TATTOO (Heb. ketovet ka'ka), a sign made by puncturing the skin and inserting pigment. A mark of slavery or of submission to a deity (Isa. 44:5, although tattooing is not explicitly mentioned) in the ancient Near East, Greece, and Rome, tattooing is prohibited in Leviticus 19:28. The anonymous Mishnah in Makkot (3:6) states that one is culpable of the transgression of tattooing only if it consists of writing and is done with indelible ink. However, R. Simeon b. Judah in the name of R. Simeon, in accepting this view, states that one is guilty only if he tattoos the name of an idol (according to the interpretation of the Talmud; Mak. 21a). In this way he explains the last words of Leviticus 19:28, "I am the Lord." The halakhah is in accordance with the anonymous Mishnah (Sh. Ar., YD 180:1). Maimonides agrees but adds that although all tattooing is forbidden, the origin of the prohibition is that it "was the custom of idolaters to inscribe themselves [by tattooing] to an idol, to indicate that they were bondslaves to it and devoted to its service" (Yad, Avodah Zarah 12:11).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.