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The New York Times Style section devotes an entire article to the question “Tattoo or not Tattoo?” if you are young and Jewish. Reporter Kate Torgovnick investigates what the Torah says about body art:
“Jewish law on tattooing is slippery. Leviticus 19:28 states, “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead nor incise any marks on yourself: I am the Lord.” For Rabbi Washofsky, it’s unclear whether the passage strictly outlaws tattoos that refer to a god, or whether it generally condemns any personal adornment. Ear piercing, he added, is not controversial. For [Marshal] Klaven [a rabbinical student], historical context is key. When Leviticus was written, tattooing was largely a pagan practice, done to mark slaves or to show devotion to a pharaoh, Mr. Klaven said. Since tattooing has evolved, he thinks the rule may be outdated. Not all scholars agree. Rabbi Alan Bright, a spokesman for the Jewish Funeral Directors of America, dismissed the cemetery adage as “a load of rubbish,” but he said that tattooing was a no-no. He quotes Deuteronomy 4:15, which commands Jews to take care of their bodies, as evidence.”
For more discussion about tattoo taboos, including a variety of opinions about whether or not a tattoo would preclude you from being buried in a Jewish cemetery, check out Torgovnick’s full article, “For Some Jews, It Only Sounds Like ‘Taboo’.”

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