The Jewish prohibition against tattooing is largely a cultural one—based on a law that sits next to similar ones against condom use and homosexuality. Rabbis, wishing to bring the canon into modern times, often excuse these latter biblical transgressions. Tattooing, however, is still largely associated with the erroneous belief that a tattooed Jew cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery. This paper argues that the current Jewish judgement on tattooing is rooted in the religion’s inclination towards masochism in the Deleuzian sense—a masochism that can be traced back through deuteronomic history. Contemporarily, being tattooed can be understood as a cathartic releasing of the Jewish peoples’ history as deterritorialized victims of genocide, i.e., of the Holocaust. This release is incongruent with the Deleuzian understanding of masochism, thus leading to the continued understanding of the practice as taboo.

Published in Anamesa, Volume 14, Number 1 (Spring 2016).

Thumbnail image, care of Rudoren, Jodi. "Proudly Bearing Elders’ Scars, Their Skin Says ‘Never Forget’." The New York Times. The New York Times, 30 Sept. 2012.