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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Jews for tattoos?

While Jewish law explicitly prohibits having a tattoo, there is no basis for restricting burial rites for Jews who violate this rule, contrary to popular myth.

The Torah, or written Jewish law, states “”you shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.””

This, as well as the Jewish concept that Jews are created b’tzelem Elokim or “”in the image of God,”” is sometimes interpreted to mean Jewish people are banned from getting tattoos, according to information provided by the Hillel Foundation. While, in Judaism, voluntary tattooing shows disrespect for the gift that is the body, it is no worse then violating any other “”halacha,”” or Jewish laws.

“”In Judaism, sins aren’t weighted. They are all things that you are not supposed to do,”” said Laura Wilson Etter, the director of engagement at Hillel Center.

She explained that eating pork (prohibited in Jewish dietary law), or not keeping Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, is just as sinful as getting a tattoo.

Regardless, it is “”more important to be doing Mitzvot (good deeds) than to worry about what you have done wrong,”” according to Wilson Etter.  

The prohibition against tattoos applies to any permanent mark made to the skin. Hand stamps or other temporary decorations are not considered to be desecrating the body. The Mishnah, another book of Jewish law, prohibits “”anything that leaves a lasting mark”” that is man-made.

Max Rusinov, Hillel’s Israel fellow, said that tattoos are a symbol of slavery. For example, during the Holocaust, the Auschwitz concentration camp prisoners received number tattoos as a form of identification. This helped propel the myth that Jews cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery if they have a tattoo because it disrespects Holocaust victims.

Rusinov explained that tattoos in Israel are not as popular as they are in the United States, even among “”secular Jews,”” who are non-orthodox Jews. The number of secular Jews who have tattoos is about one-quarter of the number of Americans, according to Rusinov.

He also said that because they are a part of a community, Jews must be responsible for properly representing themselves. Tattoos, Rusinov said, could be seen as disrespecting the body as well as Jewish tradition, despite the fact they could still be buried in a Jewish cemetery and fully participate in all synagogue rituals.

“”In Judaism, it is no one else’s job to judge you except for God,”” said Wilson Etter. “”It’s not my job to say if you have a tattoo, you aren’t as good a Jew as I am.””

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