Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Chatam Sofer, Aruch Laner, Rabbi Maroof, and Little Old Me (special thanks to: Rabbi Jachter)

After concluding my longest post-title yet, I commence my post:

In this post I suggested that the machloket in the Mishna between the Chakhamim and R' Shimon could be explained as a chukoteihem / Avoda Zara dichotomy (in other words, is tatooing an example of chukoteihem or Avoda Zara). In this comment, Rabbi Maroof suggested a simpler ma'aseh / cheftza dichotomy. At first I thought the Rambam was a proof to his approach and then became convinced it was actually a disproof. In Rabbi Jachter's third article on cosmetic tattoos he presages our argument and also my first and second ways of understanding the Rambam:

It is possible, however, that one violates the prohibition of Kitovet Kaaka on a biblical level only if one’s intention is for idolatry, even according to the opinion of the Chachamim. Recall that the Rambam and Tur write that the reason for the Kitovet Kaaka prohibition is to avoid idolatry. Indeed, the Chatam Sofer (commentary to Gittin 20b s.v. Bichtovet) writes that one does not violate a biblical level prohibition if he tattoos his slave in order that he should not escape (the Shach, Y.D. 180:6, seems to support this view). Maharam Schick (commentary to the Sefer HaMitzvot, Mitzvah 254) and Teshuvot Shoel Umeishiv (2:1:49) agree with the Chatam Sofer.
Aruch LaNer (commentary to Makkot 21a s.v. Gam Im), on the other hand, asserts that one violates a biblical prohibition even if one’s intention is not for Avodah Zarah (idolatry). The Aruch Laner and Rav Gestetner note that the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch seem to agree with this view, as they do not mention that one violates this prohibition only if his intention is for idolatry. Moreover, Rav Gestetner notes that Tosafot (Gittin 20b s.v. Bichtovet) clearly indicates that a biblical level prohibition is violated even if one’s intention is not for Avodah Zarah.

I do not know if this machloket achronim hinges on the same point as the machloket between Rabbi Maroof and I, but the resulting approach to the Rambam is the same. Oh yeah, Rabbi Maroof finally got that label he has been wanting.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

R' Jachter's Halacha Files on Tattoos

I just came across three essays written by R' Chaim Jachter on the topic of cosmetic tattooing. As usual he provides an excellent overview of the pertinent halakhic literature.

Part I
Part II
Part III


Patur aval Asur and Tattoos

Rivan (he completed Rashi's commentary after he died starting on 19B) in Makkot 21a, commenting on the phrase, "וכתובת קעקע לא תתנו בכם" writes:

שום כתובת קעקע לא יעשו לפני, שאני ה', ואסורין אתם לכתוב שם אחר על בשרכם; אלמא עיקר חיובא - משום שם עבודת כוכבים הוא, ומיהו אסור לכתוב שום כתיבה בעולם, אפילו לרבי שמעון, אלא דחיוב מלקות ליכא

He maintains that R' Shimon ben Yehuda in the name of R' Shimon's position is only in regards to one's liability to receive מלקות. In other words, all forms of tattooing are forbidden but only tattooing the name of an idolatrous deity makes one liable to receive מלקות. It is unclear to me whether all would agree with Rivan's inference. Do we apply the terminology of Hilchot Shabbat here and say that aino chayav, or patur, implies that there is an issur? If so, then why is it that this terminology is given special attention and definition in Hilchot Shabbat - to clarify that patur means patur aval asur? I am sure someone must discuss this. Anyone have any ideas?

Tattoos and Ta'amei HaMitzvot

This is the text of the Mishna and Gemara (Makkot 21A) on the topic of tattoos:


הכותב כתובת קעקע: כתב ולא קעקע, קעקע ולא כתב - אינו חייב עד שיכתוב �ויקעקע בדיו, ובכחול, ובכל דבר שהוא רושם.

רבי שמעון בן יהודה משום רבי שמעון אומר: אינו חייב עד שיכתוב שם את השֵּׁם, שנאמר (ויקרא יט,כח) "[ושרט לנפש לא תתנו בבשרכם] וּכְתֹ֣בֶת קַֽעֲקַ֔ע לֹ֥א תִתְּנ֖וּ בָּכֶ֑ם אֲנִ֖י ה' "׃


אמר ליה רב אחא בריה דרבא לרב אשי: עד דיכתוב " אֲנִ֖י ה' ''' ממש ?

אמר ליה: לא! כדתני בר קפרא: אינו חייב עד שיכתוב שֵׁם עבודת כוכבים, שנאמר " וּכְתֹ֣בֶת קַֽעֲקַ֔ע לֹ֥א תִתְּנ֖וּ בָּכֶ֑ם אֲנִ֖י ה' " - אני ה' ולא אחר.

אמר רב מלכיא אמר רב אדא בר אהבה: אסור לו לאדם שיתן אפר מקלה על גבי מכתו מפני שנראית ככתובת קעקע.


רב ביבי בר אביי קפיד אפילו אריבדא דכוסילתא;

רב אשי אמר: כל מקום שיש שם מכה - מכתו מוכיח עליו.


Concerning tattoos the Torah states in Vayikra (19:28):

" וּכְתֹ֣בֶת קַֽעֲקַ֔ע לֹ֥א תִתְּנ֖וּ בָּכֶ֑ם אֲנִ֖י ה' "

The Mishna contains an interesting dispute on the parameters of the tattoo prohibition:

The Chakhamim maintain that any form of tattoo is prohibited and therefore liable to receive מלקות.

R' Shimon ben Yehuda in the name of R' Shimon maintains that only if one writes the name of a false deity is one liable.

What is the basis for this dispute? After stating the prohibition to make a tattoo the Torah adds two words: " 'אֲנִ֖י ה ''. It seems that the Torah is giving us the ta'am for this prohibition - in other words, in translation we would add the word "because" before " 'אֲנִ֖י ה '' - to paraphrase, "Do not make tattoos because I am Hashem". This would mean that the ta'am for the prohibition of making a tattoo is that it is a rejection of Hashem. However, there are two kinds of ta'amei haMitzvot: 1) a ta'am that provides the origin of a mitzvah and does not necessarily explain every case; 2) a ta'am that explains every case.

If the ta'am is of the first kind then we could say the following: Idolaters used to make tattoos in order to demonstrate how they belonged to, or were servants of, their deity. Because of this practice the Torah prohibited all forms of tattoo. In other words, the Torah is saying: "Do not make tattoos because it was originally an idolatrous practice because I am Hashem so you must distance your self from all such practices."

If the ta'am is of the second kind then we must say that the Torah is only prohibiting that kind of tattoo which is explicitly a rejection of Hashem. In other words, the Torah is saying: "Do not make tattoos because I am Hashem - the gods that your tattoos declare allegaince to are not."

Two ways of categorizing the tattoo prohibition now emerge:

1) Idolatrous Practices --> Tattoos

________________--> Other Practices

2) Tattoos ---------------> Idolatrous

________---------------> Non-Idolatrous

The Chakhamim who hold one liable for all forms of tattoo use the second categorization. In other words, tattoos are prohibited - some are idolatrous (writing the name of a deity) some are not. R' Shimon ben Yehuda in the name of R' Shimon who holds one liable only for writing the name of a deity uses the first categorization. In other words, the tattoo prohibition is just one case of prohibited idolatrous activities - the Torah has merely isolated one form of חוקותיהם.

The halacha follows the position of the Chakhamim. The Rambam, in the last chapter of Hilchot Avoda Zara, in his presentation of this prohibition provides a strong basis for my approach. Note how he states the origin of this prohibition even though all forms of tattoo are prohibited:

"כתובת קעקע" (ויקרא יט,כח) האמורה בתורה, הוא שישרוט על בשרו וימלא מקום השריטה כוחל או דיו או שאר צבעונין הרושמין; וזה היה מנהג הגויים שרושמין עצמן לעבודה זרה שלהן, כלומר שהוא עבד מכור לה ומורשם לעבודתה. ומעת שירשום באחד מדברים הרושמים אחר שישרוט, באי זה מקום מן הגוף, בין איש בין אישה--לוקה.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Maintaining One's Privacy in Camp

I never fully understood Rashi's comment on Bilaam's b'racha (B'midbar 24:5):

מַה־טֹּ֥בוּ אֹֽהָלֶ֖יךָ יַֽעֲקֹ֑ב מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶ֖יךָ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃


(ה) מה טובו אהליך -
על שראה פתחיהם שאינן מכוונין זה מול זה:

I believe that a Ramban that I was reading on Shabbat provides the explanation. The comment is on Sh'mot 15:25 - there he gives two p'shat-alternatives as to what the chukim and mishpatim were at Mara (I underlined the part that I believe is most relevant):

ועל דרך הפשט, כאשר החלו לבא במדבר הגדול והנורא וצימאון אשר אין מים שם להם במחייתם וצורכיהם מנהגים אשר ינהגו בהם עד בואם אל ארץ נושבת, כי המנהג יקרא "חוק", כעניין הטריפני לחם חוקי (משלי ל ח), חוקות שמים וארץ (ירמיה לג כה), ויקרא "משפט" בהיותו משוער כהוגן, וכן כה עשה דוד וכה משפטו כל הימים (ש"א כז יא), כמשפט הראשון אשר היית משקהו (בראשית מ יג), וארמון על משפטו ישב (ירמיה ל יח), על מדתו.

או שייסרם בחוקי המדבר, לסבול הרעב והצמא, לקרוא בהם אל ה', לא דרך תלונה. ומשפטים, שיחיו בהם, לאהוב איש את רעהו, ולהתנהג בעצת הזקנים, והצנע לכת באוהליהם בעניין הנשים והילדים, ושינהגו שלום עם הבאים במחנה למכור להם דבר, ותוכחות מוסר שלא יהיו כמחנות השוללים אשר יעשו כל תועבה ולא יתבוששו, וכעניין שציוה בתורה (דברים כג י): כי תצא מחנה על אויביך ונשמרת מכל דבר רע:

It never occurred to me that the very situation of being in a camp leads to a breakdown in morality. When people are forced to live in very close proximity in temporary dwellings it becomes very difficult to maintain privacy. The tendency is not to take extraordinary measures to maintain privacy but the opposite - it's just too difficult. People may even try to rationalize their behavior and explain why privacy is just a convention and not necessary. However, certain activities are not appropriate in the public sphere. The distinction between public and private must be maintained if B'nei Yisrael's is to remain an Am Kadosh. This helps explain why B'nei Yisrael's conduct was so worthy of praise.