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Amare Stoudemire, a professional basketball player and practicing Jew, has a Star of David tattoo. In an article at ProBasketballTalk, Kurt Helin calls this tattoo "ironic." But he links to a well-researched article that does not clearly define whether or not Star of David tattoos or tattoos in general are in fact banned in Judaism.

What is the current perception of tattoos in Judaism and does that perception change based on the content of the tattoo?

Is Amare's tattoo indeed ironic?

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See also: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/7480/… –  Isaac Moses Nov 28 '11 at 23:24
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SamTheBrand, welcome to Judaism.SE, and thanks very much for bringing your question here! I look forward to seeing you around. –  Isaac Moses Nov 28 '11 at 23:25
    
I would like to say ive had a fondness of the jewish society and culture I recently found out I am part jewish for me that answer comes full circle because ive always felt on a personal level I some how belonged with the jewish culture I simply adore the fact I am jewish on the other hand ive never practiced the faith not by my own fault but because I was cheated and not aware of my ethnicity and that now saddens me but i did go and get a star of david tattoo befor realizing that i may have insulted the very thing i was so very proud of being now that i have this tattoo id like to say i am so –  user2600 Apr 2 '13 at 7:54
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2 Answers 2

The Bible prohibits tattoos. (Leviticus 19:28). I'm sure the athlete you describe means well, but it's still prohibited if he is in fact Jewish. He was likely mistaken or unaware. (Alternatively, a non-Jew could choose to express solidarity with the Jewish people by obtaining a Jewish star tattoo, if it floats his boat; that really doesn't do anything one way or the other. The tattoo prohibition is only for Jews.)

There is some discussion whether only symbols, words, and the like are prohibited; or even things like permanent makeup or artificial dark spots used in reconstructive surgery; but the Jewish star is a symbol and thus definitely prohibited.

The Talmud actually does one better -- what if I tattoo upon myself: "I am for G-d"? Or "I belong to G-d"? Still prohibited.

As Rabbi S.R. Hirsch explained (in his Bible commentary, Frankfurt, mid-1800s), the only permanent mark we inflict on our bodies is circumcision for men, as required by the Torah. For us to permanently mark ourselves with any other image implies an allegiance to something other than G-d. Okay, so why not tattoo yourself with "I follow G-d"? Because that implies it was a personal choice up for you to make!

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But is it ironic? –  HodofHod Nov 29 '11 at 20:26
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That is not actually the discussion of the Talmud. The Mishnah clarifies that it only applies to idolatrous tattoos. The Gemara then asks whether only idolatrous tattoos or whether a Jewish religious sentiment would also be prohibited. It's not until the Rishonim that there is a discussion of a rabbinic prohibition of tattoos in general. –  Avram Levitt Mar 19 at 11:55
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I think the conclusion of that article sums it up very well. Indeed, in halachic Judaism, tattooing is forbidden, see Shalom's answer. (I can't say for Reform or Conservative, though I imagine they'd be more lenient.) However, tattooed people are not shunned or treated differently.

Personally, I find a tattoo of the Star of David ironic. Generally, if a person gets a tattoo of the Star of David, it's to show pride in their Jewishness. It's ironic then, that they chose (unknowingly) a method that is forbidden by G-d.

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Oh, joy. More commentless downvotes. –  HodofHod Nov 29 '11 at 10:08
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Don't worry so much about the votes, especially in such small numbers (1, in this case). –  Isaac Moses Nov 30 '11 at 16:30
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@IsaacMoses I'm not losing sleep over it, but it does bother me, simply because people who do this don't help improve the site. This answer has just been downvoted, but I don't know what that person found wrong with it, so I can't know how to improve it. Is it the fact that I said "Personally"? Or that I referenced an ultra-orthodox anti-zionist group (and disagreed with them)? Perhaps it's that I insinuated that Reform and Conservative are generally more lenient when it comes to halacha? Or that there are two paragraphs and this person is careful about zugos? I don't know. –  HodofHod Jan 12 '12 at 19:49
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People who downvote do help improve the site, by making content that they deem unworthy less prominent. It would be additionally useful if they also provided guidance to you, as you suggest, but that's not required to make the downvote a valuable expression of communal evaluation. –  Isaac Moses Jan 12 '12 at 19:51
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I don't know any Reform or Conservative rabbis who permit tattoos. (And yeah, commentless downvotes are frustrating because you don't know what to improve. My sympathies.) –  Monica Cellio Apr 2 '13 at 13:02
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