My husband wants to get a tattoo, but I said that if he does, he could not be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Is that true? He wants me to show him proof, and if this is true, he promises not to get one.
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
The Torah states explicitly: "You should not put a tattoo on your body" (Leviticus 19:27). This is accepted Jewish practice, as recorded in the Code of Jewish Law (Yoreh Deah 180:1).
If someone already has a tattoo, he does not have to have it removed, though many people will have them removed because they feel uncomfortable about it.
Whether or not someone with a tattoo can be buried in a Jewish graveyard is not even a question in your case. Since Jewish law prohibits tattooing in the first place, surely your husband should not get one.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (19th century, Germany) explains the reason for this prohibition. God made man in the image of God Himself (Genesis 1:26). Of course, this doesn't mean that God looks like us, but it does mean that our body is a finite expression of God's infinite wisdom. One Midrash even says that Abraham figured out all the mitzvahs by looking at different parts of his body! And as Job said, "In my flesh, I see God" (Job 19:26).
Imagine that you own a house with a huge glass window overlooking the beautiful mountainside. Imagine how clearly you see the trees, the snow, even the deer running down the mountain. Now imagine a toddler full of dirt and chocolate smears his hands all over your window. When you look out the window, what do you see? Nothing but a glaze of dirt, chocolate, and a fuzzy mountain in the background.
The body is a window to the soul, which is a spark of the Infinite. Tell your husband: Don't muddy up the window with handprints.
I am proud of my Jewish identity, but I don’t get this whole thing about Jewish tradition and observance. I enjoy Jewish music, and have a lot of Jewish friends. Isn’t that enough?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Being culturally Jewish, without belief in God, is compared to a cut flower. While it still retains much of its vitality, the flower has been cut off from its source of nutrition, and within a short time will wither and die. The ideals which have kept the Jewish people alive and thriving over the millennia – despite all odds – can only be transmitted with the framework that the Torah provides.
The basis of Jewish belief is the recognition of God. This is codified in the Shema prayer, the Jewish Pledge of Allegiance: "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one" (Deut. 6:4). (See more at: www.aish.com/jl/m/pb/48954656.html)
The second foundation of Jewish belief is that the Torah was given by God to the entire Jewish people at Mount Sinai, and its commandments are unchanging and binding for all time.
Historically, any Jewish group which denied the basic principles of Jewish tradition – Torah and Mitzvah-observance – ultimately ceased to be part of the Jewish people. The Saducees and the Karites, for example, refused to accept certain parts of the Oral Law, and soon after broke away completely as part of the Jewish people. The Hellenists, secularists during the Second Temple period, also soon became regarded as no longer "Jewish." Eventually, these groups vanished completely.
To learn more, see this series on Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Jewish Faith: www.aish.com/jl/p/mp/
Also, I suggest you attend a Discovery seminar, which provides an excellent overview of Jewish history, philosophy and literature. The seminar is given in hundreds of cities throughout the world. For a current schedule, visit www.aish.com/dis/
I am getting divorced and need to order a Get document. Is there something online available for download?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
A Get must be written in a very specific way, and only under the supervision of an expert rabbi who is well-versed in these laws. For example, the Get must be written specifically for this couple, and a pre-printed document cannot be used. There are other complex factors as well, including the type of people who must witness the giving of the Get, and precise formulas for the spelling of words and names. All of this must be done properly, or else the couple is still considered as if fully married.
The Get document is written by a trained scribe (sofer). It contains 12 lines of text, written in Aramaic which was the vernacular during Talmudic times. The text states the location, man’s and woman’s names, and a brief pronouncement that the woman is now free to remarry. The man hands the Get to the woman, in the presence of two authorized witnesses. There are no prayers or blessings involved. The entire proceeding normally takes about an hour, and usually takes place in the rabbi's office.
In situations where direct contact between the husband and wife would be difficult (due to either geographic constraints or emotional displeasure), the process can be done via proxy.
The Get document itself remains in the files of the officiating rabbi, and is torn so that it cannot be used again. The rabbi issues a certificate of proof to both parties, attesting to the fact that a Get was properly drawn up, delivered and accepted, and that each party is free to remarry.
A Get can be arranged at any subsequent time, even years later. Nevertheless, from the standpoint of Jewish law and as a practical matter, it should be done as soon as possible.
For assistance in arranging a proper Jewish divorce, go to kayama.org.