by Reb Gutman Locks @ Mystical Paths
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?