The love affair between Israel’s Jews and tattoos – opinion


Growing up in Manchester in the 1980s, tattoos were a definite no-no, as far as I was concerned. They weren’t for decent folk and certainly not for nice Jewish girls.

It was also drummed into me that tattoos were strictly off limits, as they are forbidden in Halacha (Jewish law).

Furthermore, I, like many others, labored under the misconception that jews who had a tattoo couldn’t be buried in a jewish cemetery. Such markings would either have to be removed or scraped off before burial. This, of course, is utter nonsense, as Rabbi Dan Lieberman confirmed, “It’s the type of thing which mothers tell their children to stop them getting tattoos, but it actually has no basis in Halacha,” he said. He did go on to add that tattoos themselves are strictly forbidden in Jewish law, just in case anyone is in any doubt.

Over the last decade or so, tattoos have lost their taboo, thus becoming more mainstream in Western culture and acceptable across all sections of society. No longer are they associated with sailors and criminals, as they were when I was growing up in Manchester, but with people of all ages and from all walks of life – even an extended member of the British Royal family, Lady Amelia Windsor has been inked and she isn’t afraid to show off her tattoos.

In spite of this, some Jews will always have a difficult relationship with inking. For the more observant, the fact that tattoos are forbidden in Jewish law ends any discussion on the matter. The Torah is unequivocal on the subject, “You shall not etch a tattoo on yourselves.” (Leviticus 19:28)


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