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Sin or Self-Expression?

Some Jews see their tattoos as way of celebrating their faith (archives) Photo: Avi Moalem
Some Jews see their tattoos as way of celebrating their faith (archives) Photo: Avi Moalem
 
 

Tattoos on Jews: Myths and Jewish law

Can person with tattoo be buried in Jewish cemetery? Rabbinical scholar attempts to separate fact from fiction

jn1.tv
Published: 08.27.13, 07:48 / Israel Jewish Scene

VIDEO – If a Jew gets a tattoo, he or she cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery. But is that statement a fact, or a myth? And what about Jews who are tattooed unwillingly?

 

Tattoo artist Kevin Campbell is Jewish. He's currently tattooing a Jewish-themed image on Brandan Lobenfeld, who is also Jewish. Both believe their Jewish tattoos are a way to celebrate their faith.

 

Video courtesy of jn1.tv

 

"Once I was pretty much covered in tattoos, and the reaction was pretty good," says Campbell. "Some of the older people at the synagogue would make comments every so often when I'd walk in. I heard some, 'Oh my God,' and that kind of stuff."

 

Lobenfeld says he often gets lectured about his tattoos from both Jews and non-Jews. "They say you can't be buried in a Jewish cemetery if you have tattoos. I'm like, yeah I know, but I feel as though if I'm proud of who I am and I should be able to show it off."

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It just so happens that Lobenfeld and Campbell have nothing to worry about when it comes time for them to be buried, because the old adage is "completely false," according to Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson of the school of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University.

 

"There's absolutely nowhere in Jewish tradition where it says that having a tattoo is so egregious compared to other forbidden acts that it would mean you couldn't be buried in a cemetery," he says.

 

'Getting tattoo willingly considered sin'

Even though the phrase is a myth, Jews are not supposed to get tattoos, he adds.

 

"For Jews who follow the scriptures of the Bible, the book of Leviticus explicitly forbids gashing of the skin or putting permanent marks, which the rabbis understand to mean tattooing."

 

Rabbi Artson says Jews tattooed against their will, like those tattooed during the Holocaust, are not culpable. "The sin is on the part of the abuser who did that to them," he notes.

 

Even though getting a tattoo willingly is considered a sin, Rabbi Artson says it doesn't define whether a Jew is a good or bad person. He says mistakes can be learned from, and in some cases erased. "If you go and have your tattoo removed, absolutely, it's as though you never did it," he says.

 

Lobenfeld wants his tattoos to stay permanent, and doesn't believe having them is a serious sin. His newest tattoo is a take on the emblem of rock band Guns N' Roses. He calls it "Guns N' Moses."

 

"I have a dancing rabbi, then I have Jewish stars, then I have Shabbat Shalom," he says.

 

Busting the burial myth is important to Campbell, especially because one of his tattoos is an image of his son. "It's a little merman that's supposed to be my son and it's got a little Star of David on the forehead," he explains.

 

Lobenfeld and Campbell say they're proud of their tattoos and want other Jews to express themselves if they choose to, without any fears.

 

 

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