Kedoshim – May 23rd 2016

This week’s parasha contains a law against tattooing: “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves. I am Adonai.” (Lev 19:28) In ancient times, pagans cut themselves as a sign of grief.  Other tattoos were related to idol worship as well.  Jewish law banned anything associated with pagan culture.  But it was more than that:  There was an idea that the human body is God’s creation and should not be “mutilated.”  Certainly, putting a colorful butterfly between your shoulder blades or your Hebrew name on your arm is not idol worship, but can it even be considered “mutilation?”  Who is to judge what is attractive or not on the human body?    While we should give weight to Jewish tradition’s aversion to permanently marking our flesh out of respect to the holiness our bodies represent, in our day, we cannot broadly condemn the practice either.