Magic Jewball

all signs point to no


Jew & A, body art

Filed under : Jew & A,Judaism
On August 26, 2008
At 2:00 pm
Comments : 10

Irishcardinal writes:

I knew about tattoos not being allowed for Orthodox Jews. I recently read that any piercings, even ears, also aren’t allowed on the same principles. Please elaborate.

So, you know any good sources of clip-on earrings? My sister thinks even pierced ears are barbaric, but she likes to wear earrings when she gets really dressed up.

This is one of those things that’s based on a few principles. The tattoo prohibition is generally because of the Biblical verse, “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:28). Lots of laws from the Bible were designed to separate and differentiate the Children of Israel from the idol worshipers who surrounded them and this is one of those things that fell into that category. Guess what? Baal worshipers tattooed themselves as part of their religious ceremonies so you can’t.

This is pretty explicit and doesn’t leave much wiggle room. But what about piercing? There’s lots of examples of piercings in the Hebrew Bible and there’s nothing seen as wrong with them. It was the way you voluntarily submitted to slavery, women took off their earrings for the Golden Calf, etc. But there are other reasons for not tattooing and those do include piercing. The main reason is the general guideline that man (and woman) was made in the image of God (tzelem elohim) and should therefore treat his body as though it is as holy as it is. Part of this is the concept of tzniut, or personal modesty, that directs how a person should dress and carry himself. The idea of tattooing and piercing one’s flesh violates the spirit of these principles. So it’s not an explicit prohibition but rather a guideline or something to think about when considering. A couple of studs in your earlobes doesn’t seem to cross any lines. Piercings all over might be more of a question mark. It’s possible that the sources you read were from strict constructionists who prefer to set up a tall fence rather than have someone stray too far.

As an aside, this goes for how one treats one’s body in all respects. The other day, directly in front of my office building, was an obviously Orthodox man, puffing away on a cigarette. Now, there’s no Jewish law against smoking but I wanted to say to him, “I’m sure you believe you were made in God’s image and that your life and body are great gifts. Why would you poison yourself this way?” But being that we all have contradictory behaviors and that my mother always told me not to talk to strangers, I said nothing.

I actually have pierced ears but I let them close up. I got them as a teenager and after non-stop infection, let them close. I’ve never regretted it but still have little indentations. I don’t wear clip-ons but my mother did. She liked to shop the sales at Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor, and the jewelry stores in Zion Square, Jerusalem.

Thanks for writing!

Napster is down, song to follow later.


10 Comments for this post

Arjewtino says

I have a tattoo but, luckily, I pierced it recently so it cancels it out.

Wait, that can’t be right.

~dogandmusiclover~ says


I’m glad you answered the question about whether or not your ears were pierced. I didn’t think I noticed any earrings when I saw you, but OTOH, I’m not terribly observant much of the time, so I was curious.

This is an aside, but I stupidly deformed the cartilage in my right ear. I HAD to have a cartilage piercing when I was 21. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I took the earring out but you will always be able to tell that my cartilage is not quite right.

Irishcardinal says

Thanks for the clarification, Becca. One of the area newspapers runs a religion question and answer column once a week, and someone had asked that question. The writer is Jewish, but I can’t remember his name and can’t find it via Google. He may have explained it as you did, that it was more of a guideline than a prohibition for Orthodox Jews. But he did say that Orthodox women wear clip-ons, which are very hard to find here.

Average Jane says

What’s fascinating to me is that the majority (and I do mean vast majority) of Jews that I know with tattoos have Jewish themed tattoos. Some say it’s a way of reclaiming the tatooing that the Nazis did to our ancestors. Some say it’s just a way of beautifying the body and glorifying God’s creation.

Checkout Tattoo Jew, a documentary about Jews with Tattoos (I saw it first in Skin and Ink Magazine)… but if you can’t find it, and I wouldn’t be shocked, check out this article from the NY Times:

Becca says

Arj, you broke my brain with that one.

Dog, I didn’t notice so it can’t be that obvious. But I kinda was thinking that you weren’t quite right in the cartilage.

Irish, I would love to see it if you can find it. I was with my SIL the other night, she is more Orthodox than me, and has pierced ears. I asked her about this and she was bewildered.

Thanks, Jane, I will give that a read. That’s something I left out for sure, that the Nazi thing is definitely part of some people’s revulsion about it and I can understand that.

Irishcardinal says

OK, I have it. It’s Rabbi Marc Gellman, in his God Squad syndicated column, the 2nd question:

Girlnextdoortn says

I am Jewish and have a tattoo, as well as 4 holes in my ears (two each). Of course, I did this before I started really strongly identifying with my faith, but I don’t feel that I’ve desecrated my body by doing so- moreso that I’m super overweight- I would see *that* as much more of an affront to God. I did quit smoking, even socially, 4 years ago and I drink only once or twice a year, never to drunkenness.

Becca says

Irish, I think he’s way wrong and I asked several people. Informally, I started looking at the ears of Orthodox women I see and they mostly have obviously pierced ears. I am interested in his sources and I may write him. Thanks for that.

TN, honestly, and you’ll see this in my approach to most issues of Jewish law, it’s open to interpretation. The guideline is, “you’re made in God’s image so please treat your body accordingly.” As you can imagine, there are probably as many opinions on how to do that are there are Jews. But separately, good for you on quitting smoking. I need my readers around for as long as possible.

Irishcardinal says

I hope you do write him, Becca. I’d like to see if he responds in the column. He has always struck me as being reasonable and open to others’ opinions. But now I won’t believe anything he says. :)

Becca says


And hm, I hadn’t considered him answering in his column. Now I really have to write.