Tattoos Reign in Israel — Jewish Law or No

Body Ink Takes Off Despite Halacha Prohibition

yardena schwartz

By Yardena Schwartz

Published February 19, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(Haaretz) — Hamutal Song would turn heads no matter where she lived. But walking the streets of Israel with two blue birds etched onto her chest and the words “you rock my world” in caps above them, she’s rarely ignored. As she puts it, decorated head to toe in colorful tattoos, “not a lot of people pass me by on the street and have nothing to say.”

Yes, branding one’s body with permanent ink is one of the strongest forms of self-expression. But that may be even more true in Israel. After all, this is the Jewish state, and Jewish law forbids tattoos. Yet as tattoos become more popular here, it’s clear Israeli culture doesn’t always mirror Jewish culture.

According to Israeli sociologists and tattoo artists, tattoos have become much more common here over the past decade. But because of the unique cultural and religious backdrop – the legacy of the Holocaust as well as Jewish law – they’ve taken longer to go from taboo to trendy.

Oz Almog, an artist, professor and author of “The Sabra: The Creation of the New Jew,” has studied the evolution of tattoos in Israel. According to Almog, Israelis’ adoption of Western values and American trends is a main factor behind the shift in attitudes toward tattoos.

“For its first two decades, proletarian and resource-poor Israel set store by a modest, ascetic and frugal lifestyle, and rejected expressions of aesthetic refinement and showing-off,” Almog says.

As American artists and musicians turned body art into a stamp of cool in the 1970s and ‘80s, tattoos gained popularity in America. It took more than a decade, according to Almog, but the trend hit Israel, as so many American trends do. Tattoos became a prime example of modern Israel’s desire to be more Western.

“The tattoo fad symbolizes Israel’s transition from an austere and khaki-clad society that played down the importance of aesthetics to a society that pays homage to beauty, splendor, ornamentation and glitter,” Almog says.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.