Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
Contact Us

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.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with's copyright policy.
Join the discussion
1000 characters remaining
Email me when new comments are posted.
Sort By:
Discussion (24)
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.

Simcha Bart for
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
June 21, 2015
Cosmetic surgery
Hi Ruth.... I've missed your terrific comments.
Love what you write.
louise leon
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.
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
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.
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.
Jay Lavine, M.D.
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.
Yaakov B
Portland Oregon
February 3, 2015
What about children who are born with a clef-lip or pallet?
Bellingham, WA
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.
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.
Louise Leon
long pond, PA, USA