Tuesday, February 08, 2011


This One Is Not For You

by Reb Gutman Locks @ Mystical Paths

image003 (12)I just saw something at the mikvah (immersion pool) that was really painful to see. There was a young man who looked totally religious when he was dressed, but when he went into the water I saw that he had at least two huge tattoos. The one on his abdomen was some 12 inches in diameter; it was similar to the photo attached to this article. The one on his arm was a solid ink design three inches thick. I winced when I saw him. There is no way that he is ever going to remove them from his body.

     I thought, “Should I write about this subject, or not?”  I know that tattooing is not a problem for those of you who read my writings. So I thought, “Maybe it would be best not to bring up the subject.”

     As I walked home, a group of “Birthright” kids walked by. They were Americans in their twenties. Usually, I like to joke with them while I teach them an important lesson. I’ll ask where they are from, and when they answer, I point my finger at them and say, “You better marry a Jewish girl!” The group always laughs, and then I move on. This time as they went on, I looked back at them and saw that one of the boys had a huge Jewish star tattooed on the back of his upper arm. For me, this is a sure sign that I should address this issue.

     When I see a Jew with a tattoo, it’s not just that tattooing is forbidden in the Torah that bothers me. We all make mistakes. But the big difference is, I can cover up my mistakes, and maybe no one will ever know how foolish I was. But these poor guys, as hard as they try, as righteous a life that they live, they have branded themselves--most likely for the rest of their lives. This is what bothers me so much. Okay, some of the smaller tattoos that are not colored can be removed with laser surgery, but not the ones I saw today.

     When I put tefillin on someone and see a tattoo, I wait until we are finished, and then I say to him, “Let me teach you a special prayer.” He is usually attentive, since we just went through the tefillin experience together. I take his arm and squeeze it a little and say, “Everyday, at least once a day, say these words. ‘Dear G-d, as I go through life, if I have to make mistakes, let me make them in pencil.’”  Most of the times he will laugh and agree, as by then he has usually realized what a mistake he made. Obviously, my intention is not to put the guy down, but to prevent him from making the same mistake again.

     Recently, a young Israeli mother told this story: When she was young, she got a tattoo on her lower back. It was the “in thing” to do. As a young girl, she used to show it off proudly. Then she got married and had a baby girl. Some two or three years later, the little girl noticed her mother’s lower back and asked, “What is that Mommy?” She said that her face fell as she realized that her loving daughter would probably try to imitate her mother. She started laser surgery, hoping that it will eventually be removed.

     Why am I writing this to you? You are not about to go get a tattoo. No way! I know that. But I also know that you have children, and you have friends who have children. Some of you teach in school systems. Some of you reach far into the world. Please see if you can help save some of these kids from doing something that they will regret forever. Can you somehow get this information to them before they make this mistake?


  1. Ive heard of worse blemishes to a soul the kinds you cant erase with pencil most jews dear friend have them . There not 20 something birthright kids from rich perfect families in the states !!!!!!!

  2. Dear mystical-the vague negative comment about "most jews" should not be given the light of day to be shown on a blog that is loving and positive to the jewish people. If someone wants to clean themselves,they are welcome in G-d's kingdom.All yehudim are granted olam habah(there are few exceptions)

  3. “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:28)

    So where's the problem? Ah, the added interpretations. It's so bothersome when the Torah is so unclear on a commandment now.

    Why don't you teach Jews how to have kavod, maybe teach them how to be HONEST, how about a big dose of midot? Shall I add to the list? A Jew with a tatoo of the Magen David or some nothingness is such a waste of energy.

    We need to focus on reducing the upcoming rough ride of the geulah. Dov Bar-Leib had some good ideas, maybe some will listen and catch on.

  4. Is it true that some communities will not allow those with tattoes to be buried in Jewish cemeteries?

  5. Yehoshua November wrote a poem about this.

    Think of the mesiras nefesh and pain every day this young man has when he goes to the mikvah and bares these tattoos to other religious/frum people. No one can understand the shame and regret he feels. Yet every day he goes again and bares it all, knowing that people are looking and judging him.

    I can only imagine how much Hashem appreciates this sacrifice this young man makes daily and how close he is and how loved he truly is by Hashem for this teshuvah and self sacrifice.

  6. Mai, you have a very good question.
    This will permit me to clear up a few misconceptions.
    The Torah forbids us from tattooing our bodies. Nonetheless, according to halacha, one who has had tattoos can still buried in a Jewish cemetery.
    That said, every Jewish burial society has the right to enact its own criteria for who may and may not be buried in their plot. This stems from people's desire (or right?) to be buried in proximity to others of their choosing. So while technically there is nothing in Jewish law which prohibits a tattooed person from being interred in a Jewish cemetery, certain burial societies -- not the majority of them or even close -- will not bury among their own a person who willingly tattooed him/herself, as it is a permanent exhibition of violation of Jewish Law.
    This practice by certain burial societies led to the common misconception that this ban was an inherent part of Jewish law.

  7. I flew back to Israel last week at JFK. At the gate, was a group of non-religious students who's origin I could not identify. Most did not look Jewish, a few had US army backpacks, and it stood out that most (boys and girls) without a doubt had tattoos. Perhaps a Xian tour, peace corps or something. Only on the plane did I find out they were on birthright. On my trip priot to that, I did notice that tattoos are now rampant everywhere.

  8. Okay, I'm a non-Jew. I was in the military for over 10 years. I've been around people with tats my whole life. I can admire some of the artwork, but never have I been drawn to get a tattoo. It just doesn't appeal to my nefesh or my neshamah.

    Maybe I saw one too many Holocaust films of Jews being marked like cattle. Who wants to be regarded as chattel? Why would anyone want to brand themselves with ink or by cutting their own flesh?

    I have no idea why any Jew would want to mark his/her body like the Nations. People claim it's all about individuality, but to me it seems to be more about conformity to a misguided spirit of rebellion &/or an aborignal desire to display one's status &/or affiliation. The latter I can understand where non-Jews are concerned, but the former seems like a very poor excuse for marring one's appearance.

    Frankly, I'll go even further than R' Locks! Call me a P'rushi - because the X-tians certainly do! - but I rank most tats in the same category as wearing clothes bearing a company's logo or a sports team's trademark. They promote a cliquish, fanatical, partisan or sectarian worldview and behaviors, which more often than not are divisive &/or self-serving.

    And why do people wear clothes strewn with images of skulls and other death related symbols? Is it their subconscious telling them, "You know that you number among the walking dead!"

    And why all the advertisements on clothing!? Isn't it bad enough that we have to suffer with the "in your face" approach of the garbage & sex mongers that dominate this commericalistic society (here in the US)? Are people walking billboards!? IMO, it's just another sad commentary on the insanity of a world that has separated itself from HaShem.

    Honestly, if you've got to wear something with a little color to it, then why not a Hawaiin-esque nature print or a floral design? (BTW, what's the halakah on this?) Better a tropical hibiscus or a palm tree, than the words Coca-Cola or an image of Homer Simpson, no?

    I just can't picture that a Baalei Mussar would want to wear a Pepsi T-Shirt, a pair of Nike shoes, a New York Yankees baseball cap and display a tattoo of a Magen David, Mickey Mouse &/or a tribal dragon design on his body.

    And people wonder why I loathe being stuck in and constantly subjected to Goyishkeit!? I don't know.... Maybe I'm just crazy....


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