Tuesday, September 27, 2016

No Tattoos for Jews

Why no tattoos?

The ultimate reason not to get a tattoo is because the Torah categorically prohibits it (Leviticus 19:28). Period.

Think not of the Torah as a set of incomprehensible rules that one must unreasonably enforce upon himself by means of guilt or blind faith. Instead, consider the fact that the world has not always existed and hence does not exist independently. Rather, it has been wondrously brought into being with an incredibly detailed design. Every effect has a cause, every design a designer, and every orchestra a conductor. The immaculate intricacy of our universe denotes a purposeful design intended by a purposeful Designer. See the Torah as the world’s blueprint, the instruction manual that our world’s Divine Manufacturer imparted to ensure the fulfillment of mankind’s (and the entire world’s) purpose.

Instead of random lawlessness and chaos, we humans have been placed here to cultivate the earth, to create civilized society that safeguards rights and freedoms but also order, justice and peace. Sometimes personal liberties are sacrificed for the sake of safety, and choices are curtailed for the sake of well-being. The Torah proscribes various behaviors just as your new appliance’s manual contains instructions and cautions against misuse that would result in your appliance’s diminished function or ultimate disrepair. It might make perfect sense to you to operate your appliance in a way that is discouraged by the manufacturer’s handbook, but a wise consumer ought to consider that perhaps the gadget’s maker knows a bit more about the device than he.

If the Torah has prohibited making markings in one’s flesh, it is in the individual’s own best interest to observe this rule ordained by his very own Creator and Designer, the One Who certainly understands what is good for him in body and spirit infinitely better than anyone else.

However, the fact that the Torah communicates this rule to us allows us to speculate as to its reason and underlying benefit.

Let’s consider some possible reasons why tattoos are prohibited:

The true value of the human being is indefinable, indescribable and unfathomable, a literal part of G-d from Above, as it were. In the image and likeness of our Divine Creator, just as G-d is indefinable and inscrutable, cannot be represented or objectified in some trivial image or depiction. Any man-made image or likeness is merely a distraction, sullying and obscuring one’s pristine connection to G-d.

So too, a marking on our body trivializes and objectifies the body. But in reality, the body is a vehicle for an infinite G-dly soul that cannot be marked, labeled or represented in any image or artwork.

Slave-owners tattooed their slaves to prove ownership, as cowboys
branded their cattle. Ford and Honda mark their cars to identify their name brand. Human beings are higher than brands, labels or images. The soul is eternal, and in a sense, the body ultimately is too (Resurrection of the Dead is a basic tenet of Jewish belief). It is on loan from our Creator. Self-inflicted gashes, mutilation, excessive body piercings or tattoos all bespeak a lack of respect and reverence for the body, and hence, the body's true Owner and Designer. It’s kind of like etching a name, smiley face or obscenity onto someone else's freshly-poured cement. Or like scrawling graffiti onto a venerated national monument.

Perhaps that's why the depraved Germans tattooed human beings at Auschwitz. In addition to the obvious utility that it enabled them to keep track of prisoners like widgets in a supply chain and automated their horrific slave labor and killing machine, it was also an obvious attempt to dehumanize their victims and strip them of any sense of dignity, hope or courage. The erstwhile-free individual was now nothing more than a nameless number, mere property of the Reich. A mark on the skin is obviously a statement of self-identity, and an indelible one indicates immutable and perpetual subjugation. Why on earth would a self-respecting human being wish to subjugate oneself to a tattooed number, word or image, in the same manner as the accursed Nazis inflicted on their hapless victims!?

Tattoos also reduce the body to a mere transitory shell, a disposable writing surface that may be scribbled on or illustrated without any regard for past or future. Indeed, tattoo markings often have only momentary and ephemeral relevance.

Imagine an infatuated lover tattooing his partner's name in the height of passion, only to terminate his relationship at some later point. Now they have split up and are no longer meaningful to each other. But for the rest of his life, he bears the name of someone who means nothing to him or less...

Would you tattoo your phone number into your skin? What if you change your number?

The same is true of any tattoo. It is a skin-deep and short-lived thrill of having a phrase, word or image indelibly etched in one's skin. But what happens when the fleeting appeal wears off, or the attitude to that phase, word or image changes? A large percentage of people ultimately regret their tattoos, according to recent studies.* So why would a self-respecting human being label himself permanently with a superficial mark of vanity that is here today, gone tomorrow, while his inherent value and self-worth ought to remain forever?

Even if the phrase or image represents a loved-one or idea that perhaps ought to remain forever dear to the tattoo seeker, tattoo is the wrong way to perpetuate the memory.

Let it be etched in your heart, let it inspire you daily, but do not mar or scar your body with it. For then, what ought to be a living memory is now reduced to lifeless ink intrusively inserted where it doesn’t belong… a dead, man-made icon where there was supposed to be only life. 

Perhaps that’s why the Torah juxtaposes the prohibition of tattoos next to the injunction against making gashes in skin out of grief for the dead: “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor imprint any marks upon you: I am God.” Tattoos in the skin are akin to death marks… they are not a sign of life. Only your untarnished, natural living flesh is a sign of life.

Why must your skin remain unsullied and intact? Because “I am God.” The ineffable Divine Name used here (“Yud-kay-vav-kay,” also called the “Tetragrammaton” in English) can be interpreted as the One Who continually brings (you) into existence. Indeed, belief in the phenomenon of constant creation ex nihilo, that G-d is creating the world anew every moment, is a basic tenet in Judaism. At this present moment, you are being created as an entirely new being. Just as you were born in a pristine state, without blemish or markings, so too your body is a constant reminder of God’s continually creating you. “מבשרי אחזה אלוקה” – “From my flesh, I perceive God” (Job 19:26).

Your flesh bears witness to its Divine Creator. No images or words can define God, and no images or words belong on your skin.

Perhaps that’s another reason why the Torah concludes the verse with “I am God.” A tattoo is akin to idolatry, creating a lifeless carving on what is meant to be a living tribute to the living God. As such, the tattoo is emblematic of death, not of life.**

With the tattoo, one's living flesh is now permanently polluted by a foreign and artificial invader. The meaningful thought or memory has been reduced a superficial icon to be flaunted like a tee-shirt that can never be removed.

I'd reason with the tattoo-seeker: if you'd really enjoy seeing that image or name on your chest or forearm, how about buying a stamp and stamping it on in erasable ink after every shower?*** Do that for now and then let's meet again to discuss in five or ten years. You can always revisit the tattoo option later if you still want it, but can't remove it if it's the reverse. Why should its permanence be important to you? Is it a symbol of surrender or devotion to something irreversible? Can you express that feeling or devotion in a more self-respecting way that preserves the beautiful and natural state in which G-d created you?

It's okay to put on and take off different labeled or illustrated clothes. You may even mark your designer suit with permanent markers. That’s your personal preference, so long as you can change the suit at whim. You bought the suit so it’s yours…

But for crying out loud, please don't permanently mark up your birthday suit! That's G-d's suit that He painstakingly and lovingly hand-tailored just for you, so please don't mess with it. Indeed, He knows you better than you know yourself, and knows that you look absolutely perfect in it! Now and forever. As a youth, as an adult, when you're hoary and gray, in the grave, and at the resurrection. So respect that irresistible, G-d-given body of yours! Keep it clean and authentic, unmarked and indefinable.


* http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/12/tattoo-regret_n_1654959.html

** Interestingly, Rashi comments that the Torah uses for tattoo, כתובת קעקע (literally "writing that is sunken") shares a common root with והקענום, "and hang them," in Samuel 21:6, since the gallows were thrust into the ground and the executed man hung upon it, it is as though the one hanged were inserted and sunken into the ground. This further reiterates the point above, that the tattoo's sunken ink is associated with morbidity.

*** It should be mentioned that even fake tattoos are discouraged by Jewish law, since they can be easily mistaken for real ones. This principle is known as “mar’it ayin,” that one ought to avoid causing others to have a false impression that he is violating Torah law.

Monday, August 29, 2016

What else is Gray and really Matters?

One final thought on "Gray Matter Matters":

Gray Hair Matters!

It just occured to me that there's another criterion that is used societally to carve the public in to distinct groups and create often unfair barriers between people. It is perhaps more spatially temporally relevant than skin hue or ethnic background, but nonetheless quality that is abused for the sake of the convenient categorization of people.

That is age!

Have you ever been discriminated against because of your age? Do you yourself have a negative view of aging, your own aging or that of others? Do you dye your hair to hide the gray?

Personally, I'd love to "dye and deny" my graying hair, but alas the Code of Jewish Law (Yoreh De'ah 182:6) prohibits Jewish males from doing so, so I'm stuck with it. And let me tell you, it isn't getting any less gray...

A close friend was visiting recently and asked my kids: "What's black and white, and red all over?" My kids didn't know.

"A newspaper!" he exclaimed.

My kids were trying to be polite and pretended to laugh, but I realized at the time that they had no clue what a newspaper was, or what the aliteration (red-read) meant! Their parents get news from the computer, smartphone and an occasional colorful magazine. What in the world is a newspaper?

After a few awkward moments, my daughter challenged our friend with a riddle of her own:

"What is black and white and gray all over?"

Our friend had no idea. "I give up. What?"

"My father!" she exclaimed, and everyone broke out in howls of laughter, everyone except for me, that is.

Well, after this Gray Matter Matters epiphany, it just occured to me that graying hair is nothing to be ashamed of! Gray may well be the greatest color of all! It's the color of the mind.

So it goes like this. Gray Matter Matters. And the older you get, the wiser you get, and the more your hair reflects the color of your wisening gray matter. So the more you matter!

Get it? If Gray Matter Matters, then gray hair matters most.

Your age and your life experiences ought to be celebrated as your greatest asset. If you are an "older" employee, you ought to be the most valued at work, the most respected and appreciated, etc.

Maybe that's why the Torah enjoins us to "Rise before the hoary head and show respect to the elderly." (Vayikra 19:32)

Maybe there's value in that graying hair of yours. Hold that hoary head high and be proud of your hoariness!

Disregard the gloomy figurative connotation of gray. Gray is beautiful! Gray is Grayt! Be Grayteful that you're Gray, because Grayness is Greatness! Wear it like a badge of pride. The valuable and priceless wisdom that comes with your life experiences.

Gray doesn't mean you're old or outdated. "Old" is another subjective or relative term that has no absolute meaning. "Old" and "young" are states of mind. In a temporal sense, being of advanced age means you're rich in life, rich in experience, rich in love, awe and maturity. It means you're seasoned and well-oiled. Like aged wine, your inherent value only increases with every gray hair on that beautiful head of yours, because it's filled with ever-youthful gray matter!

Instead of viewing old age like a liability, we ought to cherish it as a prized asset.

"Oldness" has the negative assocation of being passe or no longer relevant (i.e. the "milk is old," etc.), so we can refer to age as maturity.

That's right. Maturity Matters!

More on Gray Matter Matters

While I've shared my thoughts on this serious matter in my previous blog post, "Gray Matter Matters!", it's worth pointing out that the black versus white crisis in our country was recently provoked by the tragic death of Freddie Gray. For the purpose of my blog, he couldn't have had a more appropriate surname.*

Although preceded by Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and others, Freddie Gray's death at the hand of the police sparked national outrage and widespread violence.

Image result for black and white
Why is everything so "black and white"
nowadays? Sheesh...
His name symbolically reminds us Gray was not a "Black," nor was the tragedy that he died as a "Black" at the hand of "Whites." It's that he was human by virtue of his gray matter, his human spirit that was snuffed out prematurely by human beings who are also only human, no more, no less. If there was excessive force and the police were guilty, the court must decide that. But let's not make this into a national White versus Black battle, when it was all about Gray. We can mourn Gray because he was human, and can hold police responsible because they're human, if there were indeed responsible. And if they were acquitted, then we can still try to brainstorm ways to improve the lot of minorities in underpriviledged neighborhoods and prevalent attitudes vis-a-vis law enforcement. But let's do it without the rhetoric.

The polarization of Americans into Blacks and Whites is artificial and divisive, and, as I argued in my previous post, semantically inaccurate. Yes, prejudices sadly exist, but let's not help the bigots by agreeing to the artifical divisions that racial bias created. Let's re-educate the American people and remove the disgraceful and false disparities that divide us into "Black," "White," "Brown" or "Blue."

Speaking of Blue, it’s ironic that this black and white controversy has engulfed the country specifically with regards to law enforcement, because growing up, we always referred to police as the “black and white” due to their iconic dual-painted vehicles. Besides for the obvious benefit of making police cars easily identifiable, it seems to me that the symbolism in black and white is that the law is color blind. You either broke the law or you didn’t. There ought not to be any gray area or nuanced shades of sketchiness when it comes to the law. Hence the black and white. The polarity and clarity of black and white applies to the law and its enforcement, not to people. The same law applies to a shoplifter of deeper shades of pigment or of lighter shades. A rapist must be prosecuted and penalized because of his crime, irrespective of his skin’s hue. And a police officer who shoots a civilian of a different pigmentation, whether armed or unarmed, must be investigated thoroughly and objectively and not presumed to be racist or unduly brutal until proven guilty. Let’s diffuse racial tensions by reminding everyone that people cannot be all black or all white. We’re all brown. So while the law ought to be black and white, humans are nuanced and complex, and should never be lumped together by skin hue or ethnicity.

Perhaps the lesson here is, life is not so “black and white.” Let’s work together to stop racial prejudice, but not by vague or amorphous platitudes like “institutional bigotry” that threaten to create a new type of reverse bias, but by dealing with each individual case objectively and without equally-objectionable “guilty-till-proven-innocent” prejudice.

Please don’t judge me by my lack of pigment and lump me together with “white” slave owners of two centuries ago, or with “white” slum lords of fifty years ago. My ancestors never owned slaves, at least not for thousands of years. To the contrary, my ancestors were themselves enslaved, robbed, expropriated, murdered, treated like second-class citizens, even until quite recently. In fact, my great grandparents were murdered by Ukranian hordes in a rabidly anti-Semitic pogrom in 1919. But I do not blame all Europeans for it. So please don’t blame me because of my lighter skin. That’s racism.

(In fact, I reject the very notion of black and white. When asked my race on legal forms, I never check off "white." Instead, I either decline or write "Jewish." That's the only part of my ethnicity that matters, because it pertains deeply to my gray matter. Personally I wouldn't even concede to being of European descent. Who cares which continent my grandparents emigrated from? If anything, I'm of ancient Middle-Eastern descent, but why does that matter?)

On the same token, it's fair to assume that the ancestors of the majority of Americans never owned slaves. For all we know, the ancestors of the slain police officer may have well been an abolitionist or Union soldier who risked his life to end slavery! Let's stop prejudging decent and peace-loving human beings of lesser pigment because of the nefarious deeds of a select few plantation owners or robber barons who happen to share the same complexion. That's racism.

Let's stop calling people African Americans. Why does it matter where their ancestors hailed from? They've never been to Africa, just as most Irish Americans have never been to Ireland. These indivuals are just as American as you and me, and perhaps even more so, because many of their ancestors contributed vitally to the growth and economy of the colonies and later country at expense off their own freedom. So if you'd like to right the wrongs of the last and honor the descendents of slaves, let's call them exceptional Americans.

But the most important thing is to stop the color labeling of white, black or brown, or even the continental labeling of African American, Asian American, etc.

The world has a lot to learn from the Jewish People. There are no “white Jews” or “black Jews” or “brown Jews.” We are all just plain Jews.

Mayor David Dinkins of New York City visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe shortly after the Crown Heights race riots of '91 and said that he was hoping that people of good will "on both sides" would bring peace to both peoples. The Rebbe responded that there are not "two sides" and "two peoples," but that we are all one people on one side.

That is what true leadership sounds like.

* Please don't interpret my play on words as minimizing the enormity of the tragedy. Semantics happens to be my pasttime. By the way, speaking of last names, it's also worth pointing out that another young victim's name was Michael Brown ( which hits close to home, as I am Michael Green). Perhaps the message here is the same: Michael was not "black" (nor are the police "white" or "blue"). Rather, he was Brown, as we all are. So why should degree of brown-ness matter? Shall we start classifying people by the degree of how brown they are? Sounds absurd, doesn't it? Yes it is, as absurd as calling people "black" or "white."
Go Brown! And Gray! (And Green! 😉)

Gray Matter Matters!

Only matter that truly
matters is gray matter.

Recent slogans strike me as rather unsettling.  Banners scream “Black lives matter!”, while some shout in retort “All lives matter!” or “Blue lives matter!”

What's the matter, you ask? All this color-coded rhetoric makes me feel somewhat uncomfortable, although I do understand and even see value in both points of view. Let’s start with the trendsetters, BLM:

I surely concur that black lives matter, but not for the same reason that some of the violent activists claim they matter.

"Black" lives matter because they are lives. Life doesn't have a color, or rather, one may say that life embraces all colors. "Black" lives matter just as much as all other lives do, irrespective of degree of pigment on their outer layer of one's epidermis.

In fact, the very notion that some lives are "black" and others are "white" is an insult to life itself.

First of all, is a so-called "white" man an albino? Sounds frightening. Nor is a so-called "black" man truly black. Healthy humans are all kind of brown to varying degrees.

Secondly, it is insulting to call some humans "people of color" in exclusion to others. Is a human of Caucasian complexion any less colorful? Aren't we all colors of a beautiful rainbow that is humanity? Why are some humans considered devoid of color?

Thirdly, it is equally insulting to stigmatize some as "dark" and some as "light." Every human being is a bright light, a candle of G-d, as it were. Darkness figuratively denotes absence of light or virtue, implies gloom and doom, à la Darth Vader. A room is dark if it is poorly lit, and a society is metaphorically dark if it is unenlightened or ignorant. To characterize a human as dark because of his pigmentation is like saying that a five-foot-tall man is less of a man than a six-foot-tall man, or a two-hundred-pound human is more of a human than a one-hundred-pound human. Physical qualities are subjective and relative, and not definitive or descriptive of one's humanity or life. One may have a personal preference for one shade of pigment or another, but that is purely subjective to one's superficial tastes.

Even more dangerous is when stigmatize a segment of the population as black or brown or white. It is as absurd as dividing the population into blond, red and brunette. It reeks of eugenics. Aren't we past this already in the twenty-first century? It echoes back to the Dark Ages (pun intended).

Haven't we learned by now that human life is sacred irrespective of the petty and superficial differences that make us look or sound different?

So herein lies the inherent danger of slogans like "Black Lives Matter." I assume that most of the individuals chanting that slogan are well-intentioned and are merely demanding fair and equitable treatment for all citizens, regardless of one's complexion or ethnicity. That is laudatory and something we all ought to support. However, the moment we see violent and murderous attacks on other human beings of the "privileged" pigment, something has gone terribly wrong. By committing or overlooking or condoning acts of murder or violence under the pretext of social justice, black lives don't matter anymore. Because, as I stated above, black lives only matter because all lives matter. When "white" lives don't matter or "blue" lives don't matter, then life doesn't matter at all. It's racism to declare otherwise, just as it's racist to claim that "black" lives don't matter. Bottom line: if a single innocent life doesn't matter, then no lives matter.

So, if crimes against innocent lives are committed under the banner of "Black Lives Matter," then "Black Lives Matter" sadly doesn't matter.

Same is true of all forms of racism and hatred. If extremist Islamic or Palestinian dogma claims that Jewish lives don't matter, then life doesn't matter at all. No wonder many members of that depraved society are ready to slaughter their own, or use their own children as human shields. Why not? Life doesn't matter...

If you are an anti-Semite, then by definition, you are also anti-Hamite and anti-Japhethite. You are anti the entire human race, including and most primarily, YOURSELF. Yours is the life that doesn't matter, by your very own admission.

In reality, all lives matter. All lives, that is, except for lives of those who seek to murder other innocent lives. Ideologies that call for murder simply don't matter, and we hope and pray that sooner than later, they will all be eliminated, retired to the cobwebs of posterity like all other things that never really mattered.

And that’s why it’s incorrect to state “All lives matter” in response. All lives matter, except those who think and demonstrate that some lives don’t, simply because of skin pigmentation.

In addition, there’s another reason that I find “All Lives Matter” response somewhat repugnant. “All lives” implies a tacit acknowledgment that some lives are black and some lives are white, but that they all matter anyway. “All” means that there are indeed different shades of lives. But in truth, there aren’t. There are only human lives. There is no black life or white life. Blue life is the most absurd, as if one’s uniform or vocation has any bearing on his inherent value as a human life.

So what really matters? Or, since everyone is so color-conscious these days, which color really matters?

Well, for starters, red blood matters.

The Talmud states that one may not commit an act of murder in attempt to save his own. (Say, for example, a Mafioso orders him to murder so-and-so or the Mafia will murder him.) Says the Talmud (Yoma 82b): "Is your blood any redder than his? Maybe his is redder than yours!"

Do you regard one life with less respect because of something that has no bearing on the redness of his or her blood, i.e. skin pigmentation or ethnicity? If so, then you ignored the redness of his blood, demonstrating that yours is perhaps less red!

On further thought, that color-coded slogan still falls short. Not all red blood was created equal. Animals have red blood too, yet their lives are not sacred to the degree of humans, who were created in G-d's image. I was deeply saddened to learn of the early demise of Harambe the Gorilla and the inhumane mistreatment of Shamu the Orka. But it's a different sort of sadness. Human blood is inherently redder, I believe.

So what's the ultimate slogan we can all feel comfortable with? What truly matters? It's not black or white. It's gray! Yes, GRAY MATTER MATTERS.

The indomitable human mind and spirit that are enshrined in your gray matter... THAT is the matter that matters most! 

That's why you and I truly matter. And that's why all humans matter, all endowed with a Divine potential to rise to their awesome calling, of living in the image of our Divine Creator.

It doesn't matter if you've used your gray matter much or not. You have it, and the potential is there. A human born into adverse circumstances has the same gray matter as you and me. Privilege, class or status have no bearing on the grayness of one’s gray matter.

My lighter or darker complexion doesn't make my blood any redder or my gray matter any grayer. And if ignorant bias fools me into believing otherwise, then I am neglecting to use my own gray matter by failing to perceive the infinite value of my fellow human being.

That's it. Enough with the black and white.

Go Gray!

Friday, July 1, 2016

You and I: sponsors of mass murder!?

Before you get all riled up about the Iranian regime sponsoring international terror, or Saudi sheikhs funding ISIS or al Kaieda, take a good look in the mirror.

That's right. If you are a tax-paying American citizen, YOU are funding "Palestinian State"-sponsored terrorism. Link to article

Time for a change. A regime change. No, not in Iran or Syria. In Washington DC.
If our government continues to fund the "PA," we need to bring down our government, or at least vote these goons out of office once and for all.

But that is not enough. The problem is that the State of Israel is funding the "PA" too. Israel also needs a regime change.

We need a truly Jewish State, one that is not frightened by its own shadow or cowtoe to world opinion, a government that will fulfill its most basic duty to defend its citizens by eliminating its enemies.

If Arabs justify murdering a child in her bed because where her bed is, then those Arabs and their beds must be deported. If an Israeli government cannot understand that, then Israel needs a new government. Period.

As for us American Jews, we must no longer sit by idly and silently while our funding of mass murder continues. Barely seventy years since the Holocaust, there is yet another mass murder campain targetting our people that we cannot afford to ignore.

Let's take action once and for all.

Do it for Halel Yaffa Ariel, may G-d avenge her blood.

Article: "Dear Diaspora Jews: Your Money is Killing Us!"

Monday, June 27, 2016

From the Mouths of Babes, part 2

The Green Kids were recently arguing about whether poems need to rhyme.

So I interjected:

"Hey guys, listen to my poem:
"Roses are red,
"violets are blue,
"Some poems rhyme,
"but some don't."

Without missing a beat, Levi Green retorts:

"Hey Tatty, wanna hear my poem?
"Roses are red,
"Violets are blue,
"Some poems don't rhyme
"but some do."

Good one, Levi.

From the Mouths of Babes...

Sholom (age 6) explains traffic light colors to Meir (age 4):

"Red means stop, green means go, and yellow means go faster."

(presumably based on observing dad's driving)