Why are tattoos forbidden? What is wrong with beautifying our bodies? Is it true a person with tattoos can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery?
It was the Greek ideal that the beauty is only skin deep. The Olympics athletes preformed in the nude. The ultimate belief of Greek beauty is epitomized by the naked athlete. Yet Judaism has consistently gone against this type of beauty. The body is beautiful because what it contains inside. Tattooing represents the Greek idea of beauty – only skin deep.
Yet Judaism does not shun the body either like Christianity. Christian belief is that all man is born in original sin because of lust of the body; thereby rejecting any glory of the body or procreation necessities.
The Jewish approach is in the middle. Jewish thought looks at the body as a beautiful vessel that was given to us to hold and care for our soul as long as we are in This World. We are commanded in many places to treat our bodies with the utmost respect. (We have a duty to not pull out hair or cut the body out of grief, to protect the body and not cause damage and at the end of life the body is not allowed to be cremated, since it was holy, but to be brought to the ground after it has been purified.)
This doesn’t mean everything is forbidden to do to the body. Rivka was given earrings and nose rings as engagement gifts. We are commanded to do circumcision, which is certainly cutting into the skin. The story is told how a Greek philosopher perhaps Aristotle himself asked the Rabbis, “Whose works are greater man or G-d?” Clearly expecting G-d as the answer which the philosopher was ready with how than do Jews perform circumcision? The Rabbi unexpectedly answered “Man. What would you rather eat: wheat or bread?” G-d gave us this incredible world to build, create, grow and He commanded us to circumcise our baby boys.
So why is tattoo forbidden? The first thing one should realize; just like circumcision is demanded, tattoo is forbidden by the same Author. We are told that we should not be like the pagans who indulged in this practice. It is also forbidden because one is to not embark in dangerous practices.
That Jews were branded with numbers by our enemies. This alone would seem to me a reason not to voluntarily do the same. And personally, I cannot imagine putting something on my body permanently that I know I won’t regret 20 years later! But the notion that non-religious Jews think they won’t be allowed a Jewish burial is ridiculous. Sinners are welcome; because essentially no one is totally free of sin. Tattoo is forbidden just like lashon hora and eating treif; it is not considered a higher crime.
Tattooing is a mark which will eventually embarrass you.