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I understand that this question involves a measure of subjectivity, but I am curious to hear people's opinions. I understand that getting a (real) tattoo is forbidden by Jewish law. I also know that the name of G-d/Hashem is very holy and not spoken. When I was younger, far less concerned about offending others, and not a follower of any religion, I tattooed קֹ֖דֶשׁ לַֽיהוה on my left hand as a wedding band. I am now in the process of getting this tattoo removed (my marriage is still going strong, in case you were wondering).

I am curious, however, if this would actually be deemed offensive to most Jews or not. Also, if there are any sources where this has been dealt with in the past I would love to hear them. Either way, I am still getting it removed.

I ask because I intend to soon attend Hebrew school as a Gentile observer, but I am debating whether or not I should conceal my tattoo.

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Just curious: Where did you get the idea to tattoo that phrase, in particular? (Feel free to ignore the question if you don't want to go there.) –  Isaac Moses Jan 9 '13 at 22:04
    
The intended implication was that my marriage would be holy unto G-d/Hashem. –  maj nem ɪz dæn Jan 9 '13 at 22:07
    
Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/23479 –  msh210 Feb 24 at 5:19

2 Answers 2

up vote 9 down vote accepted

The Talmud (in Masekhet Shabbat 120b) directly discusses this issue:

דתניא: הרי שהיה שם כתוב לו על בשרו - הרי זה לא ירחוץ ולא יסוך ולא יעמוד במקום הטינופת. נזדמנה לו טבילה של מצוה - כורך עליה גמי ויורד וטובל. רבי יוסי אומר: לעולם יורד וטובל כדרכו, ובלבד שלא ישפשף

As it was taught in a baraita: If one had a sacred name of God written on his skin he may neither wash it in water lest it be erased, nor may he smear it with oil, nor may he stand in a place of filth because it is disrespectful of God's name. If an immersion of mitzvah happened to present itself, he wraps a reed over God's name and then descends and immerses. Rabbi Yosei says: Actually, he descends and immerses in his usual manner, even if it is not an immersion of mitzva, provided that he does not rub the spot and erase the name. Apparently, Rabbi Yosei's opinion is more lenient than that of the Sages with regard to indirectly causing a prohibited outcome. (Koren Talmud Bavli Steinsaltz translation - bolded words are the translated Hebrew text).

The law, as the Rambam in Yesodei HaTorah 6:6 records, is according to the Sages: that the person must wrap a reed around the name because one may not be naked before God's name.

Since you are asking about personal opinions, I would find it offensive to see a tattoo of God's name regardless if the person was Jewish or not. There is a visceral reaction, probably because Judaism treats the name (i.e., how it is written out, how it is not pronounced, etc.) with such reverence. I could further question the underpinnings of such emotions, but I think it is fair to say that many observant Jews would feel uncomfortable seeing such a tattoo

So out of respect to others, I would find it more appropriate to conceal the tattoo when visiting a Hebrew school.

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+1 ha! Ya, that's what I was thinking of. Here was me, looking through recent achronim... –  Double AA Jan 10 '13 at 7:34
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Just to be clear though, this piece of the Talmud is not talking about a tattoo. –  Double AA Jan 10 '13 at 7:35
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Could a tatoo, which is really a series of dots, be comparable to the 1s and 0s that make up letters on a computer? With respect to computers, I saw a ruling that the Name of G-d written on a computer can be erased because it is not really written, but just a series of zeros and ones. –  Bruce James Jan 10 '13 at 16:22

It's one thing to break laws; it's another to explicitly acknowledge the lawgiver in the process of doing so. One would generally only do so if one intended to offend, so if there are those who take offense one can hardly be surprised.

Even if in your particular case it was done in ignorance, people tend not to assume that. Which is understandable, weighing the knowledge it takes to understand the significance of the Hebrew letters you used against the ignorance it takes not to know that the Torah is against tattoos.

At the same time, I am not sure about my own response because by normative halacha it is not prohibited for a non-Jew to have a tattoo; only a Jew. However, the question is whether it would come off as offensive, and I don't think people will necessarily make this distinction.

So I would say to conceal it.

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