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I plan to convert, but I am a huge fan of tattoos...

I plan to convert, but I am a huge fan of tattoos...

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Question:

I am planning to convert to Judaism, but I am a huge fan of tattoos. Does that create a problem?

Answer:

You are probably aware that conversion to Judaism involves complete acceptance of all the commandments of the Torah from this point on—including the biblical prohibition against tattoos.1

Existing tattoos, however, are not a reason to deny a potential candidate the ability to convert.2

All the best,

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson

Footnotes
1.

"You shall not etch a tattoo on yourselves" (Leviticus 19:28).

2.

An exception to this rule may be if the tattoos are inappropriate (lewd or symbols of other religions), in which case the rabbinical court presiding over the conversion might request that they be removed.

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson is a writer who lives with his family in Brooklyn, N.Y.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
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Discussion (8)
November 1, 2010
Re: Heschel
The words in the original Hebrew of Leviticus 19:28 are not mentioned at all in Genesis 4:15. There is no comparison at all between these two verses.

The word used by the verse in Leviticus which we translate as tatoo is "ketovet ka'aka". Ketovet means writing or inscription, and ka'aka means etched. A tattoo is an inscription which is etched in one's skin.
Baruch Davidson
Brooklyn, NY
October 29, 2010
"You shall not etch a tattoo on yourselves" ?
Rabbi, you used a horribly inaccurate mistranslation; please at least see the YLT (Young's Literal) translation, or better yet the original Classical Hebrew:

In Lev 19:28, the Hebrew word being (mis)translated into the word “tattoo” is the same word in Genesis 4:15, which says, “...and The Deity placed a mark upon Cain…”. Do any of us believe that The Deity came down and tattooed Cain?

Further, Lev 19:28 talks about A CERTAIN TYPE OF "mark" or "cut" and describes it (though the Rabbi has not, in his (wrong) "quote" of the verse) -- but Leviticus does NOT say that the banned practice involved "ink," "needles," etc. So is every Jew who pierces her ears, or a man or woman who gets surgery, going to be punished in hell, because piercings and surgery both leave a "mark"?! Piercings and surgery -- and tattooing -- are not the TYPE of mark that this passage refers to; what was prohibited is a specific type of mark, namely a mark to mourn the dead (or the “soul") and "cross-shaped".
Heschel
where I lay my head, wherever my charitable org sends me
January 25, 2008
Re: re
Accepting G-d's Torah and being eager to fulfill His will means putting aside one's personal interests that conflict with Torah and that will.
In fact, that seems elementary to the acceptance of, or subservience to, anything - a soldier in the army, an office worker on the job, etc. Certainly in this case.
Natural feeling are also designed by G-d (Creator of Nature), but when you want to sign up to join G-d's army (ok, on more p.c. terms: become one of G-d's messengers on Earth), there are desires, interests and what not that you gotta stifle (not so good but often necessary, at least as a temporary solution), transform (much better), or harness for a constructive manner that enhances your desire to fulfill G-d's will (best by far).
Of course, these are just my thoughts - don't go tattooing them on your skin...
yaakov
January 23, 2008
Re: To Jew or not to Jew
Human beings can have their own feelings, and yet accept that G-d's Torah is the real truth and be eager to fulfill G-d's will, despite their personal interests.
Anonymous
January 22, 2008
To Jew or not to Jew
Converting to Judaism means that one has reached an appreciation of its absolute truth - Divine truth. One is willing - indeed, EAGER - to follow both the letter and spirit of the Torah's commandments.
So when G-d makes clear (in his Torah) that tattoos are bad for the body and soul (like all other Prohibitions), how could a Jew or wannabe Jew say "I am a huge fan" of that prohibited act?! I mean, he can certainly say so - but not in the same breath as "I plan to convert"...!
Yaakov
January 21, 2008
tattoos- leibels comment
Rabbi Boruch is only saying having tattoos on ones skin does not prohibit them from BECOMING Jewish just like eating shellfish prior to converting would not make one a sinner post conversion.
Yitzi K.
baltimore, md
January 19, 2008
Converting and Tattoos
The answer that Rabbi D offered is quite clear. The existing tattoos do not in any way interfere with ones desire to convert. Getting a tattoo post conversion or for that atter eating shellfish DOES interfere. What is your question?
Anonymous
January 18, 2008
tattoos
I don't get the answer. It's like saying, you can convert and still eat shelfish because I am a huge fan of lobster! You either accept all the 613 commandments or you don't. It's pretty simple.
Leibel Estrin