Question:

I’m a 21-year-old Jewish man who is thinking of getting a tattoo. My two best friends have both gotten tattoos, and I’m thinking of getting the Star of David. I have heard that tattoos violate Jewish law. What do you think?

Answer:

The fact that you would like a Star of David tells me that you’re a proud Jew. The question is how proud King David would be about having his star pierced into your skin. To him, tattooing was something the decadent idolaters did, along with child sacrifice and body-gashing.

You see, G‑d couldn’t get much more explicit in the Bible. It’s right there, along with other idolatrous acts, in Leviticus 19:28: “You shall not etch a tattoo on yourselves. I am the L‑rd.”

All those things that idolaters once did, even if they are not done with idolatrous intent, still have a spiritual impurity (known in Hebrew as tumah) attached to them. The Torah forbids tattoos so that we will not come in contact with that impurity—and carry it around for the rest of our lives.

That’s the nasty thing about tattoos: they’re permanent. An online survey back in 2002 indicated that 19% of those who had gotten tattoos regretted it later on. Imagine you decide at some point that you just don’t want yours anymore. It is difficult to remove a permanent tattoo, and almost impossible to remove it without a trace.

Yes, there’s a lot of peer pressure. Some of these tattoos really do look cool. But, look, you are an adult now. Think a little more deeply about what you’re doing before doing it. Maybe try some other way to connect to your Judaism, like black leather straps and boxes (i.e., tefillin) to strap around your arm and head instead.

Please see Why Does Judaism Forbid Tattoos? and our additional articles on the subject of Tattoos.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Chabad.org—Rabbis That Care