Tattoo taboo: Getting inked is a personal choice

In October, my best friend, Candice, is coming to visit. This is always cause for massive celebration. While it’s nice to have someone I can call 24/7 when I’m bored, excited, hungry, cold or have an urgent need to discuss how delicious James McAvoy is, the unfortunate fact is that we live 3,000 miles apart. Phone time isn’t quite a substitute for face time with my BFF.

This time, though, Candice’s visit is a particularly special one. She’s coming to San Francisco to get a tattoo.

When I’ve mentioned this to my friends, several of them have asked if I’m getting a tattoo too (apparently getting inked in tandem is a common custom). I say no, which is the truth. But for some reason, many people think this isn’t the full story. That’s when I get the dreaded follow-up question: Are you, like, anti-tattoo?

The short answer: Well, um … yes.

I never say this, though. I always say, “Oh, no. I just couldn’t take the pain. I’m so indecisive, I’d never be able to decide what to get. Whatever I got, I’d regret it later.”

These are all lies, people. First of all, although I’m sure getting inked isn’t as enjoyable as, say, a hot stone massage, I’ve had spinal fusion surgery, for pete’s sake. You’d think I could take a little bit of pain.

And the indecision thing is bunk too. I know exactly what I’d get if I got a tattoo. I have two images picked out right now that I could, with no reservations, say I would not mind having on my body for the rest of my natural life.

But? I’m Jewish. And like eating on Yom Kippur, tattooing is one of those situations where I have a complete mental roadblock. Even if I wanted to, I just couldn’t do it.

I have nothing against people who get tattoos — I’ll be by Candice’s side while she gets inked and kvell over the piece when it’s done. Probably half the people I know under the age of 40 have some amount of ink on them, and I’ve never thought any less of them (at least, not for their tattoos). I even know one girl who’s a tattoo artist.

So why can’t I just tell people that my religious convictions prohibit me from getting a tattoo? Why do I feel the need to lie about it?

I’m sure if I told people that I don’t believe in tattoos because I’m Jewish, they’d at least know what I was talking about. It’s not exactly a secret that the Nazis tattooed Jews during the Holocaust partly because it was religiously verboten.

Mainly, I think I’m hesitant to admit it because I’m afraid people will suddenly see me as this holier-than-thou religious freak. You know — “Oh, you can do whatever you want, but we both know God will love me more.”

The thing is, Jews are starting to get inked more often these days, and I’m not exactly an innocent flower myself with this silver stud in my nose. So what’s the big deal? Why do I cling so fast to the old laws?

That, unfortunately, I can’t answer. Like keeping kosher, it’s just one of those things I can’t get over. The last “thou shalt nots,” if you will.

It’s too hard to try to explain that to people who aren’t Jewish, or don’t have inexplicable beliefs of their own. For me, aversion to the idea of getting a tattoo is totally normal. But in this increasingly secular world, fewer and fewer people understand what it means to believe in something we can’t quite elucidate.

I’m excited about Candice’s visit, and I’m even looking forward to her appointment. I’m really, truly, completely cool with this.

So when the next person asks me if I’m anti-tattoo, I’ll probably say no. Just to be safe. By Jewish law, it’s OK to lie a little to spare someone’s feelings. Even if I don’t mean it in a bad way, some people might think I’m judging them. So I’ll fudge the truth, just a bit.

While Candice is under the needle, I’ll hold her hand and tell her she’s doing great. And when it’s all over we’ll walk out of there together, almost — but not completely — how God made us.

And that’s perfectly fine with me.

Rachel Freedenberg is a copy editor at j. She can be reached at [email protected]