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Jewish Religious Tattoos

There is a passage in the Old Testament that prohibits tattooing and scarification. In the King James translation, Leviticus 19:28 states: "Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you." Other historical records and biblical passages indicate that ancient Hebrews practiced religious tattooing.

Sun God Baal
Ancient Semitic God Baal

As evidence of tattooing among Semites, Scutt and Gotch report that the sun god Baal required his worshipers to mark their hands with "divine tokens in a mystic attempt to acquire strength." Scutt, R.W.B. and Gotch, C. 1986, Art, Sex and Symbol. London: Cornwall Books, p.64

According to a biblical scholar William McClure Thomson, Moses "either instituted such a custom (tattooing) or appropriated one already existing to a religious purpose. Thomson quotes Exodus 9 & 16: "And thou shalt show thy son in that day, saying, this is done because of that which the Lord did unto me when I cam forth out of Egypt; and it shall be for a sign unto thee upon my hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes." Thomas theorizes that Moses borrowed tattooing from the Arabs who tattooed magical symbols on their hands and foreheads.

According to Thomson, the prohibition in Leviticus referred only to heathen tattooing which related to idols and superstition, and not to "Moses-approved" tattooing.

During the first quarter of the 20th century, European Jews rarely tattooed their bodies. Many felt that is was against their religion and beliefs to mark their skin and this made the holocaust tattooing a even greater atrocity that would haunt survivors for the rest of their lives.

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