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Going to the Mikveh with a tatoo

Rabbanit Rachelle Sprecher Fraenkel

Tishrei 5580/October 2019
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She'ela

Can I go to the Mikveh with a tattoo? Is it a חציצה (barrier)?

Teshuva

A tattoo does not interfere with immersion, and although getting a tattoo is not allowed (under normal conditions)  a woman  with an existing tattoo  can immerse with no Halakhic doubt.

The main reason that a tattoo is not considered a barrier to immersion, is the fact that it has no substance that can be felt, it is like color that is fully absorbed in one’s flesh or hair and has no tangible thickness.

A known example of such a situation is the tradition to use Henna on the hands of the bride; it taints her skin, but again has no thickness that can be felt and hence does not constitute a barrier to her immersion.

 Another interesting discussion is – can the tattoo be considered something that is desirable to the woman because it was meant to beautify her. For some women a tattoo might have been considered flattering when it was originally created, but might cause shame or discomfort at a later stage, when she might wish to be more observant and becomes aware of the fact that it was not permissible to tattoo  permanently on her skin to begin with.

In more detail: The laws of Hatziza (pertaining to things that separate between the water and the person immersing themselves) consist of what disqualifies the immersion D’Orayta (of original Torah law) –   for instance dirt or other things that the woman must make sure she doesn’t have on her body, provided it also covers most of her body.

On top of that are disqualifiers D’Rabanan (–according to the Rabbinic law) – something that bothers the woman even if it covers a small area of ​​her body, or alternatively something that covers most of the woman’s body, even if it doesn’t bother her, and she doesn’t care to remove it. 

Beyond this there is also the Minhag (the accepted custom) which plays an important part in shaping the laws of immersion and the preparation for it. Minhag requires the woman to remove all barriers whatsoever, and immerse with nothing additional to her body.

The case of a barrier that was meant to be beautifying, is usually a) small and b) desirable and therefore should not constitute a barrier. The Rambam requires an additional condition, that the decoration has no substance that can be felt. Contrary to that, the Rashba allows for something that is meant to beautify to have substance (and brings as an example the Parochet in the temple that was dyed and had to be immersed to be purified). The Shulchan Aruch ruled like the Rashba in this special case – where it was meant to be beautifying but now might no longer be desirable there might be Halakhic dispute. In any case, since it has no thickness or substance that can be felt it would not be considered a Hatziza. 

Sources:

תשובות הרמב”ם מהדורת שנת תרצ”ד סימן קל”ט.

רשב”א בתורת הבית הארוך סוף שער ז

בית יוסף , שו”ע קצח יז ונושאי כלים

Rabbanit Rachelle Sprecher Fraenkel

is a graduate of Hilkhata, Matan's Advanced Halakhic Institute and a certified Meshivat Halakha. She is also the Director of Hilkhata Rachelle was in the first graduating class of Matan's Advanced Talmud Institute. She is a Yoetzet Halakha and teaches Talmud and Halakha at Matan and other institutions.