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Tattoos and Noahides

We have our bodies on borrow. This means that we cannot and should not just do anything and everything with it.

We are not allowed to harm our bodies without – medical – reason. This means, for example, that we do not perform cosmetic surgery on our bodies unless there is a medical or psychological reason to do so.

The chance of tattoos causing cancer is small, but not negligible. (1 in 10,000). Tattoo ink contains substances such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and aromatic amines. These substances secrete especially when exposed to a lot of sunlight and can cause damage in the body.Besides the introduction of these foreign substances, the ink is also needlessly pricked or cut into the body to apply the ink. This pricking and cutting is a form of causing damage to the body.

I have not (yet) been able to find a halacha that tattoos are banned for this reason.

Man’s body is a beautiful creation of G-d. It is not appropriate for people who respect and honour G-d to change 1 of the greatest most beautiful creations He formed. Changing one’s body (unless it is for health reasons) is tantamount to insulting G d’s handiwork.

We find the prohibition of tattoos in Leviticus 28:19

“You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves: I am G-d.”

It is significant that it says “I am G-d” after it. It shows an important point. In earlier times, tattoos were particularly put on as a sign or commitment to an idol-much like an animal that is branded by its owner.

Since Noahides acknowledge the One True G-d and reject idols, tattoos are forbidden for those idolatrous reasons. It does not matter whether the tattoo itself is directly an image of an idol or not.

The Rambam therefore says: the only prohibition for Gentiles is a tattoo which is part of a religious cult – i.e. one that signifies the person’s intent to sanctify or submit him/her/itself to the service of a particular idol. This applies even if the tattoo itself is not part of the worship of the idol.

Jews are forbidden to place tattoos because they are thereby adopting ungodly practices of other nations. The question today is, since there are an awful lot of tattoos being placed that have “only an ornamental” function, whether that is permissible.

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Yoreh De’ah 2:53) points out that the ban on tattoos for Jews is also valid for Jews today, despite the fact that there is no religious reason behind it now by the non-Jews. I have not (yet) found this halacha for Noahides.

But in my personal opinion, Noahides do well to adopt this halacha. To avoid any appearance of idolatry, to sanctify the body that was given and not to harm the body.

If tattoos have been placed and you would like to get rid of them because it bothers you, they may be removed as a cosmetic procedure and their removal does not fall under the prohibition of not damaging the body.

Hemp tattoo you can get as long as it is not connected to idol worship.

By Angelique Sijbolts

Sources: Rambam, AskNoah, Din Torah, The Divine Code 4e edition p. 105 and 196

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