Jewish Journal

God’s Blog #5: Hebrew tattoos

by Brad A. Greenberg

July 16, 2008 | 3:26 pm

On the Seventh Day, I rested, and in July the Lord likes to take off two weeks from blogging. But now I am back, and I’ve got plenty on My mind, starting with tattoos. Quite simply: Enough already.

I know it’s temporarily fashionable to get inked in foreign languages, even if those Chinese characters Britney got translate as “strange,” not “mysterious.” And the sportiness of arm sleeves has made its way from Allen Iverson and David Beckham to Major League Baseball’s Josh Hamilton, who, on a side note, I am most proud of and regularly gives his glory back to Me. But I’ve never been a fan of body art. I made this clear in Leviticus 19: “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD.”

Oy, My children do not listen; what else is new.

The New York Times had the audacity to run this “style” story today saying your bubbe was fibbing when she told you not to desecrate your body:

According to a 2007 poll of 1,500 people conducted by the Pew Research Center, 36 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds and 40 percent of 26- to 40-year-olds have at least one tattoo. Still, even Larry David was so haunted by the cemetery edict that he wrote an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in which he pays off a gravedigger to have his mother reburied in a Jewish cemetery despite a small tattoo on her behind.

But the edict isn’t true. The eight rabbinical scholars interviewed for this article, from institutions like the Jewish Theological Seminary and Yeshiva University, said it’s an urban legend. It was most likely started because a specific cemetery had a policy against tattoos. Jewish parents and grandparents picked up on it and over time, their distaste for tattoos was presented as scriptural doctrine.

Hogwash. There are some tattoos that the Lord can stomach, even if they are not my choice: initials on a forearm; a butterfly on the lower back; even the giant cross and letters J-E-S-U-S that hang down the chest of one of My sons. But this does not me I approve. And there is a certain type of tattoo that drives Me positively bonkers. And, to quote one of my favorite comic characters, you wouldn’t like Me angry.

My name, backwards, below the burning bush

It’s the Hebrew tattoo, the pinnacle of spiritual irony.

Popular mostly with My gentile children—Britney again?—the characters, often inked across a forearm or bicep or the upper back, say things that I support: “The Lord our God, the Lord is one” and “Blessed be the Lord Almighty.” And, sure, they’re not preventing their future burial in a Jewish cemetery, because they couldn’t be buried there anyway. But seriously, let’s think about this.

A tattoo ... in God’s language ... that can’t even be read by those offering their bodies as canvas. That makes less sense than someone asking to be taught Torah while standing on one foot, and when the ink stains spell my name, well, that definitely qualifies as using My name in vain.

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