Customs
Folk Beliefs

Tattoos are defiling your body

“So what’s common in Jewish culture is that you’re not allowed to get tattoos, because should you get a tattoo, you’re defiling your body, and you can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery. My grandfather had this idea that all his children would be buried with him in a Jewish cemetery. And then my father got a tattoo and I got a tattoo, and my grandpa actually ended up getting a tattoo because he got heart surgery, and now he jokes about it and talks about how he can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery.”

 

My informant comes from a culturally Jewish household, but neither she nor her father practices the religion. The ban on tattoos can be found in Leviticus, but many modern-day Jews choose to ignore it, even though it means that they can’t be buried in consecrated ground. I was surprised that her grandfather, who she describes as religious, was willing to break the taboo in order to get a tattoo. It is an interesting dichotomy between what people see as an inarguable point of their faith and the way they actually behave.

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

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