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As a lot of us have to find a way to deal with the often rather tricky business of balancing tattoos with employment, we can always take refuge in knowing that covering up our tattoos with clothing or even makeup at very tattoo unfriendly places is only for a certain amount of hours per day, per week. During the periods where we aren’t at work, the tattoos are allowed to be as freely visible as they were original intended to be.
But what if having a tattoo contravened your religious beliefs and having one meant relinquishing your cushy spot in the after life? I have to admit, I’m not a religious person and I don’t know too much about religion. In fact, if it weren’t for the television series Curb Your Enthusiasm, I wouldn’t have any idea that Jewish people are prohibited by the Torah or written Jewish law, from being tattooed. In an episode entitled The Special Section, series creator and star Larry David discovers that his mother is being denied a burial in a proper Jewish cemetery because she had a secret tattoo on her buttocks. Well, television is television and although the episode is funny (as is every Curb episode), it’s actually (somewhat) based in fact:
‘The Torah, or written Jewish law, states “you shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.”‘
What isn’t based in fact however, is that Jews who are tattooed can be denied their proper burial rights.
‘”In Judaism, sins aren’t weighted. They are all things that you are not supposed to do,” said Laura Wilson Etter, the director of engagement at Hillel Center.
She explained that eating pork (prohibited in Jewish dietary law), or not keeping Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, is just as sinful as getting a tattoo.
Regardless, it is “more important to be doing Mitzvot (good deeds) than to worry about what you have done wrong,” according to Wilson Etter.’
I’m not sure I’d exactly call all this good news – I mean, I guess if you’re a deeply religious person, a sin is still a sin, regardless of how equal it is to the others. But I do think it’s important to clarify that Jews who choose to get tattooed are in no way relinquishing their right to a burial in a Jewish cemetery, or their participation in any synagogue rituals. What it all comes down to I guess, is what tattoos have always come down to: a meaningful and very personal choice.