It has been a while since I shared an "Ask the Rabbi" post, so this week the series returns with a question about tattoos and converting to Judaism with a Reform Rabbi. Rabbi Marc Disick answers below:
Q. I have been speaking with a close friend recently, reading books and learning about Judaism. I am interested in converting but I have many tattoos and would love to get more. All of my tattoos have beautiful meanings of peace and family, as well as the tattoos I have planned for the future. I'm worried that having as many tattoos as I do would be looked down upon by others of the Jewish faith, and I don't want the tattoos to be a reason that I'm not accepted by others. What do you think about this situation?
A: Becoming a Jew represents a major change for any adult. First and foremost, I strongly recommend that you undertake the serious study of Judaism in a well established forum so that your decision to convert can be made from a larger and deeper context. Reform Judaism does in fact offer Introduction to Judaism courses around the country precisely for people in your situation, see www.urj.org.
Now let me address your specific question. Judaism regards the body and its form as sacred gifts. For the most part, Judaism regards tattoos as an alteration of God's handiwork. Yet many with tattoos see the artwork on their skin as an adornment of the human form with absolutely no disrespect meant to the Creator.
So here's what I suggest: While you are considering conversion, put a moratorium on your plans for new tattoos. If your journey takes you through to conversion you may (or may not) think differently about getting additional tattoos.
What will Jews think about a Jewish person with tattoos? I have absolutely no doubt that your tattoos will raise a few Jewish eyebrows. So what. We Jews have learned to accept women as rabbis, gays as cantors, and lesbians as synagogue presidents. Ours is a faith which learns and relearns our responsibility to broaden attitudes which too often shut out folks who may not "be like us," whatever that may mean at a given moment.
But let's be real. Folks with tattoos get tattoos not only for their eyes but for the eyes of others. Art very naturally attracts an audience. And people always have opinions about art, especially when it's permanently embedded with dye under the skin of its owner. If you convert I can guarantee you that you'll meet Jews and non-Jews with negative opinions about your tattoos. But in fairness, that's a risk you assumed with each and every tattoo. Like it or not, tattoos are fair game,
As for me, lots of people in my life have tattoos, some beautiful, some not so much. Quite frankly, after a while I stop noticing the tattoos because they meld into my visual impression of the total person.
So in short, study Judaism seriously and see where it takes you. If a Jewish person gives you some lip about your tattoos after you convert tell them the following: The tattoos hidden by my clothing are far better than the ones you can see, but I learned in my conversion class that, regrettably, as much as I would like to, revealing them to you in the synagogue right now would give the rabbi a heart attack.
Rabbi Marc Disick