With all this talk of Sarah Silverman and Jimmy (James Christian) Kimmel’s breakup, I recalled my brief attempt to get a tattoo of Sarah or the word ‘wendy’ on my Jewish bod, as well as my failed attempt to get the work in progress film, “Tattoo Jew” for the SchmoozeDance Film Fest for two years running. ( http://www.Tattoojewmovie.com )

So why bring this up now? Because The New York Times, that arbitar of Jewish style and fashion, published a Styles story last week on Jews and tattoos. In the story, the reporter interviews older Jews who repeat the misnomer that a tattooed Jew cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery or buy wholesale in the garment district, and repeats the scene from the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in which the character of Larry David bribes a gravedigger to rebury his mother in the cemetery dispite her tattoo. (According to a 2007 poll of 1,500 people conducted by the Pew Research Center, 36% of 18- to 25-year-olds and 40% of 26- to 40-year-olds have at least one tattoo). And The Times got it right. This is not an actual Jewish halachic rule regarding burials. It is an urban legend.

Included in the story are interviews with a filmmaker, various tattooed Jews, and even a rabbinical student with more than a couple of Jewish stars of david tattooed on his skin (but not his punim). Did you know that the MySpace group called “Jews with Tattoos” has 839 members?

Todd Weinberger, who grew up in a kosher household and works for “Inked Magazine,” recently got his first tattoo with his girlfriend, Jennifer Goldstein (Hey Sarah Silverman.. hint hint.. a Jewish couple… it can still work out between us!)… Their matching Hebrew tattoo read, “Forever and ever” and is in leui of their marriage ceremony. Can this be a new trend? Skip the chuppah, and get a matching tattoo instead?

Anyway. Any ideas for a new tattoo? Will Hebrew letters replace all those tribal and Chinese symbols? Shall I get a giant CHAI tattoo, like the one I saw on the back of the neck of the guy who sat in front of me at Yom Kippur services 5 years ago? Or perhaps a lion with the word Aryeh? Or “613 minus 1”? Or a State of Israel map, but using which borders? Something to ponder while I await a call from Sarah Silverman. Sarah, I’m in the book.

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  • The most Jewish tattoo in existence belongs to Brazilian fashion designer Alexandre Herchcovitch: blank lines inked along his left palm, for the purpose of taking notes.

  • David Beckham and wife have matching Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li tattoos.

    In general, tattoos and piercings enhance one’s looks in the direction they already go, which is good if you’re Beckham and Posh, bad if you’re the run-of-the-mill hipster dweeb.

  • I yet have to see an old person with a tattoo from their youth that didn’t turn to look utterly gross (I find tattoos pretty yucky to begin with; if you want something permanent to set yourself off from others, go get profound knowledge in a certain subject).

    The burial thing came up because tattoos have been considered a deliberate violation of and damage to the body’s integrity and sanctity. So in that light, burials at a Jewish cemetery may indeed be denied.

    • the reason that “old people’s” tattoos look that way they do is one, because the ink in those days can not even compaire to the ink today; and two, there are no artisits from the 60’s and 70’s that can even come close to the artists that are around today…and if someone feels that a getting a tattoo will inhance how they look, or make them feel better about who they are as a whole, than who are you to judge????

  • A local synagogue once offered a class in Jewish Law and Tattoos and Piercings. I was the first to enroll. and I was the last to enroll. I was the only student. So they offered to either cancel the class, or I could study with the rabbi one on one. I chose the latter (as in latter day). She had the coolest aparment slash study space… and it was one of the best classes I ever took

  • Froylein,
    Do you forsee any issues emerging with Jewish cemeteries denying burials to those who had bad plastic surgery jobs? All those baby boomers who had bad nose jobs in the mid-1970’s are dropping like flies.

    Call me cynical, but I’m sure they take any corpse who has a family willing to pay for the burial, the shrouds, the limos, the Rabbi to speak at the funeral, the rental of the chapel and plot maintenance. Jewish Funeral Homes and cemeteries are in a very numbers driven industry…holy Rabbis making halackic determinations about a body’s sanctity and Chevere Kaddusha not withstanding.

  • Get the state of Israel, including what is now Jordan or the borders that were drawn up directly following the Balfour Declaration.

  • Getting a tattoo is a Chillul Hashem, period. Any Jew with any real Jewish pride would never dream of desecrating his or her body like that. Tne Torah specifically forbids it. A class in “Jewish Law and Tattoos and Piercings” would be the shortest class in the world: it would only need to last as long as it takes for the teacher to say that sentence and say “Class dismissed”.

    Of course, there are worse ways to desecrate the name of G-d. But that still doesn’t make tattoos OK.

  • I think a picture of Roseanne Arnold across your chest…

    Oh wait that was already done by someone that regretted it. Why not get a temporary tatoo. That way you can change whatever you have. Otherwise you will live to regret it. Go into Kmart one afternoon and look at the overweight middle-aged clientele. At one time their tatoos were probably cool and had meaning. Today, just a blotch of blue that no one can make out.

  • Chutzpah, you forgot the nosejobs one can see on the streets of Borough Park, but strictly speaking, that should indeed be an issue – though they try to pass it off as a medical necessity.

    I can ask a friend of mine what kind of customers they accept; his mum’s got a Jewish cemetery in NJ.

  • How about a tattoo that says, “I want to be buried in a Jewish cemetary”?

    Seriously, guys, lighten up and stop trying to impose your logic on an ancient tradition. The Torah very clearly says, “No tattoos”. It does NOT say “No nose jobs”.

    The tradition is clearly stated in the Code of Jewish Law, and no one has been excluded from Jewish burial over having a tattoo. It is like every other Jewish law: You’re supposed to keep it, but even if you don’t, you can be buried kosherly.

    But let’s keep it on the down low, okay, because the belief is preventing a lot of kids from getting them….

  • As a Jew of the recently-frum variety I wish I had gotten a tattoo before my religious conversion… something small but interesting, a good tale for the peyos sporting grandkids to be shocked at and for their parents to be embarrassed about.
    -NafNaf away!

  • Yossi, and ten years later those kids will be adults getting into professional life and will be extraordinarily glad they didn’t have their first bf’s name tattooed across the back of their hand. BTW, I still feel free to apply my logic as much as it pleases me; another liberty that one learns to appreciate more and more as one gets older.

  • It wasn’t a short class of “class dismissed.” It was a study of responsa, talmud, tikkuns, and torah on the topic of piercings and tattoos. May I remind you that The Israelites gave up their earrings (pierces) for the building of the golden calf and other items in the desert. To me, mulitple piercings of various body parts are a sign of slavery, so I find them grotesque. I will post some more.. hehe

  • I suppose discussing why tatoos are assur could have value, so long as it wasn’t a class in “Here’s How To Reinterpret the Halacha So You Can Feel OK About Getting A Tattoo”.

    I’m not too sure about the halacha regarding piercings. I would imagine that perced ears are not an issue, simply because I’ve seen frum women with pierced ears. It would be interesting to know the justification for it.

    I would imagine a Prince Albert is a no-no, however.

  • Tattoos only look good on dark skin and even then, I don’t think they look good. When I think of tattoos and piercings, I think of low class and rednecks. There must be a lot of Jewish rednecks out there because I saw tons of Star of David tattoos on girls and guys in Brooklyn. I wouldn’t touch a girl with a tattoo or with multiple piercings with a ten foot poll. My girlfriend in college was one of the first to get a tramp stamp (it was actually unique at the time), and guess what, she turned out to be a tramp. The only way you would get ink into my skin is by the same vicious methods the Nazis got ink into my family members.

  • Sash, the German term for those would translate as “arse antlers”, and for good reason it was soon followed by “arse antlers alert”.

  • Ginsberg,
    Good thing you can still be buried in a kosher manner if you didn’t keep certain laws because the Jewish cemeteries would be out of business otherwise.

    The answer to the question “what kind of customers do you accept?” is ALWAYS “ones who pay their bills”!

  • Tramp stamp? Ass antlers? Bulls-eye? Target?


    Is that the arrow on the small of the back pointing downwards?

  • sigh. I am no fan of tattoos but no one gets excluded from burial in a Jewish cemetery because of them. A tattoo in and of itself is not a Chillul Hashem Ephraim. It’s an aveira – a sin. A Chillul Hashem is any behavior or action that disgraces, harms or shames God and his Torah – like when a visibly frum person gets busted for welfare fraud or a sex crime or whatever. That is a Chillul Hashem. If we can bury people who say… died in a car accident while driving on the Sabbath then we can certainly bury tattooed people – I think only an unrepentant rasha gets excluded and Rabbis called in to make a ruling always assume that the person in question might have made tshuvah (repentance) before he/she died and so they rule as liberally as possible in that regard.

  • I guess I’m not a “Jew with real Jewish pride” since I’ve “desecrated” my body, several times. Oh well….

  • Like I said, they take any corpse whose family is willing to pay, but you said it in so much more of a spiritually uplifting manner CK.

  • Chutzpahleh, you know, not the entire frum community is motivated solely by considerations of money you know. I’m sorry you’ve had bad experiences and all but, well… you know where I’m going with this. My comment wasn’t meant to be spiritually uplifting – just factual.

  • The ban on the burial of tattooed Yidn on Jewish cemeteries used to be in practice pre-WW2 Europe, which was the foremost motivation (a branding would have been much faster and cheaper but as long-lasting) for the Nazis to tattoo Jewish inmates.

  • Froylein, I saw numbers tattoed in the forearm just like has my Mother. It was an old Nigerian, that has served as auxiliary in the British Colonial Army. The British invented the technique. I presume that all immates in a nazi concentration camp, Jew and otherwise, got a number tattoed in his forearm. אלף הבדלים also SS members were tattoed. All cows in Israel get a large tattoo number on the back. maybe it is burned in with liquid nitrogen.

    I for one favor washable tattoes. Look like the real thing, and will not wonder what to do the morning after.

  • j, the Nazis imprisoned – and tattooed – Jews years ahead of the “Final Solution”. But the reason why they used the tattoos was that Jewish cemeteries in Europe wouldn’t admit tattooed “clients”, so in that case, it had a psychological dimension as well. SS-members had their blood types tattoed on their arms to get preferred treatment in case of emergencies. Meat is often stamped with blueberry juice over here to indicate inspection.

  • Ok Ck, not “spiritually uplifting”, let’s just say “naive” and “unjaded” and very obviously “not married”.

    Yes, the ENTIRE frum community is solely motivated by money. The obsession of how to pay for tuition, camp, a custom sheitel and a kitchen renovation clouds over any sliver of spiritually a frum women in the suburbs could possibly have.

  • For awhile I was thinking of getting a tattoo of my name in Hebrew.

    I’ve decided to shelf the idea for now as I’m too much of a chicken and too worried about what other people would think to get it done!

  • Forgive Muffti’s naivete but, who gives a fuck where you get buried? The only thing Muffti can think to care about is that he get buried somewhere where people who want to see his grave (should there be any) can get to it.

  • Hey Muffti! I wanna dance on your grave! Please be buried in a Jewish cemetery.

    oh… and I won’t forget to put roses on your grave.

  • “613 minus 1”

    good one, larry, that really made me giggle 🙂

  • My headstone will read (unless i score a spot in Arlington National Cemetery).. “Oy, I told you I didn’t feel well!”

  • A thirty year old at work got a tattoo. I’m like, so what are you trying to prove?

  • BS”D
    This is also because many Jews do no even know that tattoos are explicitely forbidden by Torah (Vaykra 19, 28) and the details can be read in Halacha books and Sefer Hachinuch. Even some of those who know about it can make confusion about what exactly Torah forbids.

  • Does anyone know of a jewish girl in the thirties that voluntarily got a tatoo?
    I’m writing a story of one and would like to know if it was even possible in those times. In Europe.