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December 29, 1995 - Image 66

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-12-29

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Jews 8c Tattoos:
A. Kosher Combo.

Permanent body ink paints a mixed picture
when it comes to Jewish law. GEOFF RIKLIN SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS

e shall not
make any cut-
tings in your
flesh for the
dead, nor print
- ---- any marks
upon you."


— Leviticus

Despite the fact that Jewish
law forbids the practice, a signif-
icant number of Jews get tattoos.
"It's just freedom of expres-
sion," says Samantha Citrin, a
19-year-old college student at-
tending the University of Mon-
tana. "My tattoos have meaning
to me and my way of life. My
mom keeps telling me I'm going
to regret having these tattoos
when I'm older, but I just don't
The prohibition against tattoos
originated in biblical times when
Jews lived in close proximity to
pagan tribes. Often, the pagans
used tattoos to identify them-
selves with their gods.
To differentiate themselves as
monotheists, Jews outlawed the
practice among their own. The
great Jewish thinker Mai-
monides said tattooing was a
"custom of the heathens" and a
way to mark a slave for service
to idols.
To Rabbi Daniel Nevins of Adat
Shalom Synagogue, the problem
with tattooing is that it "identifies
one with a certain cause.
"As Jews we see ourselves as
the property of God. The only per-
missible alteration of the body is
one that identifies us with God,
such as the circumcision of
males," he says.
What is the difference between
body piercing and tattooing? Ac-

tually, Jewish tradition
connects both forms of bod-
ily mutilation, but pierc-
ing is more acceptable.
"In the Bible we have
examples of women with
earrings and nose rings,"
Rabbi Nevins acknowl-
edges. "Jewish law doesn't
discuss (piercing) as a
health issue. But Torah
specifically identifies tat-
tooing as a custom foreign
to Judaism."
Rabbi Nevins also sug-
gests a different, more sec-
ular objection to tattoos.
"There's an infinite
number of ways to express
your individuality. Our in-
dividuality comes at birth,"
he says. "Speaking per-
sonally, I find tattoos to be
rather trite and silly."
Rabbi Michael
Moskowitz of Temple Shir
Shalom says he "wouldn't
condemn tattooing. I
wouldn't say it's very bad.
But, after the Holocaust
(during which Jewish con-
centration camp inmates
were tattooed with num-
bers replacing their
names), it touches on a
sensitive issue."
Both Rabbis Nevins and
Moskowitz state that the
commonly held idea that
Jews with tattoos are in-
eligible for burial in Jew-
ish cemeteries is
inaccurate, at least in the
case of most Conservative
and Reform congregations.
Rabbi Nevins doesn't Samantha Citrin with her dog, Timber.
know of any Jewish corn-

munity that prohibits burial of
tattooed Jews.
"It's between you and God," he
Samantha Citrin, the 19-year-
old student, says, "If I want to ex-
press myself externally on my
body I have every right to. I nev-
er thought I was going to be of-
fending anyone or my religion by
getting a tattoo. It's just an art
"You see a blank wall and you
want to put art on it. The human
body is an open invitation to ex-
press yourself. I can't ever imag-
ine myself wanting to get them
removed. They tell stories. I want
these stories to be with me for-
For instance, the Chinese let-
tering on her ankle means: "On
a dream and on a star, I am one
in a million."
Ms. Citrin's older sister, Alise,
a 39-year-old mother of two small
children, testifies to experiencing
"a simple and free-spirit feeling'
when she got a butterfly on her
hip and a heart on her bottom.
"The second week of college, I
went to Lyle Tuttle's tattoo stu-
dio. He's an old-time hippie and
tattoo guy. Janis Joplin was one
of my heroes in those days and
she had one," she says.
Fans of tattoos say it's an ad-
dictive pursuit. Seemingly, con-
noisseurs delight in the process
E nearly as much as the final prod-
uct. Rebecca Nosanchuk, a 24-
▪ year-old nursery school teacher,
• sports four tattoos.
"I have two flowers, a sun and
• the sorority letters Sigma Delta
Tau. I have a daisy on my toe and
my letters on my ankle. I have

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