Saturday, June 12, 2010

To Tatt or Not to Tatt...Ew?

To commemorate (What a) Year for Priests, Paul Brian Campbell, S.J. has offered readers of People for Others the opportunity to ask any question they might have about priesthood. My immediate question for him was, "are you nuts?" Still, I admire his willingness to serve the PoG* this way.

Turns out I needn't have worried much because the ten questions that will be reduced to five via voting are predictable and lacking in luster, with this exception: "Is it ok to get a tattoo?"

According to my calculations, at least four people want this query to be in the final five ─ not enough to rate an entire blog post by Paul, who has nevertheless confessed an "occasional urge to get A.M.D.G. inked on [his] upper arm."

Maybe it's the factoid of being raised Jewish, but I view tattooing as something of much more interest and significance to Jews, especially those who are Torah observant. (And, ok, Christians who might be a bit too fond of quoting Leviticus.**) In other words, I have difficulty wrapping my brain around why anyone would ask a Roman Catholic priest about tattoos.

Jews of a certain generation (mine) were raised to believe getting tattooed guaranteed exclusion from a Jewish cemetery which, as it turns out, isn't true. Also, we grew up around Shoah survivors whose arms had been brutally tattooed by Nazis.

Is it ok to get a tattoo? Can a Roman Catholic priest say getting a tattoo is okay without sounding like a supersecessionist? Probably ─ if he's up on the debates among Jews on the matter.

GenY and Millennials have come up with creative interpretations of Leviticus 19:28, my faves being from Punk Torah, especially this "Ask the Alterna-Rebbe" video about body piercings and Judaism. I also recommend Monica Rozenfeld's article in Busted Halo, "Tattooed Jews" for an overview of arguments about body defilement, idolatry, and self-expression.

I was keen on "body art" for myself during the 1980s. Alas, by the time I'd decided what I might want and where I might want it, my skin had lost enough collagen to ix-nay the project. Since that sorry skin slide continues, a tattoo is not in my future, although if I had the skin tone, pain tolerance, money and time I'd want one that looks like this:

*People of God
** Especially, Leviticus 20:13


  1. The wings are amazing -- and it's a great response to the question on tap!

  2. My daughter is a professional tattoo artist as well as an award winning formal artist. Religious art is one of the most popular categories of skin art, which might surprise some, although some of it is a bit distorted of course.


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