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Can you be buried in a Jewish Cemetery if you have a tattoo? I.e., is it just urban legend that you can't?

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Welcome to Judaism.SE, and thanks very much for giving the community an opportunity to tackle this myth! (Excuse me for presupposing an answer without writing it myself.) Please consider registering your account, so that the site can keep track of your contributions. –  Isaac Moses May 16 '11 at 2:06
    

5 Answers 5

See this Chabad.org article.

In short, the answer is yes. While getting a tattoo is forbidden, once one has one there is no law that he/she cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery.

However, every Jewish burial society has the right to enact their own rules...

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Gesher Hachayim, volume 1, chapter 25, paragraphs 1–2 says:

A renowned [word I don't recognize] who has separated himself from the ways of Jewry and who has removed from himself the entire yoke of the law of the Jews: there's no avelus (mourning) for him... but one must bury him and work toward his burial and with dressing him therefor....

But the townspeople or chevra kadisha (burial society) can prevent the Jewish burial of a renowned sinner as an enactment to 'stop the sinning gap'.

I doubt any chevra kadisha now would refuse to deal with someone for being tattooed. (But see comments on the answer.)

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... because a tattooed person is way different from a "renowned sinner," right? –  Isaac Moses May 16 '11 at 3:08
    
@IsaacMoses, well, yes and no. If there were an outbreak of tattooing among the otherwise religious Jewish community somewhere, and someone were the leader of that pack, known for getting tattoos, and he died during the outbreak, then, well, (a) he would be a renowned sinner (though he'd have but one sin he'd be renowned for) and (b) not burying him would likely serve as a stopgap. But under most circumstances, being tattooed is, I'd imagine, not usually enough of a sin for a chevra kadisha to wish not to bury someone for. –  msh210 May 16 '11 at 3:21
    
@msh210, The defining characteristic of the scenario you mention is the ring-leading rather than the tattoo. –  Isaac Moses May 16 '11 at 3:24
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@msh210: the word in the source that you didn't recognize is פוקר, which means someone who blatantly and brazenly violates halachah. The average Jew who has tattoos nowadays is not in that category; the ringleader in your hypothetical might be, but not necessarily his followers (much less תינוקות שנשבו). –  Alex May 16 '11 at 13:57
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@msh210. A tattoo artist? –  TRiG Aug 5 '11 at 21:03

I heard that, in Israel, they laser off the tattoo post-mortem.

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I find that very hard to believe, given the prohibition of tampering with a corpse. –  Isaac Moses May 16 '11 at 14:18
    
@Isaac: I could maybe see it as somewhat like the graveside circumcision of a baby who (ר"ל) died before his bris. –  Alex May 16 '11 at 21:48
    
@Alex You could, if not having a tattoo indeed had the same affiliative import as having circumcision, which it doesn't. –  Isaac Moses May 16 '11 at 21:53
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@Isaac: but is the reason for the graveside milah in order to make the child a proper Jew, or in order to not have him buried with a foreskin, which is repulsive (Mishnah, Nedarim 3:10)? (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 263:5, mentions the reason for giving the child a name, "as a remembrance that G-d should have mercy on him and so that he should be resurrected," but it doesn't sound like that applies to the milah itself.) If it's the latter, then arguably a tattoo might fall into the same category. (After all, a Jew who fails to get a bris is still a Jew just as much as one who has a tattoo.) –  Alex May 17 '11 at 0:34

People who violate the Torah have the same burial rights as others unless they are continuous violators who have refused to do Teshuva even on their death bed. (Shach YD 345:5 and Shulchan Aruch/Rema 340:5)

So the question may be: Is a person in continuous violation for having a tattoo, or only for putting one on? Also in play, can the tattoo be easily removed? How do we determine teshuva?

Also see: What's the truth about...

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+1 for the Zivotofsky link. –  msh210 May 16 '11 at 15:53

This is a very old (and can also be a very hurtful) Jewish urban legend. See this New York Times article where the author tried to determine the origins of this legend. Why it's gained so much currency in the modern age is beyond me. Frankly the chabad.org article quoted elsewhere, while factually correct, emphasizes the wrong things. The bottom line is that this is an urban legend with no basis in halacha.

The eight rabbinical scholars interviewed for this article, from institutions like the Jewish Theological Seminary and Yeshiva University, said it’s an urban legend, most likely started because a specific cemetery had a policy against tattoos. Jewish parents and grandparents picked up on it and over time, their distaste for tattoos was presented as scriptural doctrine.

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