fyi, this isn't me

fyi, this isn't me

At 18, this good Jewish girl got inked. In hindsight, I didn’t really put much thought into it, considering that it’s a decision that can last a lifetime. I was in a dramatic, spiritual phase and when I saw it in the portfolio at the parlor, I knew it was for me.  So now it’s been 8 years, and honestly, sometimes I forget it’s there.  But somehow, it represents so much more than “Destiny”.

Of course I had heard that with a tattoo, you cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery.  Most 18 year olds think they’re invincible. Death wasn’t a major concern – and so not something I worried about when I made the decision.  A few years later, I was working at a synagogue and asked the Rabbi if the cemetery thing was true. He told me that it’s an old wives tale, something moms tell their kids to scare them or guilt them. I’m not sure that’s definitely the case. I’ve honestly never done any major research on the subject. I do know that it’s not the “Jewish” thing to do. And I know my parents are still not pleased with my choice.

A few years ago, I decided I wanted another tattoo.  A Hamsa, the protective hand; a big, beautiful, filigreed hamsa… tramp-stamp. My sister talked me out of it. She wanted me to design a pendant to wear instead. Strangely enough, I found exactly what I was looking for in a necklace not long after & I wear it just about every day. But recently (again), I’ve wanted to make it permanent.

Only now, after making the conscious choice to work with the next generation of Jews, I’m not sure that’s the best decision. What kind of Jewish role model would I be with a big Jew-y tattoo on my back? There’s a fascinating argument about Jewish tattoos as a form of Jewish self-expression; an extension of modern Jewish identity. I’m still not sure how I feel about it, even as a Jew with a Tattoo. But maybe this is where my decision-making starts. Now I just have to figure out how to tell my mom…

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  • You’d be the best kind of Jew-y role model: the kind that thinks for herself and allows and helps Judaism to grow into the 21st century phenomenon it must become to survive.

  • So you’ll note by my name maybe where my question is going. I’ve never met another Jewish girl named Arielle spelled exactly the same as mine.

    How do you pronounce it? Mine’s like R-E-L.

    But also I take most of the things in scripture that prohibit tattoos to be more about ruining one’s body out of grief and the such. It all deters from the very detailed Jewish form of grieving.

  • Odd how tats, something that have been around for thousands of years, suddenly represent progress and individuality. I’ll keep that in mind next time I see a tattoo of a dolphin, or a yin yang, or Chinese letters, or a Hawaiian dancer, or a Samurai, or ass antlers… I’ll say to myself “Now there goes a free thinking individualist and progressive Jew/Jewess who will help guide Judaism into the 21st century.” Ayn Rand would have been shepping such naches!

  • Arielle – there are many of us out there! I’m from philly, where people prounounce things strangely, so i say my name with the same kind of A sound as apple.

    middle…thanks for your input, i’ll consider your opinion carefully as i make my decision.

    tattoos have become part of the ‘counter culture’ which seems to be the same-old formula of conforming to non-conformity. my wanting this tattoo had/has nothing to do with being part of the hipster-tribe or being some kind of ‘progressive’ Jew. it’s just something i want. in my quick research, i did see an interesting article by a reform rabbi that asked a few questions ie – will you feel better about your self-image with this tattoo? will it make you a better person etc… which is interesting to consider.

  • CK — thank you. You said all that there is to say on this subject.

  • Well I’ve met a lot of Ariel girls and boys but only Arielle boys or predominantly black women. So I thought I would ask.

  • Well, if it’s just something you want, then, by definition, it’s OK, right?

    Of course a Reform “rabbi” is going to say it’s OK. They’re in the business of telling Jews that tradition doesn’t matter and that if you think it’s OK it’s OK and that all that matters is how it makes you feel about yourself. The yetzer rules, right?

    The whole point of Reform is that rules and tradition don’t matter and that each Jew can make up his or her own mind about what he or she can/can’t should/shouldn’t do.

    If you want to get a tattoo, which is absolutely forbidden (as you well know, of course; if you really didn’t think it was an issue you wouldn’t have felt a need to write this post, right?) just man (or woman) up, go ahead and get one, and accept personal responsibility for making a decision to do something that you know, deep down, you really ought not to do.

    Don’t pretend that it’s OK because some Reform “rabbi” said it’s OK. They say it’s OK to marry gentiles, violate Shabbat, eat trayf, and be a homosexual too.

    What is a tattoo compared to that?

  • And of course, if an Orthodox rabbi says it’s okay to challenge orders in the IDF or to protest and attempt to shut down non-Orthodox high-tech plants that are critical for a community’s prosperity, then they need to be heard because they’re in the business of telling Jews what God wants. If they think this is what the Torah or the Talmud say, even if our modern world is completely different than the world of 2000 years ago, then it’s OK to challenge the IDF or to challenge Intel plants because these rabbis know EXACTLY what God wants – they’re Orthodox.

    What God wants is what it’s all about, right?

    Yes, the whole point of Orthodox Judaism is that rules and tradition matter more than people and that each Jew cannot make up his or her own mind about what they should do if an Orthodox rabbi tells them otherwise. This is especially important in matters of divorce, praying at Jewish holy sites and particularly when it comes to undermining the IDF and its ability to remain apolitical or taking a plant supporting an impoverished city and trying to have it move elsewhere while enjoying government subsidies within your community.


    Don’t get a tattoo.

    Judaism gives reasons that make sense and which really are parts of our tradition. However, art or not, as ck suggests, the idea that there’s “individuality” involved is a little silly. More important, however, is that even a beautiful painting that hangs on your wall may lose its specialness or beauty in your eyes after some years. People change, their tastes change, their circumstances change, etc. What doesn’t change, other than some seriously ugly fading, is the part of their skin they have permanently made into something else.

  • An extension of modern Jewish identity?
    What’s wrong with a mezzuzah dangling from a
    freshly-pierced clit?

  • i’m just pulling from the linked articles… and as for clit piercings… well i’m honestly not sure how to respond.

    and i’m sure there are orthodox jews with tattoos, ba’al teshuva and all.

    i think it’s mainly the guilt associated with it that has caused the indecision, not the influence of any rabbi

  • i do also already have a tattoo, not a ‘jewish’ one. i guess i’m struggling with the idea not only of getting another tattoo, which i feel could be a questionable decision, but one i’m ultimately going to make, but also that the tattoo i’m considering would be a ‘jewish’ tattoo…

  • Its a bit sad that this has degenerated (ever so slightly) into orthodox – reform bashing contest. Arielle I am orthodox and honestly wish you well, leaving aside the Jewish aspect of tatoos which we know is not favourable, isnt it simply a form of self mutilation which if regretted at a later date is nigh impossible to reverse?
    I recently spoke to a reform Jewish person that had tatoos and I felt they were on a guilt trip and simply looking for acceptance. simply put if there is a possibility of future regret, then why do it?

    • Roaming Rabbi, I was merely using what Ephraim said about Reform rabbis as a template. My comments are nothing more than a mirror of that which was expressed by Ephraim. Sadly, what he wrote represents range of beliefs held by many Orthodox Jews about other Jewish groups. This condescension and besmirching of others who are not observant in the same way is part of our history but it is also inexcusable.

      How much bashing should those who aren’t Orthodox accept before holding up a mirror to the offender? Should we really keep quiet? I don’t even consider myself Reform and found his attack on Reform Jews beyond the pale.

      Wouldn’t it be better to ask Ephraim to chill out a little instead of complaining about Orthodox bashing?

  • I got a tat after a drunken night out. I really regret it, but at least is someplace where only a few people will ever see it.

  • I’m from a family that isn’t particularly observant (in the Orthodox sense of the word) of most major halachot. I’m the first one in two generations to keep a kosher kitchen, for example. But in my family, for ostensibly Jewish reasons, there are no piercings (not even women’s ears) let alone tattoos. In my mind, the downsides of a tattoo greatly outweigh the possible upsides. I can’t imagine ever getting a tattoo, and would strongly discourage my family members from getting them, too.

    That said, I have a couple of quite Jewy friends who have gotten tattoos. And in at least one case (a friend with a big magen david on his back) I would say the tattoo is a definite expression of his increased confidence in his Jewishness, and may even have reinforced his sense of Jewish identity. If nothing else, it’s a heck of a statement to have such a clear symbol of identity permanently inked on you.

    So I say think REALLY hard about it. Consider all those cliches about how you might feel when you’re an old lady, whether it could harm your career or your relationship with your family, etc. And if you still think it’s a good idea and will in fact enhance your relationship with God or the Jewish people or your inner self or whatever it is you are seeking, then do it.

  • is there no limit to your narcissism?

    god, what a bunch of douchebag fags you people are

  • You know what’s funny though? A pierced clit is actually fine halachically. That’s funny.

  • I think James may have won “Comment of the Year” with that brief remark. I laughed, I cried, I laughed again.

  • so i’ve been trying to make this particular decision since 2004… i’ve definitely given it some time. i know also that this could be a phase, which is why i haven’t run out to do it, or gotten really drunk and headed to a tattoo parlor….

    i’ve never regretted, officially, my tattoo. i do wish i had put more thought into what i put permanently on my body. but i guess like LCC, at least it’s in a place where few people see

  • I spent my entire youth in the conservative Jewish movement and I can say that gives me the right to say it is complete B.S. I was never into picking/choosing what I liked about a scene/culture I was in. Its like the kids that dressed in the punk clothes with a mohawk that you never saw at shows. There are some serious problems in the orthodox world not to mention humanity in general but I have never felt so alive and fulfilled since my commitment to Torah. Now what does this have to do with anything besides the middle and ephraims petty argument? Well it just happens to be that I am pretty inked up. I can also say because of this that any Jew who gets a tattoo now is an idiot and please be in touch in 5 years and see if you like your tattoo. As a Jew with Tattoos it makes life very interesting. As a Jew who ascribes to the Chassidic philosophy I try to make it to the mikvah every morning. Once people get used to me they stop staring but i can always feel the burn when someone new is in there. Then there is trying to get my shirt to cover my tattoo when I put on my tefillin so no one can see it when I daven. Its always entertaining when non religious Jews try to call me out on my tattoos. I always respond that the punishment for a tattoo is makos (lashes) while the punishment for desecrating Shabbos is death by stoning. That usually ends the conversation. It might sound like I am bitter but not to much. Ive come to terms that while we harbor sins on the inside that people will never know about, I have quite a few on the outside. It must have been hard for my parents who have been frum for the past decade having to see a new edition to my skin every couple months. Now that I am in the business of Spreading Torah it makes for a difficult case. On one hand it shows that that anyone even someone with tattoos who was a punk rocker can return to Hashem but then it also might seem that a tattoo is ok because you can just do teshuva later.

    Bottom line. Tattoos are a bad idea and your cool tattoo idea problably sucks. My tattoos are still bada** but I have grown out of them. Ive been thinking about getting them removed but its a little expensive so i will wait a couple years.

    As for the whole Jewish movement Vs Jewish movement battle. We need to unite. At the end of the day the Goyim dont care if we have a long coat or beard or yarmulka. They will come for us all. Never Again.

  • I heard an interesting interpretation.

    Tattos are not Jewish because of their eternity. A basic tenet is the ability (actually obligation) to do tshuva, to correct poor or unwanted behaviour and improve ourselves. A tattoo is the opposite. It says – this is how I am and I can’t change. Getting a tattoo is actually the opposite statement a Jew should be broadcasting.

  • LB very moving and insightful narrative.

    the only tatoos that were compulsory are the numbers branded on concentration camp inmates, for them this is a badge of honour, I used to shudder when seeing this as a child…….. perhaps an unfair comparison?… let me know

  • To an Orthodox Jew, a Jewish tattoo is an oxymoron. Tattoos are forbidden, and are maybe even more grotesque when they are Jewish-themed. To an Orthodox Jew, it’s like having a Yom Kippur banquet, or baking a special Passover challah. But not everyone agrees that Orthodoxy is an accurate reflection of God’s will for mankind.

    If you’re not Orthodox, and you don’t accept that the rules written in the Torah are meant to be literally observed today, all of these questions are valid. A tattoo can mean many different things, but at core, it is a permanent mark on your body that usually signifies your loyalty or connection to a person, community, or idea. To me then, a Jewish tattoo creates a responsibility on you much in the same way circumcision does — except more publicly. To wear a Jewish tattoo is an act of great courage in that sense, and an act of pride. Get one only if you can live up to it.

  • @rejewvenator

    You must have some really awesome tattoos dude! I bet those tattoos are teh radness 5 years down the line.

    To an Orthodox Jew, Torah is not mutually exclusive. Passover Challah and Yom Kippur Banquet is not in the same category as a tattoo.

    Is your Judaism really that void of joy and pride that you need to put something permanent on your body? I find it hard to believe that you have many tattoos, unlike myself who has a good amount of square inches covered with black ink.

    I LoLed at your act of great courage. Just like you LoLed at my courage of walking down the street tallis in the wind with payos waving too as the goyim turn and see me on a Shabbos walk.

    Question is who do they respect more?

    I dont think you can live up to a Tattoo and if you really think that is some sort of life accomplishment I direct you to the drug addict giving free tattoos in his garage.

  • Did you all see this??

    I, personally, don’t have a tattoo — but only because I can’t make up my mind. In any case, somehow I’m still sure my grandfather is rolling in his grave just at the thought…

    • LoBiChaiLA, just wondering, do your tattoos stem from before you became frum?

      As I understand it, the inhibition against tattoos also had to do with them often being physical expressions used in cults while nowadays they’re merely “decoration”.

      Personally, seeing tattoos makes me squeamish. But if I ever were to get one, it would be the line “See if I care.” right where the bra strap hits my back.

  • “simply put if there is a possibility of future regret, then why do it?”

    I guess that means we’re not getting out of bed today, huh?

  • @ Froylein They were from once upon a time yes.

    Tattoos are something that you use to identify yourself with. If you are a skinhead you get a nazi symbol. If you are into punk rock you get a black flag logo. No one gets a tattoo for themselves. They get it to show off what they believe in. Problem is what you believe in changes. I guess getting your 1st tattoo is a “milestone” but once you start getting heavy ink it becomes meaningless. Covering up old tattoos with new ones as your run out of room or start to regret. Then there is the classic getting a matching tattoo with a loved one. Gotta LoL that one.

    Tattoos are self mutilation. You cut yourself bleed and pour ink into your skin. Its true that idol worships used it but the image didnt change. Tribal tattoos and nautical stars are age old tattoos.

    It might sound like I am being harshly judgmental and i apologize. I just think that the whole Jewish Tattoo movement is rather stupid and there are other ways to belong.

    I still want to hear someone who has had a tattoo for 5 years 10 years and tell me honestly they still love it just as much now.