A Piercing Rant

Way back in the day of the Torah women wore a lot of jewellery. They wore earrings and nose rings (and possibly belly rings and chains), anklets and bracelets and necklaces. They were adorned.

In parshat Chayyei Sarah (24:20) we read that Eliezer gave Rivka a nose ring and bracelets when he met her by the well, and knew she was the ideal wife for Yitzchak. Rivka Imenu, Rivka our foremother, wore a nose ring! (she probably didn’t wear stockings but that’s a conversation for a different time). If I walked into any RW yeshiva or Beis Yaakov with a nose ring, they would throw me out.

When did piercing noses and navels start to have such negative connotations? There is nothing in the Torah that prohibits women from piercing their ears and noses, there is no commandment of Thou shalt not pierce thy navel.

From what I have read, I understand that we are not to deface our body or render it so drastically different from the Tzelem Elokim that we were created in. (Image of God). Our bodies are a gift to us from God, and we need to respect that. We are forbidden from cutting the flesh – elective surgery might fall under this category. Tattoos are expressly forbidden min haTorah. I don’t believe this applies to piercings when they are done in moderation. I believe my earrings add to my personal beauty, in a similar way that make-up does. Make up isn’t banned because it might interfere with the way God created us. We use it to enhance what we have been blessed with.

My opinion? So long as one isn’t piercing just to thumb one’s nose at religion and to attract attention there is no aveirah. If you are doing it so you can wear short belly shirts and show off the navel ring – well, that contravenes the laws of tzniut.

I have several religious friends who have a belly ring. They keep it covered all of the time because of the laws of modesty. Does it make them any less of a person? Does it call their morals into question because they have a jewel in their navel? Maybe it opens the door to people’s curiosity IF they find out, but it doesn’t mean they are scum of the earth. When did people start labeling those with nose rings and body piercings as second class citizens?

As usual, I am curious what you, dear reader, think about the subject.

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29 responses to “A Piercing Rant

  1. As the father of a daughter who has more metal in her head than a hardware store as screws… no I don’t understand it.

    She seems to understand it fine, but at some point when is enough – enough. At last count she has 22 piercings including navel and tongue. Now one never sees the navel and she has stopped trying to shock with the tongue….

    I don’t understand it and I personally think it is unattractive, but she is of the age of majority, so I can only really make suggestions at this point in time…..

  2. In those times, the jewelry a woman wore was her bank account, not sure if change of times times and context caused the change or what.

  3. BTW as for kids who look like they lost a fight with a staple gun, whats really sad is they have rendered themselves pretty much unemployable in any job that requires facing other people.

  4. Of course, you’re completely correct from a common sense point of view. But common sense is among the least common things in the world. Just one thing, can you clarify exactly why tattoos are banned? I have always wondered–beyond a simple statement of min Torah.

  5. NQMainstream – this is what ask Moses has to say about tattoos

    A. The body is the sanctuary of the soul, and just like a sound mind deserves a sound body, so does the soul. Tattoos, hazing cuts, permanent discoloring of the skin or other destructive insults to the body are prohibited. You wouldn’t kick holes in your walls, would you? So why do it to your soul’s house?1

    Another reason for this prohibition is because it was a common practice in ancient times for people to brand themselves as “slaves” of their idols.

    The prohibition of tattooing consists of have an indelible inscription etched into one’s skin.2

    B. In ancient times, and probably in some cultures today, deep cuts or other such injuries were inflicted on one’s self in mourning for a lost loved one. Besides being a violation of the Torah’s body-maintenance guidelines3, they are also considered idolatrous practices because of their ritual nature–and the Torah doesn’t like idolatry.

    C. Another bodily injury with idolatrous roots is the practice of manually pulling one’s hair out to mourn for one’s dead. While grief may oft-times be powerful enough to warrant a most original haircut, it is forbidden4, because it was an accepted practice of ancient idolatrous cultures.

    Footnotes

    1. It is permitted for women to pierce themselves for (commonly accepted) beautification purposes. It is forbidden for men to pierce themselves, and it is forbidden for a woman to pierce in concurrence with a fad or trend.
    2. Leviticus 19:28
    3. Deuteronomy 14:1
    4. ibid

  6. n_q_mainstream

    IANAR but I think that falls into the “dont do as the pagans do” since tattooing and scarification were (and still are) common tribal identity practices amongst pagan tribes.

  7. Rivka is not analogous example as that story precedes Matan Torah.

    Not sure where you got belly rings and chains from. I am not familiar with a source for that.

    There is a pasuk by the golden calf where Aharon instructs, “פרקו נזמי הזהב אשר באזני נשיכם בניכם ובנותכם והביאו אלי”- Take the nose rings from your wives, sons and daughters, and bring them to me. Since this is after Matan torah, there may be room to learn from it, though practically, Moshe had not come down from Sanai to teach the Jews yet, so it is hard to learn a permissive stance from this text, though Acharonim have tended to use it permissively.

    Separately there is a discussion of earrings pierced on Jewish slaves who wished not to be set free. This seemed to be a pejorative act, and while it does not teach a counted prohibition against piercing ears, many rishonim treated it as a behavior to be avoided.

    However, since no prohibition is recorded against either of these piercings recorded as exceptions to prohibition against self-mutilation, one can learn that they are permitted, leaving aside for the moment the question of weather it’s a good idea.

    As I said, I am unfamiliar with any source suggesting that navel rings were permitted or even that there was an historical precedent. That said, I will not address your question, “Does it call their morals into question?”

    Rambam, Hilchot Tshuva 3:4- “ד ושיקול זה אינו לפי מניין הזכייות והעוונות, אלא לפי גודלן: יש זכות שהיא כנגד כמה עוונות, שנאמר “יען נמצא בו דבר טוב” (מלכים א יד,יג); ויש עוון שהוא כנגד כמה זכייות, שנאמר “וחוטא אחד, יאבד טובה הרבה” (קוהלת ט,יח). ואין שוקלין אלא בדעתו של אל דעות, והוא היודע היאך עורכין הזכייות כנגד העוונות.”

    Particularly in Elul we would all be wise to remember our own sins and not judge others, to “force” god to judge us accordingly.

  8. while i’m not into body piercing personally & wasn’t even able to tolerate my ears being pierced due to a gold allergy that i discovered i had, i doubt there is anything halachically wrong with it. however, i agree w/ hadassah that if the purpose of 1 getting multiple piercings is to thumb one’s nose at the community then that is wrong but then again, the person could probably care less about what i or the community think. i do feel that a belly ring which is generally covered & only exposed in private will not generally be noticed by others & is a personal decision that can be made by an adult. that said, i surely not be pleased were my daughter to get piercings in body parts other than her ears although i am fine with my friends getting/having them if they so desire…

  9. OK, found the tattoo thing in Leviticus 19:28. Note however, per My Jewish Learning and others, that Rabbi Simeon ben Judah disagrees and says it’s only the inclusion of God’s name that’s banned: “Rabbi Simeon ben Judah says in the name of Rabbi Simeon: He is not culpable unless he writes there the name [of a god], for it is written, ‘Or incise any marks on yourselves: I am the Lord'” And also The Gemarah debates whether it is the inclusion of God’s name or a pagan deity that makes it a culpable act. In the end, it’s the Rambam who sealed the anti-tattoo language in stone, and he might have been influenced as much by Greek ideas of the body as traditional Jewish ones. For sure, the myth that a Jew can’t be buried with tattoos is just that: a myth.

  10. The issue (as I understand it) is not the specific piercing, but rather what is the norm in force in society at the time. We are (generally) prohibited from defacing our bodies. Tattoos etc. are out, but piercings such as for earrings have had some leniency. Nose rings (of one form or another) were popular in the past, but even today some people put small studs in their nostrils (vis more conspicuous rings).

    The issue is that some piercings, while hidden from view, are still not publicly regarded as normal. Several years ago, I dated a woman who kept a kosher home, who observed shabbat, and had a pierced navel. It’s not something she paraded in the community of course, and in part it was because she knew it was not accepted. I knew of it and had no issues with it (as I pointed out to her, this was an issue between her and Hashem and I wasn’t going to stick my nose in between them!)

  11. And yes, Noah, the parsha is probably not the best example precisely because it’s pre-Matan Torah.

  12. I am not into it. I am also fortunate that Sweet Boy (my son) isn’t either. He found out my niece was getting a tatoo and flipped. He definitely has a strong moral compass! He told her AND his aunt that is was against Torah and he was done with them both! LOL

  13. “My opinion? So long as one isn’t piercing just to thumb one’s nose at religion and to attract attention there is no aveirah. If you are doing it so you can wear short belly shirts and show off the navel ring – well, that contravenes the laws of tzniut.”

    “My opinion? So long as one isn’t marrying many wives just to thumb one’s nose at religion and to attract attention, there is no aveirah. If you are doing it so you can flaunt what you’ve got and show off the progeny…

    The point is, over the years, alot of things have changed. Some major, some minor. (Chicken as meat, multiple wives, stockings and sheitels as part of tznius). To have a nose ring nowadays IS considered non-tznius because it is no longer ‘socially acceptable’ by secular NON-jewish standards either.

  14. I used to have a belly ring. My scar from my surgery extracted it. It actually kicked it ou.

    That being said. I liked my belly ring. I don’t know why i just did.

    I don’t have a problem with a bit of piercings, but some of the big barbells and such are a bit odd to me, but other people like them. Although do they REALLY like them, or do they like getting the reactions out of people. I would think a belly ring is better than ear rings. Youcan look at your belly ring. you can’t see your ear or nose rings. So that would kind of be a “whats the point” kind of thing.

    I’m babbling. i know.

    So does one (or should) feel pretty because they can look at themselves (without a mirror) and like to look at their parts or because of how other perceive them? hmmmm

  15. I’ve frequently wondered why bracelets are acceptable to all wings of frumkeit, but anklets, only to some…….

  16. a nose ring is perfectly acceptable by secular non jewish standards, and I know tons of women with nose rings who are all employed- even some employed in jobs facing other people!

    Personally i have 3 earrings in each ear and I like them and think they make my ears look nice. (I have both lobes and then 2 helix peircings in one ear and a reverse helix and a conch piercing in the other ear) I used to have an eyebrow ring and a belly button ring (but have since removed both of those) and I liked them too. I miss my eyebrow ring…but it got badly infected so I had to take it out.

    For me piercings weren’t about thumbing my nose at society I don’t think, but it was just a fun thing i did with my friends when i was a teenager/early 20s…we would all go get a piercing together, kinda like the way people going off to war might go and get tattoos together. Each one of my piercings has a memory associated with it that I cherish (one I got when I was moving away to college, one on a friend’s 21st birthday when the bar we were at had a piercing shop next to it, one with my best friend in college when I was about to graduate, my belly ring I got while on birthrite israel, etc).

  17. G6 – maybe because most women who wear anklets do so with bare legs…?

  18. I had a nose ring twice, both times it would not heal properly so I had to give it up. Getting a nosering was not a rebellious decision, my reason for getting the nosering was simply that I think delicate little nose rings look pretty. I think navel rings are pretty too, but am too much of a chicken to get one.

    From my observations, I think most piercings are unacceptable in Orthodox Jewish circles because they are individualistic and different. In their view the reason for the piercing or the fact that there is no specific halachic ruling against them is irrelevant. Calling attention to you by any means outside the norm is untznius. It’s not the letter of the law but the spirit of the law. It’s just another inconsistency and hypocrisy within Orthodox Judaism. Of course wearing super tight clothes and a sheitel that would make a porn star jealous is fine, but pierce your belly* and you’re a total whore!
    *even if it is covered up 99% of the time…

  19. I always imagined the nose-rings without piercing… Do the indian girls who where those traditional nose-rings pierce?

  20. For women, my personal opinion is that the sole halachic criterion of whether a body piercing is acceptable or not is whether it can be safely removed and reinserted for mikveh use, as pretty much all such piercings are considered a chatzitzah.

    Specific to a navel piercing, I understand that even when the metal hardware is removed, a Teflon spacer is necessary in order to keep the piercing open – and this would not be acceptable to wear during the processes of chafifa, rechitzah, and tevila. (But you would have to talk to a properly-certified APP piercer to find out the real deal).

    In contrast, a nose stud (as opposed to a ring) can be safely left out for the necessary time period… and I have seen some very classy nose-piercings (my personal taste is to the minimalist, but I digress).

    A tongue piercing would probably be forbidden due to the almost inevitable dental damage it creates, as we are enjoined to not willingly damage our body for no good reason (and no, the benefits of having metal in one’s mouth probably don’t count). Same thing goes for the more extreme body mods, which propriety does not permit me to discuss…

    For the record my wife does not have any piercings, to my great chagrin – but it is her body and her choice.

    [Disclaimer: am writing at work on lunch break, without sefarim. Hence I can’t source these halachos – if anyone is curious comment and I’ll post chapter and paragraph of the relevant sections in yoreh de’ah.]

  21. I used to wear 12 earrings and one nose ring. I think there are tznius and non-tznius ways to wear a nose-ring.

    A large metal ring I have a hard time believing is tznius. It’s too flashy. The way I wore it most the time is I had a miniature diamond like stud.

    Literally a few years after having it I still had people ask “Wait have you always had a nose-ring? I’m just noticing it now and it’s really cute.”

    I took it out last summer though because I felt embarrassed in front of some people.

  22. Lady Lock and Load

    I was just wondering to myself upon reading this…let’s say I hire a 21 year old frum babysitter to watch my three young girls, ages 11, 13, and 15. She comes in and I notice that her shirt is up a drop and I can see she has a belly ring. Would I have any concerns about her watching my children? Would I be nervous my girls will get inspired and one day follow suit and get a nose ring cause my pretty babysitter had one? I know what my answer would be. just thinking out loud I guess…

  23. Great post. I have thought about(and taught) this topic in the past. I’m not convinced that there is any evidence that the Torah’s refers to piercing at all – the jewellery may well have been clipped on in some way. Hard to think of a prohibition, though.

    BTW, I may be one of the people you mentioned in a recent tweet who follows you but whom you don’t follow!

  24. The Birth Whisperer

    As far getting a job – yesterday when I was at the bank – the teller had 4 earrings in each ear. And she works in a bank!

  25. Personally, I don’t “get” body piercings. It makes me a little nervous that people voluntarily cut small holes in their body to insert pieces of metal/etc adornment.

    And piercing has become very, VERY popular in today’s culture, along with tatooing and other, rarer forms of bodily adornment. Since it has become so popular in the gentile culture, I would have to wonder if perhaps that alone might be a reason for Jews to avoid it. Certainly to avoid the extremes of it.

    Finally, there’s the communal aspect of it. When one has a non-traditional (I don’t mean Jewish tradition, but rather secular tradition) piercing (one not in the ears or nose), say in the navel (or nipple, or glans, male or female, etc), there is always the danger of the wrong person seeing it, making conclusions, and spreading tales about the person in question. Perhaps yet another reason to avoid it would be to avoid the chance of such reprobation by the community. We do so many things to ensure that we properly fit into the community of our choosing, this is just one more of those things that we may do for that purpose.

    But as usual, it isn’t my place to tell people what to do, or to even advise people who didn’t ask my opinion about it. Live and let live!

  26. B”H

    You’re right about the nose ring, and may be happy to hear a young lady will not get kicked out many Torah Zionist {non-Mamlakhtim} schools. Nose rings can be modest or immodest. Immodesty of any kind [woman or man] should be dealt with appropriately in schools, sometimes through education and counseling {respect for ones body, and its sanctity} or punishment, depending on the child and the situation.

    Certainly Rivqah Immenu did not require stockings due to her modest dress. She most certainly did NOT have a miniskirt nor long wig either, nor any wig at all, as many pseudo haredi women do these days.

  27. Gavi says:

    “For women, my personal opinion is that the sole halachic criterion of whether a body piercing is acceptable or not is whether it can be safely removed and reinserted for mikveh use, as pretty much all such piercings are considered a chatzitzah.”

    I’m not convinced about this. Why is a ring that can’t be removed without professional equipment a chatzitzah? How does it differ from a permanent filling, which is regarded as part of one’s body? Whie I appreciate that beis hasesorim may be suject to some leniencies, my kabboloh in pesak is that something permanently attached to one’s body and not intended to be removed is not a chatzitzah. I have paskened accordingly in the past for a woman with multiple piercings.

  28. It’s funny you should mention this; this week I was at a friend’s house and I noticed her neighbor got a nose ring! (A religious,what I thought was a conservative woman!) Here in Israel I’ve also seen nose rings several times on young women with thei hair fully covered. Go figure.

    Once for Purim I put a magnetic nose ring on. My husband went nuts, thinking I had gotten it pierced and I got alot of attention for it. This was when we still lived in the states.

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