I came across this article called "Jews with Tattoos? Tattooing Traditions of the Beta Israel". The author writes:
Ethiopian Jews, however, did develop traditions of tattooing (note: even though the sacred text of the Ethiopian Jewish community was not the Hebrew text of the Bible but its Ge‘ez translation, known as the Orit, this prohibition still appears there as well). This is often one of the first things people notice; anthropologist Hagar Salamon writes that she “could not shake off the shock of the first sight of them. The crosses tattooed on their hands and foreheads remained a vivid symbol for me, shattering long-standing perceptions of Jewish identity” (1999, pg. 3).
The origin of the practice of tattooing is questionable i.e., whether it was for medicinal purposes, or omens, etc. Furthermore, the author suggests that tattoos of crosses may have been to disguise Jews within a hostile (Christian) environment.
I am interested in the following questions:
- Do any scholars or halachic authorities provide suggestions as to whether, or how, this practice is permissible or justified lechatchila? For example: would it be permissible for beauty/decoration but not for warding off demons. In particular, although there is an element of mystery surrounding the origin, I wonder if the isolated Jewish communities of Ethiopia integrated this as a legitimate cultural/Jewish practice and were able to justify it (I cannot find this information). Noting that many Western Jews nowadays would find it 'halachically unrecognisable' and 'unjustified'.
- I imagine there is a problem with specifically having a tattoo that has a cross on it. If so, what should one do? (this is a relevant question for tattoo removal)