is discussed by several contemporary posekim (halachic authorities), who address several concerns such surgery poses.

Though I will be giving you a brief overview of the pertinent issues discussed, the information provided is for academic purposes only. Before making an actual decision in this regard, you must personally speak to your rabbi, who will render a decision based on your individual circumstances.

Our bodies are not our personal property which we may treat as we please. Our bodies are on loan to us from G‑d for the duration of our lives, to enable us to fulfill our mission in this world—a mission which requires having a physical body. (A soul alone cannot don tefillin or light Shabbat candles.) As our bodies are merely on loan, we are not entitled to mutilate them in any way. Thus, “wounding oneself” by undergoing surgery is problematic.

Now, we are commanded by the Torah to heal ourselves, maintain our health and value our lives. Therefore, surgery which is deemed necessary in the course of the treatment of an illness or injury is allowed—and actually required. But the question remains: is the prohibition of tampering with our bodies waived for a purely cosmetic concern?

An additional consideration raised by the posekim in regard to purely cosmetic surgery is the fact that every surgery, especially one which requires general anesthesia, presents a certain element of risk and a chance of complications. As mentioned above, we are enjoined to guard our health and to avoid unnecessary risks to our wellbeing.

In 1964, a question was posed to several leading posekim regarding a woman who felt that benefiting from plastic surgery would enhance her prospects of finding a suitable husband.

Rabbi Jacob Breisch (author of responsa Chelkat Yaakov) maintained that the prohibition of wounding oneself does not apply in a situation where the pain is intended to alleviate another, more excruciating, pain. He brought proofs from various places in the Talmud that the psychological pain associated with having abnormal features overrides the pain associated with the surgery. He therefore permitted this surgery when done to alleviate psychological distress. A similar explanation was offered by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the most recognized posek of the past generation (1895–1986), who explained that the Torah only prohibits self-affliction when done with malice, or in a degrading manner.

Rabbi Breisch also addressed the risks associated with surgery, and ruled that with the advancement of experience and expertise in this area of medicine, the risks involved have been greatly minimized, and therefore undergoing such a surgery cannot be reasonably considered a risk to life.

However, Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg (1916–2006, author of responsa Tzitz Eliezer) disagreed with these opinions, and ruled unequivocally that cosmetic surgery is forbidden. In his opinion, the Torah’s statement, “He shall provide for his cure,”1 from which we learn that one may and must seek medical help, does not apply to ailments that are purely cosmetic.

He also adds a philosophical reasoning. One must believe that G‑d, the greatest artisan of all, formed him or her in the most fitting way, and one must not change this form. Changing one’s figure for beauty concerns alone is tantamount to insulting G‑d’s handiwork!

Many authorities have reached some sort of compromise—ruling that cosmetic surgery is permitted in order to remove an abnormality, if there is a grave psychological need, or to facilitate a happy marriage or decent livelihood; but prohibited if it is being done for beauty or convenience alone.

Another issue raised is the Torah prohibition precluding a man from indulging in feminine activity.2 Some view cosmetic enhancement as such, and therefore consider this another reason to prohibit a man from undergoing such surgery. This, however, would also only apply to surgery done solely for aesthetic purposes.3

As this is a very subjective issue, in which people can easily delude themselves about the degree of pain and abnormality associated with their looks, it is of utmost importance to personally discuss this with your rabbi for an objective assessment as to the degree of need and convenience, which varies with each case.

Best wishes,
Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson


This according to Rabbi S. Z. Auerbach (1910–1995).

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson is a writer who lives with his family in Brooklyn, N.Y.
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Simcha Bart for February 3, 2017

I believe the author was careful to note - both at the beginning and conclusion to article - that the issues here are very nuanced and need to be considered by a competent Halachic authority on a case by case basis. As far as Rambam, the word used (as well as in the Talmud) is נקרע ("Nikra") - which literally means "torn" - in other words somehow the skin was revealed and the gender was now discovered, I do not see how that implies that cosmetic surgery is fine. Additionally, one may argue based on the above that the suffering in not knowing one's gender is reason enough to allow for this as in the ruling of Rabbi Breisch above. Yet as you stated, this is something for a Rov to decide.


Anonymous February 2, 2017

I don't get some of these statements. The Rambam himself talks about the laws of a tumtum got surgery and it was discovered which gender he is... implying such cosmetic surgery is fine.

Also there are uses for cosmetic surgery outside the known cases: such as birth defects which don't prevent anyone from functioning.

The problem is now we have cosmetic surgery addicts, but there are addicts to everything and whatever we do we must consult a rov Reply

louise leon PA, USA June 21, 2015

Cosmetic surgery Hi Ruth.... I've missed your terrific comments.
Love what you write. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma June 9, 2015

counter arguments Actually it could be said that G-d created plastic surgery snd that these separations as to what is and is not of G-d are totally subjective and it might even G-d in the midst of all this as in posing for us all, the entire world ethical issues. For discussion. Rabbis are not the final authority on G-d as many are called to spirituality and to wrestle with spiritual issues, including women, also created by G-d. Reply

Anonymous USA June 9, 2015

Beauty is in the eye..... Since I still have my hair dyed, but stopped short of plastic surgery, I must be doing OK.
Self- image can be a delicate issue. Reply

Jay Lavine, M.D. USA June 4, 2015

Cosmetic vs. Reconstructive One must distinguish between purely cosmetic surgery, that whose main purpose is to improve one's own idea of beauty and that of others, and reconstructive surgery, that whose purpose is to repair congenital defects, such as cleft lip and palate, and defects that are the sequelae of trauma, such as loss or distortion of a body part. Regaining "wholeness" through surgery is certainly permissible.

Doctors and patients are, and should be, partners in healing, but there is nothing that says a doctor must perform surgery requested by a patient if he does not feel that it would be in the patient's best interests. Practicing medicine is a sacred calling, and doctors' time would best be spent healing the sick. Reply

Yaakov B Portland Oregon February 8, 2015

Also, cosmetic procedures add so much completely unnecessary medical waste (poison) to the ecosystems which sustain us and give us life-baruch hashem. Reply

Hollie Bellingham, WA February 3, 2015

What about children who are born with a clef-lip or pallet? Reply

Tara April 23, 2014

To facilitate a happy marriage? If my hubby find me unattractive he is free to leave.
I told my best friend and she was shocked. I want to be with a man who wants me.
And a nose job or some other thing is just a bad bad idea to me.
There are many paths to beauty. Of course there is a better selection o f makeup than ever. Dermatologists can fix a lot these days. Mu husband says a smile is more impt than any other feature. BTW, I don't wear makeup often and dye my hair 3 times a year.If you don't like my gray hair you are free to look at anyone else is my motto. Reply

Louise Leon long pond, PA, USA May 9, 2012

hair dying Since I've dyed my hair for many years, it's probably a little late to ask what the opinion is re:dying hair. However, I am curios re:this issue. Thanks for any input. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma May 8, 2012

cross-gender I wonder what G-d has to say about people born with ambiguous gender and there are many and one might ask about human cruelty that posits a book and not the humane heart as final authority. IF we are not gathered here and elsewhere to question ethics with respect to humanity I would say we can then dispense with what is soul, what is essence. I totally believe we are here to celebrate diversity and there are those among us who argue for this and will not take a position that anywhere there is questionable dictum with respect to accidents of birth.. no accident.. we must dispense justice and mercy and empathy for those who are different for this is most deeply the true Kabbala of Torah. Reply

Rabbi Menachem Posner May 8, 2012

To Anon in Baltimore A haircut is not a wound. Your nails and your hair are not a part of your body, and you may cut them - provided that you do so in accordance with Jewish law (not on Shabbat or holidays or times of mourning, and not shaving the beard or payot). Reply

Anonymous Baltimore May 7, 2012

Wouldn't that also mean that your not aloud to get haircuts or do anything to your body because of this?! Skoyoch!! Reply

louise leon long pond, PA December 11, 2011

cosmetic surgery What ever happened to free will? Reply

Anonymous November 10, 2011

Feminine Activity The Torah forbids any form of cross-gender dressing or activity, both for a man to behave like a woman or a woman to behave like a man. This is in congruence with the Torah's view that men and women are equal but different, and neither will be happy trying to wear the proverbial (or literal) shoes of the other. While preoccupation with physical appearance is completely fine for either a man or woman, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, last year, men underwent 13% of all cosmetic procedures, while women made up the other 87%. Is it fair to say that cosmetic procedures are feminine behavior? Reply

Anonymous Haslet, TX November 9, 2011

Wow, how sexist Assume that only women want to improve their appearance, and that makes it "women's work" or "feminizing" and concurrently imbueded with less value than if it was something men wanted to do en masse. As usual, orthodoxy devalues "femine activity" either subtly or overtly. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma November 8, 2011

judgmental views of what is right and wrong I know of children born with all kinds of genetic anomalies, and we do know of accidents of birth and beyond, accidents that disfigure. One could ask, why did G_d give us plastic surgeons to ameliorate such terrible misery. A man who has no face, now can get something that serves and feel less hideous.

I would not go to a rabbi to ask what G_d wants but use my own sense of compassion as a guide. I have a good friend who is a plastic surgeon, and it's not just about making people with slight problems beautiful. it's a sacred art, and as such, should be respected.

I think there are rules that are meant to be observed as guides, as discussion points, but that humanity, another guide, about compassion and love, comes first and that is G_d's mandate: to weight ethics, and to decide, with angst, certain decisions that are not so clear, in terms of altering how we appear.

We are souls in bodies. Soul in terms of decision making is paramount.

To ameliorate human suffering is a mitzvah. Reply

Anonymous November 8, 2011

Rav Moshe My rebbe said that Rav Moshe Feinstein rules it permissable for a young woman who cannot get married without to get plastic surgery. Reply

Anonymous Kanata, ON November 8, 2011

re tefillin and the soul Perhaps it is not my place to comment but (in the fulfilling of a mitzvah, to pray for the souls of ones' cherished departed) I happened to see that "spiritual materialism" can affect the newborns' wellbeing, as they reincarnate. Babies dream about their former adult selves while in utero, and pretend they are using a phone. As they do, they are inadvertently holding radioactive collagen to their sensitive ears and building unneeded constructs. I would say try to remember to give away earthly attachments when you pass on, to ensure healthier looks and senses when you are reborn.
Whoever is sorting this mail, perhaps you can reissue the idea more subtly, to protect the unborn.
I am of the social era when Jews were having plastic surgery wholesale. Our family felt it was so sad that we lost the sight of all those beautiful noses! But people were trying to protect themselves from bigotry. These days- rock on- it's all good! Reply

Anonymous Texas and, Israel June 15, 2011

I think the Almighty wouldn't allow humans to have cosmetic surgery, dyes, wigs, shampoo, earrings, make-up, fashion, exfoliants, etc if it wasn't all part of His plan & His handiwork: "for beauty concerns alone is tantamount to insulting G‑d's handiwork!"

Remember we're the only species made in His image...and the only species capable of doing THAT much to decorate & modify our selves. It's in our nature which He Created us with, just as much as it's in my dog's nature to bark, or rub himself on a dead fish. Don't deny to us the nature that He created us with; I think he wants us to be happy, including happy w/our smell & looks (as superficial as that may be, and I think He's more interested in the purity of our souls...rather than our bodies which he made 'temporary' for seemingly obvious reasons), but "being happy" includes many ways that contradict xtreme vanity: find your own balance, e.g. I'm happy enough w/out surgery nor even trim my nails w/proper trimmers, exfoliants,etc Reply

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