Can Jewish People be Buried with Tattoos?

Thursday, January 21

Old myths die hard. For ages, almost every Jewish individual has heard the following from the start of their journey in the religion, “Jewish people cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery if they have tattoos.” 

A report done by the Pew Research Center of 1,500 people discovered that 36 percent of 18 to 25 year olds and 40 percent of 26 to 40 year olds have at least one tattoo. The increased prevalence of body art in society has put this old wives tale into question. Is it true that Jewish people cannot be buried in Jewish cemeteries if they make the decision to get a tattoo? 

Rabbinical scholars from various religious and educational institutions, interviewed by the New York Times, generalized that it is simply a legend. It is possible that this myth was rooted in tales told about a handful of cemeteries who had policies in place that put a ban on tattoos. Jewish community and family members that shared in the distaste for tattoos, may have continued to spread this myth in an attempt to stop younger individuals from choosing to get a permanent mark. 

Although some people tattoo themselves in order to rebel or prove a point, many use ink to connect with their cultural identity and religious ideals. Jewish themed tattoos range from the Star of David, to Hebrew words of wisdom and Holocaust memorials, to represent religious pride and experiences of the Jewish people throughout history.  It is a visible and tangible way for individuals to feel a part of something greater than themselves. 

The actual Jewish law pertaining to tattoos is unclear, as the Torah states that you should not desecrate the body, but committing one sin does not exclude someone from Judaism. Getting a tattoo is like any other violation to the Torah. The only difference, however, is that tattoos are permanent. Drinking alcohol, smoking, and overeating are all violations of Jewish law because they negatively affect the body, but mostly temporarily.

While this myth has no real legitimacy, individual cemeteries and other organizations are entitled to make their own rules and standards for burial. So, while untrue that all Jewish cemeteries prohibit burial on the basis of tattoos, there is a possibility that you could come across one that upholds this common misconception.

Each and every individual has the authority to decide how they choose to best represent their heritage and identity. If this is through tattoos, rest assured that this old myth has died.

Although it is rare that you will encounter a funeral home or cemetery that will refuse to carry out a traditional Jewish funeral and burial, respectively, this is a topic that can be discussed when pre-planning or making funeral arrangements, if you have concerns. At Star of David Memorial Chapels in Long Island, New York, our funeral directors are here to help to provide guidance with questions such as this. Please contact us at 631-454-9600.

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