Throughout history, tattooing has been sometimes vaguely and sometimes specifically associated with savagery, paganism and idolatry. As a result, Christian, Jewish and even some Muslim and Mormon traditions and churches have tended to discourage their members from getting tattoos, believing that it was the will of God that they refrain from marking their bodies in a way that would be sacrilegious or blasphemous. Cultural and historic events have combined to make this issue particularly sensitive in the case of the Jewish faith. Many people believe that Judaism prohibits tattooing as a direct cultural response to the atrocities that occurred during the Holocaust. However, in reality the opposition to tattooing goes much farther back than that, and is much more directly rooted in scripture and Jewish tradition.
Modern rabbis disagree over what types of tattoos, if any, are appropriate for people of the Jewish faith. There are four main Jewish tattoo designs that are accepted by some â€“ though certainly not all â€“ Jews and Jewish religious officials and scholars as being within the bounds of Jewish tradition. â€œTraditionalâ€ Jewish tattoos are defined as tattoos that glorify the God of Israel and make the body, which is perceived to be a temple of the spirit, more of a testament to Godâ€™s glory rather than less. It should be noted at this point that these tattoos are also somewhat contentious, since many Jewish scholars argue that any alterations to the original form of the temple are basically an indication that the temporary owner of the temple (the individual spirit inhabiting the body) believes that there is room for improvement on Godâ€™s work.
These are the four Jewish tattoo designs that are most commonly viewed as acceptable:
â€¢ Hebrew tattoo designs
Generally, these are the Hebrew consonants YHWH, which are believed to be the name of God (Yahweh) or Jehovah. They are not to be spoken aloud, but are a clear testament to God and a means of glorifying the creator without speaking.
â€¢ The Star of David tattoo
This tattoo is particularly controversial because so many Jews had to wear gold stars or post them in the windows of their homes during Hitlerâ€™s reign of terror over Germany and much of Europe. However, a Star of David tattoo now proudly proclaims Jewish heritage and tradition rather than being a source of fear.
â€¢ Enneagram tattoo (9 pointed star tattoo)
This symbolizes the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit: love, happiness, peace, patience, leniency, benevolence, loyalty, humbleness and temperance. This star tattoo is somewhat ambiguous since many Christians use it too. It is debatable whether or not this is really a â€œJewishâ€ tattoo though it has roots in Jewish tradition.
â€¢ Menorah tattoos
Menorahs are used during, Hanukah, the Festival of Lights. They are distinctly Jewish and indicate a pride in tradition and celebration of the Lord.
Ultimately, the issue is not so much whether a tattoo symbolizing your Jewish heritage or to celebrating your Jewish faith is historically accurate or acceptable in terms of propriety and tradition, but whether or not as a member of the Jewish faith you should be getting tattooed at all. Contrary to expectations, most writing on the subject simply deals with the acceptability of tattooing rather than its cultural stigmas that might be related to the Holocaust and the tattooed serial numbers that are related to that period in history. Some rabbis argue that the issue is only with ungodly marks, and that religious tattoos are okay. However, the overwhelming consensus appears to still be that generally, getting tattooed is not a particularly wise decision and it certain offends a number of Jewish traditions. However, more modern rabbis tend to agree that
1. Tattoos are prohibited, but there are no major penalties for doing it anyway that will be enacted by the church or religious community, and
2. Holocaust tattoos and other forced tattoos are not part of this issue at all, and those who are tattooed under duress are entirely blameless.
Ultimately, the decision about whether to get a Jewish tattoo is a personal one that relies on your specific faith to help you make the right decision. You can use scholarly writings and tradition for guidance, but if you feel that a Jewish tattoo will help you reach a better spiritual place in your life, then it may be the right decision for you. Work with your rabbi to reach a conclusion about getting tattooed that will keep you comfortable within your faith while possibly enabling you to also enjoy owning a tattoo that expresses a personal part of you.