Â Â Â Â This morning as I was finishing my coffee, I wandered into the living room.Â There, my husband was watching The Early Show on CBS.Â The band Maroon 5 was performing.Â I suppose this was the first I'd seen of lead singer Adam Levine without sleeves, because I was surprised to see that his arms are covered in tattoos.Â Isn't Adam Levine of Jewish descent (like me)?Â And aren't tattoos against our tribal regulations?Â I felt offended, though I didn't completely understand why.
Â Â Â Â Â I'm not the "most Jewish" of Jews.Â I'm not traditionally religious at all.Â Ethnically, I'm what's politely called "multicultural" (and not-so-politely called "a mutt").Â I'm Irish, German, Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, and Jewish, as near as any of my relatives can tell me.Â (My two nieces are all that and French, too.)Â Still, I harbor a special reverence in my heart for my Jewish ancestry.Â It comes down to me through my motherline-- my mother'sÂ mother's motherÂ was the last traditional practicing Jewish woman in the family.Â Great-grandma Antonia married a Catholic man, and we've been nominal Catholics ever since.Â I went to Catholic school from kindergarten through bachelor's degree.
Â Â Â Â Still, when I was eighteen I stopped eating pork products out of respect for my ancestry.Â Although my religious beliefs remain monotheistic, I have no problem acknowledging that I'm of mixed Catholic, Pagan and Jewish descent.Â I observe a blend of Christian, neo-Pagan and Jewish holidays.Â In winter, I'll celebrate Christmas, Winter Solstice and Hanukkah all separately.Â Next week, I'll eat apples with honey and other traditional foods for Rosh Hoshanah.Â Contradictions don't concern me, especially after I've read the philosophies of Joan Borysenko and other feminists on women's spiritual practices.
Â Â Â Â Tattoos on Jews, however, concern me.Â I've never bothered with the myth that tattoos make you ineligible to be buried in a Jewish cemetery because I've never expected to be buried in a Jewish cemetery.Â (I'd have to travel to Warsaw, Poland, to visit a Jewish cemetery that houses my ancestors.)Â Still, I thought we weren't tattooing ourselves because of 1) tradition, as enshrined in the Bible, and 2) respect for Holocaust survivors who were forcibly tattooed by the Nazis.Â The latter reason is the more meaningful to me.Â Defiance of that tradition seems terrible insulting to me.
Â Â Â Â It bothered me all day, so this afternoon I went online and searched "Jewish + tattoo."Â An article called "Tattoo Jews" by Shoshana Hebshi came up.Â It was very interesting.Â Besides naming the actual Biblical passage that prohibits permanent tattoos (Leviticus 19:28), it discusses in great detail the many personalÂ reasons why people of Jewish descent might want to get tattoos.Â For some, getting a Star of David or other Jewish symbol tattooed reinforces, rather than detracts from, their Jewish identity.Â Some go so far as to get tattoos that are themselves memorials to the Holocaust.Â The article cited a man named Sean Farnan who got a yellow Star of David with "Jude" (the German word for "Jew") tattooed on his chest, a permanent version of the stars that Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany.Â Â In its own idiosyncratic way, I can see how that's respectful.Â Tasteful?Â Maybe not.Â But it is respectful.Â
Â Â Â Â My mind is beginning to get the concept.Â In my heart, though, I'm still disturbed by seeingÂ Jewish peopleÂ with tattoos.Â It's like seeing a white person in blackface; it just looks so wrong.
Â Â Â Â You can read Shoshana Hebshi's article at www.somethingjewish.co.uk/articles/777_tattoo_jews.
Â Â Â Â By the way, I like Maroon 5.Â I was ready to like Adam Levine anyway afterÂ I read in Instinct that even though he's not gay, Levine is in favor of marriage rights for gay and lesbian Americans.Â (One set of laws for gay people, another for straight people never seemed very American to me-- but that's an issue for another day.)Â I can forgive a little ink on a Jewish rock star.Â It's probably no worse than when I work on Friday night or eat a shrimp egg roll.Â Great-grandma Antonia might be spinning in her grave, but then again, my Polish ancestors would probably be horrified to see me not eating pork.Â Can't please everyone.
You can read more of Erin's literary musings at http://erineschmidtsmith.com
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