When I was 16 years old, I decided it would be fun to convince my parents that I wanted to get a tattoo.
I bought magazines featuring tattoo artists and started cutting out feature articles and leaving them around the house where my mother would notice. At first, my mother ignored me. But it was too much for her when I got the business cards of some tattoo parlors in our town and pinned them up on the bulletin board.
A Tattoo in the 70’s Was A Scandal
It was the 1970s and in the corner of Connecticut that I grew up in, getting a tattoo would have been a scandal that could have crippled the family reputation for generations…
In response, my mother took out the Yartzeit candle (just in case I followed through with my threat and needed to go into mourning). When that didn’t seem to have any effect, she hatched a new plan to scare me out of getting a tattoo.
My mother tried to convince me that if I got a tattoo I would be ineligible for Jewish burial and banned from all Jewish cemeteries. She was convinced that if I believed I was jeopardizing my eternal resting place in the Jewish cemetery, I would turn away from the shady world of tattoo artists.
I never asked my mother why she thought at 16 years old I would care where I would be buried, but that was what she believed.
In reality, my parents had little to worry about. I didn’t like pain, and since getting a tattoo hurt, there was no way I was voluntarily getting tattooed.
Even so, I have always wondered if my mother told me the truth about tattoos and Jewish burial?
What You Need To Know About Tattoos and Jewish Burial
As it turns out, there is no reason a tattooed Jew can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery and in the all-Jewish section.
While the Torah has a specific commandment banning tattoos (Leviticus Chapter 19:28 – “You shall not etch a tattoo on yourselves.”), there is nothing in Jewish law or liturgy that suggests someone who has a tattoo cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery.
While getting a tattoo is a sin, being a sinner does not preclude Jewish burial.
In fact, it is quite the opposite; Jewish cemeteries are full of Jewish sinners.
There are 613 individual commandments in the Torah, and I am pretty certain I have violated most of them at some point in my life (except, of course, the one prohibiting tattoos).
I am just as certain that all Jews are repeat sinners.
From the point of view of burial, there is nothing to distinguish a Jewish sinner who sinned by getting a tattoo from a Jewish sinner who sinned by not following any other commandment.
The Torah does not contain a hierarchy of sins, nor does it say that sinners should be denied Jewish burial. So, yes, Jews with tattoos can be buried in a Jewish Cemetery, just like Jews who violated any other commandment.