Project Genesis

Judaism and Non-Jews

Idolatry and Non-Jewish Practices

Burying a Tattooed Person in a Jewish Cemetery

Question: According to Halachah, may a person whose body has tattoos be buried in a Jewish cemetery? Ho whose body has been pierced?

Answer: It is not prohibited to bury someone who has tattoos or body piercings in a Jewish cemetery. Although the Torah prohibits making a permanent tattoo on one’s body (VaYikra 19:28), doing so does not disqualify one from burial in a Jewish cemetery. Body piercing or mutilation is prohibited only in grief over a deceased friend or relative (as is common in some cultures), or if it is done to emulate a non-Jewish custom. In any case, it does not disqualify a person from burial in a Jewish cemetery.

Deliberate, permanent disfigurement of the body would also be prohibited. But such practices as ear piercing and cosmetic surgery (e.g., elective rhinoplasty) are not prohibited. The purpose of cosmetic surgery is to make the body more beautiful not to disfigure it.

All the Best,
Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

[Reposted from the archives]

4 Follow-ups »

  1. I am curious as to the definition of disfigurement according to Jewish law and custom, and the difference between disfigurement and mutilation. Also, Leviticus 19:28 states, “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.?? Are these two separate declarations or part of the same edict? If so, would this not mean that tattoos are only forbidden when they are done in grief of a friend or relative, or if it is done to emulate a non-Jewish custom as is the case with body piercing?

    Thank you for your question. It is not common practice to make a tattoo out of grief, and the prohibition of a tattoo is under all circumstances.

    Take care,
    Rabbi Aaron Tendler

    Comment by ATR — May 10, 2006 @ 1:23 am

  2. I was born to a Jewish family (I have a distinct tracable maternal lineage) but not raised religously. Now I am interested in learning the ways of Judaism but I have already gotten tattoos so what do I do now?

    First of all, congratulations on embarking on your search of Judaism. Although it is forbidden to get a tattoo once it has been done there is no obligation to have it removed. You can have it removed at some point if you are interested. Good luck and feel free to ask any questions you might have as you continue your journey into Jewish learning.

    Comment by ATR — June 8, 2006 @ 11:40 am

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