Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Inkslingers m'sibah*

I am a big tattooed freak (at least that’s what my husband calls me).

I love it.

I thought about getting inked years before I actually did. I knew exactly what I wanted, I just didn’t know where to have this piece of art permanently installed.

I finally got my tattoo sometime in October of 2000. It was the year I got married and the year I turned 30.

Being tattooed had all kinds of unpredictable benefits in my life. One of which is that I love the skin that was tattooed. That may seem like an odd statement, but I'm not a big huge fan of my body. The area of my body that I've had tattooed is artwork that I've deliberately chosen and I think it's beautiful. I am currently working on a full back piece.

I am learning to love my back...I know, I'm a freak.

One of the most consistent themes after getting my first tattoo was people telling me that I could no longer be buried in a Jewish cemetery.

Once and for all, I am going to disabuse you of this myth (yeth?).

First. I never had any intention of being buried in a Jewish cemetery. Michael knows where my ashes are going and if I die first, he’s going to get them there.

Second.There is no prohibition on someone who is tattooed being buried in a Jewish cemetery.

Ultimately, you could be covered in a body suit of tattoos and still be buried in a Jewish cemetery. There is actually nothing that could prevent a Jew from being buried in a Jewish cemetery!

There are a few restrictions, which may have your carcass being dropped into a different section from the “truly righteous”.

One of these things is suicide, but even there we have our major loopholes. If one is mentally ill, one can still be buried in the main section.

How do you prove a dead person was not mentally ill before he or she committed suicide? I would like to see the posek that tries to tell the family of a suicide victim that he/she was not mentally ill.

The major point is that we do not know if a person has repented before death. If she/he did repent, she/he is a righteous person and should be buried along with the righteous. Tattoos or no. In the case of suicide, the rabbis say that we do not know if the person repented after attempting suicide and was unable to turn back. Therefore, they should be buried with the rest of the righteous.

Frankly, there would be very few people buried in the righteous section of the Jewish cemetery if only the perfect were allowed admittance.

So where does this old wives’ tale come from?

Leviticus 19:27-28 prohibits 4 different acts of mourning. These are:
1) Making a bald spot on the head as an act of mourning
2) Shaving the beard as an act of mourning
3) Cutting the skin as an act of mourning
4) Writing on the skin as an act of mourning

The text is as follows:“You shall not cut the hair on the sides of your heads, neither shall you clip off the edge of your beard.You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you. I am God.”

This is where we get our biblical prohibition against tattoos. Interestingly, the inscribing of tattoos as an act of mourning is the most elusive in the list. It is only mentioned once in Lev. 19:28 and then never discussed again.

Professor Aaron Demsky of Bar-Ilan University, in an article in the 100 lb., $1,800 Encyclopaedia Judaica, goes even further to suggest that tattooing may have been permitted in biblical times. He cites the following biblical references: "One shall say, 'I am the Lord's,' and another shall use the name of Jacob, and another shall mark his arm 'of the Lord' and adopt the name of Israel" (Isaiah 44:5), "See, I have engraved You on the palms of my hands…" (Isaiah 49:16), and " a sign on every man's hand that all men may know His doings" (Job 37:7).

Dr. Demsky suggests that tattooing was sanctioned as long as the tattoos did not brand you for another god.

Today, however, being tattooed voluntarily, according to those who write the rules, is a violation of the commandments.

A lot of things violate commandments. This one happens to be visible.

No one knows if I just had shrimp cocktail or if I tear toilet paper on the Sabbath or if I swear needlessly (which I do) or if I have drunk the wine of idolators (which I probably have but really, have you checked the backgrounds of the Gallos recently?) or if I have cursed our ruler (I HAVE!). These are far less demonstrable violations.

Personally, I think it is something that Jewish mothers tell their children so that they won't get inked and it's just been passed down as fact like some Jewish version of the kidney thieves.

*m'sibah - party or ball

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Blogger Ana Petrova said...

It was wonderful to see you last night I had a lot of fun. And your body art, I have seen some of it in person and it is beautifully done.

Blogger K8 said...

I'd actually thought the same about Catholics and suicide - however the funeral home director told us now that the view is similar. They consider suicide a result of mental illness and burial on hallowed ground is possible.

Blogger dizzy von damn! said...

thank you.

Blogger Orangeblossoms said...

What an interesting post on Shavuot-- festival of giving the law, right? The Law sure has a few dozen zillion rules-- doesn't it!? Yikes. Thankfully it has as many interpreters and interpretations (and loopholes). Thank you for this piece.

Plus, gorgeous tatoo.... I love the curling vines. I trust it is not a Days reference (As sands through the hourglass.....)

Why did you choose the hourglass?

Blogger billie said...

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Blogger billie said...

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Blogger billie said...

Now who would really want to be buried next to the "truly righteous"? Can you imagine being nestled next to that kind of person for all of Eternity? For fuck's sake, you'd have to shoot yourself...but then of course, you'd have to be moved....right? Tattoo on, girlfriend.

Blogger Faith said...

K8 - I'm so relieved that the same thing goes in Catholicism. No family should have to go through that after experiencing what you have.

Orangeblossoms - the hourglass is a memento mori - I did my senior thesis on memento mori - I guess Jeff was right. I am a death groupie.

Blogger Marg B said...

Here in Melbourne, Australia, there was a huge uproar about 10 years ago when an Orthodox rabbi actually had the guts to say that he was fed up with Jews who regularly broke at least one of the 10 Commandments - keeping the Sabbath holy - getting so hung up about openly gay Jews in the community. Not that he was advocating homosexulality (an Orthodox Jewish rabbi version of Seinfeld's Not that there is anything wrong with it) BUT he wished that some of these people would focus more on their own adherance to mitzvot.

Unfortunately he is no longer with us but it still cracks me up every time I think of it.

Blogger Unknown said...

So fascinating! I really wish I'd known that before college, so I'd be able to correct my acquaintance when he claimed that even writing a phone number on your hand was forbidden in the Torah.

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