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Hebrew Literacy Through Tattoos

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Why is it that kids don’t want to go to Hebrew School yet celebrities are getting their bodies tattooed with Hebrew phrases and value constructs? It is true that for many, Hebrew literacy is an obstacle to participation in Jewish communal life, especially in the synagogue. Would the ability to interpret celebrity tattoos serve as a motivating reason for some to remain in Hebrew School? Just as people often use popular culture as a vehicle to learn historical fiction (Braveheart led to a surge of interest in Scottish history, for example), perhaps Hebrew tattoos are a place to start. Consider Victoria Beckham, whose back (along the spinal column) is tattooed with ani l’dodi/I am to my beloved (and that is as far as I can see). I presume the rest of the phrase from Song of Songs is also included: v’dodi li/and my beloved is mine.

In any case, just to set the record straight—any permanent alteration of the skin (like tattoos) is forbidden by Jewish law (though it doesn’t keep you out of Jewish cemeteries as popular myth would suggest). Earrings that have pierced the cartilage of the upper ear are also not permitted under Jewish law. Of course, we recognize that lots of people do both and that few feel governed by the parameters of Jewish law. But that means they have to care about the relevancy of Jewish law to guide or govern their lives. To me, perhaps that is the bigger question. And if tattoos are a place to begin the conversation, color me in.



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