A tattoo of the Star of David. Jason Coppola/Flickr.

By Gabrielle Hernandez
For Mitzpeh

If you were to ask a traditional rabbi, some might say that tattoos are against the Jewish faith. Their protest can be found in Leviticus 19:28, which states: “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.”

The Jewish community has a deep-rooted aversion to tattoos, tracing back to the tattooing of Jews in concentration camps and the myth that Jewish people with tattoos cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Today, tattooing has become increasingly popular and some Jewish people have welcomed tattooing as a way to remember victims of the Holocaust.

While some have started to take a liberal perspective on the subject, there are many within the Jewish faith who view tattoos as something that conflicts with the teachings of the Torah.

Kara Gordon, a senior supply chain management and marketing double major, believes that as tattoos have become increasingly popular and normalized in society, there is more tolerance towards those who wish to get a tattoo.

“I think as tattoos have become popularized, people have become slightly more lenient, but it’s definitely something that people consider,” Gordon said. “My younger cousin recently got a tattoo and my family was gossiping about it because we all know you’re technically not supposed to, but it’s for sure less of a big deal nowadays.”

Some see this as a way to distinguish Jewish people from those who worship false idols, as there are people who participate in the practice of marking their skin as a way to pay tribute to pagan deities. As a result, some believe that the Torah’s forbidding of tattoos is only applicable to those who have markings of idol worship. Despite this, Conservative, Orthodox and Reform authorities concur that Jewish tradition and Leviticus reject tattoos and body markings altogether.

Alexa Brenner, a senior international relations major, believes that people should be able to choose whether or not to get a tattoo.

“I think it’s complicated now that tattoos are becoming more common and its 2018 and people are all about expressing themselves,” Brenner said. “I’m all for modern Judaism, but probably just because of the way I’ve been raised, I would never consider a tattoo. That’s just in relation to me though. I have tons of Jewish friends that have tattoos and I don’t care at all. I say ‘do whatever floats your boat.’”

While the Torah has a clear prohibition on tattoos, it does not state that having a tattoo is grounds to be excluded from a funeral or burial. It is up to each specific cemetery as to whether or not they will bury a person who has a tattoo. One example is singer Amy Winehouse, whose ashes were buried at a Jewish cemetery following her cremation.

Rabbi Mark Diamond, the executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, said that cremation was an odd choice for a Jewish funeral.

In referencing cremation, Diamond said, “It’s clearly prohibited in Jewish tradition.” The reason: Jews believe they were created in the image of God, and should return to God as intact as possible—no embalming, even, if possible, he explained.

Diamond also acknowledged that as times are changing, “an increasingly significant number of Jews are choosing cremation. It’s not something I would encourage, but we live as a part of the world.”

He also said that having tattoos would in no way preclude someone from being buried in a Jewish cemetery. “We live in the 21st century,” he said. “And Jewish people, particularly young Jews, have a wide variety of practices and beliefs, customs and rituals, that respect a blend of traditions.”


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