Skip to comments.For Jews, tattoo yearning pits pride against faith
Posted on 07/28/2008 6:34:51 AM PDT by WilliamReading
BOCA RATON Mo Brenner is taking Jewish pride to a new and controversial level.
The 27-year-old Boca Raton tattoo artist boasts a large Star of David on his upper right arm engraved with Abram, his Hebrew name.
He'll gladly sketch Hebrew writing and Jewish stars on his clients at Boca Body Art, because what could possibly be a better way to celebrate religion than with a shrine that will last a lifetime?
"A tattoo should really mean something to you," Brenner said. "Mine represents my religion and family."
With the tattoo phenomenon continuing to explode - 40 percent of people between the ages of 26 to 40 have at least one tattoo, according to the Pew Research Center - some Jews don't want to be left out.
But it's a contradiction for a religion that most believe forbids tattoos. Perhaps even more stinging, millions of Jews were forcibly tattooed during the Holocaust.
"I was always taught that nice Jewish people didn't do that," said 40-year-old Boca resident Amy Lubetkin. "When I think of tattoos, I think of the Holocaust and how tattooing of all these Jewish people was another way to take away their identity, take away from who they were."
Bruce Ratoff, a 55-year-old Boca resident, considers himself an only moderately observant Jew, yet there are certain lines he refuses to cross.
"Tattoos are a permanent mutilation and thus a direct violation of Jewish law," Ratoff said. "The Nazis were aware of this - it was a deliberate desecration when they tattooed concentration camp inmates. Why then should we deliberately choose to desecrate ourselves? I find this trend most disturbing."
Strangely enough, this is one of the reasons that younger Jews, like 18-year-old Alexis Engelhardt of West Palm Beach, are heading to tattoo parlors.
Engelhardt's grandmother was a Holocaust survivor, so he considered having "remember" tattooed on his forearm in Hebrew.
Ultimately he decided against it because he didn't want such a visible tattoo to hurt his chances at future employment. Instead, he modified a common tattoo of surfers - nautical stars at the front of the hips - using two Jewish stars.
"My parents were kind of upset when they found out, and so was my grandma, but it isn't that big of a deal," Engelhardt said. "I think you should take religion as more of a guideline instead of just rules saying this is how you should live. I think banning tattoos is a little bit ancient, and we're kind of past that."
Tattoo artist Brenner, the great-grandson of Jews caught up in the Holocaust, is thinking about adding yellow coloring to the Star of David on his arm.
Jewish people were forced to wear yellow stars and badges in Nazi Germany.
"I want to represent what they went through," Brenner said.
It's an argument that puzzles orthodox Rabbi Shlomo Uminer of the Chabad Jewish Center of Martin and St. Lucie Counties.
"That memory is not a good memory," Uminer said. "The memory of the Holocaust, that terrible act of barbarism that happened while the whole world watched and was quiet, is not something of remembrance. We shouldn't forget, but if you want to be clear that you're Jewish, wear a yarmulke (the traditional Jewish skullcap) on your head.
"How can you care about your religion when you disobey it (by getting a tattoo)? It just doesn't work."
Anthony Fratello, the Reform rabbi of Temple Shaarei Shalom in Boynton Beach, said he has very mixed emotions about tattoos on Jewish people.
He believes that the biblical text barring tattoos is "a bit vague" and that the real stigma these days stems from the Holocaust.
He's heard of people tattooing exact replicas of the numbers that were tattooed on the forearms of their relatives in concentration camps.
"There are those who see it as a way to reconnect with people that perished in the Holocaust, and I can see both sides of the argument," Fratello said.
However, he believes there is something sacred about keeping the body unmarked.
"I think there's a great deal that we can learn from the traditional perspective to say that it's your body, and God gave it you to take care of," Fratello said.
Many Jews have been reluctant to get tattoos because of a long-standing belief that the deceased can't be buried in Jewish cemeteries if they are tattooed.
However, even Orthodox rabbis like Uminer say that's a myth.
The Star of David of the Palm Beaches cemetery in West Palm Beach has no policy regarding tattoos, and Mount Sinai Memorial Park - an Orthodox cemetery in Miami - doesn't have its employees view the body before it is buried.
Once Ann Pardes of Boca Raton learned that prohibiting tattooed Jews from being buried was "just an old wives' tale," she permitted her son to get a tattoo in remembrance of his grandmother.
"I couldn't say no," Pardes said. "I thought it was for a very good reason, and it's a beautiful tattoo in memory of my mom. I'm even considering getting one myself."
Still, don't expect all Jewish people to go against a tattoo-forbidding mantra passed on for thousands of years.
"Every place I look, every movie star, every rock star, every athlete has tattoos, so I'm not surprised at this trend," Lubetkin said. "But I'm still going to instill in my children that Jewish people don't get tattoos. When my son was as young as 4 and he'd see somebody with a tattoo, he'd say, 'Mommy, that person's not Jewish.'"
That would make one hell of a ping list, that's for sure... :)
Yes. They are "oficially" WM's (Woman Marine).....but we called them BAMs........................
I know 2 Jewish girls with nose jobs (and probably other things). How is it not mutilation or doing with the body what one pleases to do these things while a different set of standards applies to tattoos?
That’s stretch . .
I don't understand the attraction. As a christian, we try to honor most of the Jewish law...not quite sure how some (like tattoos) are taboo, but others (like pork...Sabbath) seem to be 'lesser'...
I had to talk my wife (now 40) out of getting one a couple years ago. She did a temporary one, and liked (most) of the reactions she got. Now, she can't believe she almost went thru with one...
leviticus says no to alot of things. as does most of the rest of the pentetuch. how many of those old laws do you hold to, and how many do you ignore?
Sign me up!
How so? The poster to whom I was responding said, “Its forbidden for Jews to tatoo their bodies. The body is not one’s to do with as one pleases. It belongs to G-d and the Jew inhabits it on temporary loan from G-d. One must act holy, be seen as holy and imitate G-d.” If the body is a lease, so to speak, then it ought not be tampered with.
Sign me up too!
Hit anybody on the back of the head with a tire iron lately?
It's not really very relevant to this article, but I watched a documentary about the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang the other day. Ironically one of the leaders is Jewish and also has a Star of David tattoo on his upper arm. If I remember right, he also had a number of swastikas tattooed on him.
Anyone good with photoshop top make a cool graphic?
i'm the one who said "nothing was ever personal enough to me to get a tattoo."
and no. no tire irons. i prefer my nightstick. but not on the head. my department frowns upon that. we only hit the fleshy parts of the body.
Most people seem to view Leviticus as a list of rules, when in reality it is a highly articulated code.
Some of its laws are of universal application, some are applied to very distinct situations and circumstances.
Jews have the same problems Christians and every other sect has. Some follow every jot and tittle, and others, not so much. If you choose a tat after you know it's forbidden, it's not so much the tat, but your attitude towards God. The Law isn't explained, but it probably has to do with idol worship or God figuring you look like He wants you to look. It may even have to do with pagan ritual, as most pagan religions practice the art.
What is the relationship of Blacks and tattoos?
Do blacks tattoo themselves? Aren’t they hard to see?
Leviticus also tells us men never to shave our facial hair. May I assume that you have a full beard?
No, that you may not do because I am a woman ;-)
I’m also not Jewish. My question is about these pick-and-choose sanctions. If the body is a lease, I say better a paint job (tattoo) than constructing a mini-alcove (nose job) in a wall.
It's a fad like bell bottom jeans. The only difference is when bell bottom jeans fell out of style people could make blue jean shorts out of them or take them to the Goodwill store. When this fad is over people are stuck with their tatoos. What was once young and hip will be a mark of old out of touch people. Tatoo removal specialists will make a fortune.
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