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Dispelling Myths: Can You Be Buried in a Jewish Cemetery with Tattoos?

As a Jewish Funeral Director deeply involved in community service, I often find myself addressing 7th-grade classes at local Hebrew schools. The topic at hand is the Jewish Life Cycle, and invariably, one of the most pressing questions from students revolves around a common misconception: “Can you still be buried in a Jewish Cemetery if you have a tattoo or multiple tattoos?” Growing up surrounded by Jewish friends and family, I, too, encountered this belief and feel compelled to set the record straight.

The Myth Unveiled: Can Tattoos Bar You from a Jewish Cemetery?

Contrary to popular belief, the idea that having tattoos disqualifies you from burial in a Jewish cemetery is nothing more than a myth. While religiously speaking, the Torah advises against desecrating the body; there is no scriptural basis for excluding individuals with tattoos from a proper Jewish burial. Let’s delve into a few reasons why this misconception has persisted throughout the years.

  1. Tattoos and the Torah: Leviticus 19:28 is often cited in discussions about tattoos, stating, “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead or incise any marks on yourselves: I am the LORD.” This passage can be interpreted to include any permanent markings or engravings on the skin, which may have contributed to the emphasis on tattoos as a visible transgression. However, it’s crucial to remember that having a tattoo is akin to committing any other sin, and no single transgression should bar someone from a proper burial.
  2. The Sacred Body: Jewish tradition holds that the human body is sacred, created “B’tzelem Elohim” or in the image of God. The belief is rooted in the idea that the body should be preserved in its natural state, both in life and in death. While this belief encourages respect for the body, it doesn’t necessarily translate to an exclusion from burial based on the presence of tattoos.
  3. Policies from Societies and Burial Grounds: While the Torah’s law may be the source of the myth, individual societies, and synagogue burial grounds have perpetuated this belief by creating their own burial standards. Each community reserves the right to establish rules for burial, and some may choose to restrict individuals with tattoos. However, it’s essential to question the implications of such standards, especially when faced with the reality of Holocaust survivors who bear tattoos from concentration camps.
  4. The Influence of Jewish Mothers: Undoubtedly, the perpetuation of this myth can be attributed, in part, to the guidance of Jewish mothers. Over time, the well-intentioned efforts to dissuade their children from getting tattoos have woven this myth into the fabric of cautionary tales passed down through generations.

Embracing Diversity in Tradition

The myth that having tattoos excludes you from a Jewish cemetery is unfounded. It is essential to separate cultural beliefs from religious teachings and challenge misconceptions that may have been passed down through the years. The diversity within the Jewish community should be embraced, understanding that personal choices, including the decision to get a tattoo, should not hinder the ability to receive a respectful and proper burial within a Jewish cemetery.

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