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.