Tatts and Jews – two things that, despite traditional prohibitions, are beginning to become more and more related. I mean the idea of Jews getting tattoos is still considered novel enough that the topic is persistently newsworthy. It has been noted that many secular Jewish parents who don’t mind if their kids keep kosher or go to synagogue, freak out at the idea of a tattoo. A lot of that has to do with the uncomfortable associations that tattoos have with the holocaust as well as the popular myth that Jews with tattoos cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery.
So boii alerted me to a couple of recent articles on the subject and I figured I’d share them with you. The first, titled Jews With Tattoos appeared recently in the Boston Globe. They discuss several Jews who in defiance of tradition, have adorned their bodies with tatts, like “Gabe Kapler, the muscle-bound Jewish right fielder for the Red Sox, has 11 tattoos, including a Jewish star on one leg and the words “Never Again,” in reference to the Holocaust, on the other.” Gabe’s tattoos as well as his image as a veritable gay icon (with a Prince Albert piercing where the sun don’t shine) haven’t hurt the love affair the Jewish Press has with him.
The Boston Globe article was rather conventional and ended with the standard shmaltzy quote from a pro-tattoo holocaust survivor:
“To me it just means we can make our own decisions now,” says Steven Ross, a 73-year-old tattooed Auschwitz survivor and a driving force behind the Holocaust Memorial near Faneuil Hall. “In a few more years, there won’t be any more survivors left,” he says. Then, the only Jews with tattoos will be the ones who asked for them.
The second more interesting article was one that appeared in Body Modification Ezine. In this first person account , Liz Polay-Wettengel begins with several tattoo/body modification references found in the books of Ezekiel and Isaiah, for instance:
â€œOne shall say, â€˜I am the Lordâ€™s,â€™ and another shall use the name of Jacob, and another shall mark his arm â€˜of the Lordâ€™ and adopt the name of Israel.â€
– Isaiah 44:5
Well, I can certainly appreciate the Jewish pride exhibited by Polay-Wettengel:
Body Modification is just as much a part of my life as my faith in Judaism. I believe that my modifications beautify my body and bring joy to my life. They do not take away from my faith in God. My personal practice allows me to be who I am, and I wouldnâ€™t have it any other way.
I also appreciate the fact that Judaism, despite it’s oft stated abhorrence of tattoos and most body mods, still finds a way to be inclusive of those that feel differently. The one really sour note that I got from this article was the odd passage where in the midst of her defense of body modification, Polay-Wettengel goes off and criticizes one of the most cherished of Jewish traditions, the ritual of circumcision. I mean I am all for being cool but coolness is a relatively recent phenomenon, whereas the Jewish culture and tradition that she takes such pride in is kind of you know, ancient and timeless. But for the continuity represented by certain rituals that she takes umbrage with, she’d have nothing to take pride in. I’m just sayin’ that’s all….