Shalom pointed to the article "Medical and Cosmetic Tattooing" by J. David Bleich (Tradition 42:4), in which a pseudo-Kabbalist directed a woman to get a tattoo containing the Divine Name. The question of removing it was brought to Sephardic Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron and printed in Or ha-Torah Shevat 5762. R. Bleich's summarizes R. Bakshi-Doron's teshuvah that permitted such a removal:
Teshuvot Havvot Yair [no. 16] rules that a Divine Name written expressly for a mundane purpose may be erased...Rabbi Bakshi-Doron assumes that, in the case presented to him, the Divine Name was written for a mundane purpose [and can be removed].
[...] R. Moshe Sefer, Teshuvot Hatam Sofer, VI, no. 8, discusses the
case of a properly written biblical verse that was subsequently pasted
on the wall of a privy...in the event that a non-Jew is not available
to do so, Hatam Sofer permits a Jew to scratch off the writing in
order to prevent ongoing desecration of the Divine Name. Rabbi
Bakshi-Doron regards removal of a tattoo containing the Divine Name to
There may be additional operative consideration as well. Rambam Hilkhot Tefillin 1:13, followed by Shulchan Arukh 281:1, rules that a Torah scroll written by a Jewish "apikores" must be burned...Rambam, Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah 6:8, defines the term "apikores" as used in this context in the more general sense of "heretic" and comments that a Torah scroll written by an apikores "is to be burned together with its Divine Names because [the heretic] does not believe in the sanctity of the Name...Since such is his opinion the Name does not become sanctified and it is a mitzvah to burn it in order that there be left neither a name to the heretics nor to their deeds." Rabbi Bakshi-Doron concludes that, according to the Rambam, not only may a Divine Name tattooed by a heretic be destroyed but that it is a mitzvah to do so.
This is the only responsa I have found that deals with erasing a modern tattoo containing the Divine Name. This does not necessarily answer the original question, since
- The original question (from Dan) involved a gentile
- In the article, R. Bleich disregards R. Bakshi-Doron's first explanation, and I just don't understand how any similar tattoo could be explained as "for a mundane purpose" (remember that the original question had the tattoo of "Holy to the Lord")
- If the tattoo was not a heretic's design, but rather the wearer's, e.g., a gentile or a non-observant Jew, it is not clear that there is any mitzvah to remove it.
- A tattoo is not necessarily like a verse in a privy, since it can avoid ongoing desecration (simple covering would prevent the Name from exposure to nakedness/filth and would prevent anyone else from seeing it).
Furthermore, this teshuva was for a particular case with its own story, not a blanket statement allowing removal of the Divine Name on a tattoo.
As I wrote in Dan's question:
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. This is the starting point for a Jew who already has such a tattoo.
I don't know the halachot of a Gentile. What came to mind is the Rambam on cursing God's name (Melachim 9:3):
בן נח שבירך את השם. בין שבירך בשם המיוחד. בין שבירך בכינוי בכל לשון חייב. מה שאין כן בישראל
A gentile who curses God's Name, whether he uses God's unique name or
one of His other names, in any language, is liable. This law does not
apply with regard to Jews.
I don't know if a tattoo would be like cursing (desecration?), and this needs more research.
It has been suggested that perhaps a needle inserting dots (i.e., a tattoo) would not constitute writing and so perhaps permissible to remove. To argue against this, I refer to the Keset Hasofer, arguably the most authoritative legal code regarding the laws of safrut, written by R. Ganzfried (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch). In the chapter forbidding erasure of the tetragrammaton (11:2), he writes:
Even a name that was written by accident, that was written in a place where it shouldn't have been, or even if it wasn't written for a holy purpose, or even if it was formed through chok tochot [carving out a letter from a block of ink] and wasn't written for tefillin or a mezuzah, and even if it wasn't written in the Ashurit script but rather in a foreign script, and even if it was formed through sewing or weaving or with various colors: No matter how the Name was made, on anything or anywhere -- anything that was made with the intention that it is the Name, that he who wrote it or made knew that it was the Name of the Blessed Holy One - anyone who spoils one letter from it transgresses a prohibition and deserves lashes.
Thus, even if the letters of the Holy Name were comprised of connected dots made from a needle, since it was made knowing that it was the Name, it cannot be removed.