On a Rosh Hashanah which fell on Shabbos - R’ Levi Yitzchak of Berditchiv rose and said:
"Lord of the Universe, today You judge each person for the coming year, and grant him life or condemn him to death. But, on this Rosh Hashanah You are forced by Your own Torah to grant a good and healthy life to all Your people in coming year. After all, on Shabbos You have decreed in Your Holy Torah that it is prohibited to write. How then can You fulfil ‘On Rosh Hashanah it is written down’? There is no way for You to inscribe anyone in the Book of Death, because writing is forbidden. On the other hand, You may certainly inscribe us all in the Book of Life, because when there is pikuach nefesh (danger to life) the prohibition on writing does not apply."— x
Tattoos and Religion
I turned 18 recently, and I’m at a college in a very liberal area where people all around me have super cool tattoos. I’ve been to a local tattoo and piercing shop a couple of times with my roommate for consultation on her second tattoo she’ll be getting soon. I plan to get a cartilage piercing there as celebration whenever I get a job.
I’ve known for a while that I want to be a person who has tattoos, and I’ve thought a lot about what I might want. I know I will probably get a chalice tattoo, the religious symbol of my faith, Unitarian Universalism. I know many UUs, including ministers who have one of these tattoos or want one. I’ve drawn a few designs I like, and think I may have an idea of where I want it. Recently, I came up with the idea for what will likely be my first tattoo when I feel the time is right. It will be a small peacock feather on the inside of my left foot. There is a lot of symbolism throughout cultures of both feathers and peacocks. It is special to me because it is a symbol of the UU summer camp where I work, where I have a very real home and family, along with an array of valuable experiences over many years.
But, there is one tattoo idea I really like that I cannot make a solid decision about. It would be the Hebrew script for Shalom. The word is significant on its own, but also there is a song called “Shalom Chaverim” that my home church has adopted as our permanent closing song. We hold hands to sing it in all of our services, many meetings and at most youth group events. The English words go “Shalom my friends, shalom my friends, shalom, shalom, we’ll meet again, we’ll meet again, shalom, shalom.” I’ve grown up with this song, and the message about goodbyes and peace line up perfectly with a lot of my personal philosophy. So, solid idea, right?
Except I am not Jewish, and the cultural appropriation as that stands could raise some questions. But also, Jewish scripture speaks very clearly against tattoos. Obviously I am fine with Jewish people choosing to get tattoos, as many reform Jews believe it is acceptable. Still, I do not know if I am in a place to get a tattoo so connected with Judaism, even though it has a lot of personal meaning for me.
So, I still don’t know how I feel about it, but as of today I am leaning towards getting a shalom tattoo simply because it is so beautiful and personal. I don’t really know if I will, but if I do, it will at least be where it can be covered up in a sensitive situation.
Please do not get this tattoo. I don’t need to explain why - it seems like you already know why. You’ve already made the argument against. It’s a form of cultural appropriation, and it’s one that’s especially harsh when paired with faiths of a Christian background, of which many UU churches are.
If the song is so meaningful for you, why not get the tattoo, “peace, friends,” instead? After all, that’s meaning of it in English, which I assume is your language. If it’s the Jewish roots of the song that are so important to you, show your respect for Judaism by not appropriating it.
So yes, you already know why you shouldn’t. So why would you? It’s one thing to get one out of ignorance, but you can’t claim that. It’s another issue to chose to get the tattoo knowing full well that Jews find this harmful. You have plenty of other options.
In essence, the entire Bible is written as an affirmative response to this question. — Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy (via mermaideleh)
If you believe that your “pro-Palestinian activism” and being a “good ally to the Palestinians” requires you to ignore Jews, hijack their conversations, deny them a discourse on their identity in the diaspora, and tell them that having and educating others on their religious and ethnic identity is detrimental to your cause, then you are doing the pro-Palestinian movement the worst possible disservice.
Antisemitism in pro-Palestinian circles makes Jewish allies feel rightfully unsafe and unwelcome. It tells left-wing Jews that they need to disassociate with their ethnicity, culture, religion, upbringing, history, and identity in order for you to accept them as worth listening to. Political Zionism has its deepest roots in places where Jews were and are marginalized, excluded, and hated, and creating that environment in activist circles does nothing but alienate true allies and hurt your cause. It also perpetuates the really harmful idea that pro-Palestinian circles are automatically antisemitic, or that anti-Zionism itself is antisemitic by default, and push curious and open Jews further to the right.
"Allies" and "activists" who do this are the reason why most of my leftist Jewish friends didn’t go to rallies for Gaza or campus meetings for anti-Zionist groups. The cause of Palestinian freedom and statehood is righteous and worthy, and the last thing that the Palestinians need are vocal bigots and oppressors who claim to support them.