Codex

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Archive for the 'Tattoos' Category

Hebrew Tattoos: Buyers Beware! (Best of Codex)

21st February 2011

[Originally posted 8th March 2006; While this post is not necessarily the "best" of Codex, it certainly is one of the most popular -- at least if Google searches count for anything. This post (and others on Hebrew tattoos) generates numerous requests from people about Hebrew spellings for this or that word or phrase, many of which I try to respond to when I have time.]

Believe it or not, one of the more frequent Google searches by which individuals happen upon my blog is a search for “Hebrew Tattoos.” This search, which appears to happen once every few hundred visits to my site, leads readers to my tongue-in-cheek post “Posh Hebrew Tattoos, David! (Beckhams Inscribe their Love).” I have also had individuals email me asking advice on Hebrew tattoos, primarily wanting verification about the spelling of this or that word. My own students also ask similar questions (the latest being just last week).

This interest in Hebrew tattoos intrigues me. It obviously piggy-backs on the popularity of tattoos in general, though I suspect that the fact you have high profile celebrities like David and Victoria Beckham, Madonna, and Britney Spears with Hebrew tattoos boosts their popularity. And, of course, you have the religious crowd that likes tattoos of a biblical character, whether Hebrew, Greek, or even Aramaic.

At any rate, after reproducing the Google search for “Hebrew Tattoos” you will come across a number of web sites that specialize in tattoos, even ones devoted to Hebrew Tattoos that want to cash in on the craze. Most of these sites have sample pictures of actual Hebrew tattoos. What I found troubling is the number of mistakes in these tattoos. As a public service to any individuals thinking of getting a Hebrew tattoo, I thought I would highlight some of the mistakes so that others may avoid them in the future.

Hebrew Tattoos You Don’t Want

hebrew_eloheem.jpg

This first example of the Hebrew term for “God” makes a simple mistake of confusing Hebrew characters that look similar (of which there are a few!). The bottom letter on the tattoo is a samech (a Hebrew “s”) while it is supposed to be a mem (a Hebrew “m”). Another possibility that Yitzhak Sapir noted in the comments, is that the final letter is the Rashi script for final mem. He suggests that “some Jewish figure who was uncomfortable writing out the name of God changed scripts as a result.” While this is certainly possible, it seems odd that the rest of the tattoo is standard Aramaic square script. I am also not sure how many Jewish tattoo artists are out there who know Rashi’s script! I think my explanation makes a bit more sense. This tattoo is an example of a simple mistake made by someone who was trying to match the letters from a picture or something (I get quite a few papers from students who know a little Hebrew and try to include Hebrew words but they confuse stuff like final mem and samech, resh and dalet, etc.). Either way, if you are going to get a tattoo, it’s probably better to use the same script for the entire thing!

holy_spirit_freedom.jpg

This tattoo, which has a Hebrew word purported by the website I found it on to mean “freedom” (perhaps based on Lev 19:20?) has the vowel points shifted incorrectly to the left. As such it is nonsensical. Moreover, as the comments to this post indicate, in modern Hebrew this word (if correctly pointed) means “vacation” — which I am pretty sure the individual who got the tattoo did not want (especially considering the symbol of the Holy Spirit above it!).

holy-to-the-Lord.jpg

This tattoo, which means “holy to the LORD/Yahweh,” has letters which are either not drawn very carefully or confused (note the difference in width in the second last character in the bottom word; the tattoo has what looks like a dalet or resh, which it should be a vav) as well as incorrect vowel pointing.

In_blood1.jpg

This tattoo is supposed to say “in blood” according to the website where I found it. The expression is not biblical Hebrew, but a modern Hebrew phrase for “blood relative” or the like (see the comments by Yitzhak Sapir). Of course, the tattoo is still incorrect since it is missing the silent sheva after the resh (and the resh looks a bit like a yod). (If I was going to write “in blood” in Biblical Hebrew, I would simply do it as I have it on the bottom.)

aramaic_yhwh.jpg

This tattoo of the name of the God of Israel, “Yahweh,” is fine, though the web page identified it as Aramaic. In fact, this is a paleo-Hebrew script of the divine name.

Hebrew_love.jpg

There is nothing wrong with this Hebrew tattoo. I just thought it’s funny because the word inscribed can possibly mean both “love” as well as “leather” (some scholars suggest that there is a homograph which means “leather” [see KB3]). It arguably occurs in Hosea 11:4 [perhaps] and Song 3:10 [more likely]). Perhaps this can be taken as a warning not to spend too much time in the tanning salons?! (Of course, in modern Hebrew it clearly means love, and as I already noted, there is nothing wrong with this tattoo.)

The lesson here is that you cannot trust pictures of Hebrew tattoos on the internet! Make sure to double check the spelling of the Hebrew word you want tattooed!

Tips for Getting Hebrew Tattoos

If you are thinking of getting a Hebrew tattoo, consider the following:

First, think long and hard about getting a tattoo because they are permanent (notwithstanding modifying tattoos or erasing them). If you are set on the idea of getting a tattoo, think about getting a temporary one first. Also think about where you put your tattoo. Based on the experience of friends, I wouldn’t suggest getting a tattoo on any place where your body may change drastically as you age (and women, beware of tattoos on your stomach as if you ever get pregnant, your tattoo may be stretched beyond recognition (and it may not go back to its original shape — ask my friend!).

Second, if you are getting a Hebrew tattoo, make sure to double check with someone who knows Hebrew (or Greek if you are getting a Greek one) whether or not you have the proper spelling of the word. It would be a bummer to get a tattoo like those above — the only consolation would be that most people wouldn’t know you have a spelling mistake permanently inscribed on your body!

Third, one thing to decide before getting a Hebrew tattoo is whether or not to just use consonants (as Hebrew was originally written) or use consonants with the Masoretic vowel pointing (the little dots and dashes above and below the consonants). The vowel points were added to the text of the Hebrew Bible in the early centuries of this era by Jewish scribes called the Masoretes. While the vowel points represent an ancient reading tradition, they are not original to the Hebrew text, so you may not want to include them. (I personally wouldn’t include them if only for aesthetic reasons)

Finally, make sure to go to a reputable tattoo shop!

As a side note, I don’t have any tattoos nor any intention of getting one — and I hope that this trend will die down by the time my kids are older! My primary problem with tattoos is that they are too permanent; what you may think is cool when you are younger, you may later regret.


Posted in Best of Codex, Hebrew, Tattoos | 10 Comments »

Danielle Lloyd: The Dumbest Hebrew Tattoo Yet!

9th September 2008

I don’t know who Danielle Lloyd is; I guess she is some sort of British celebrity. All I do know is that she — and her so-called tattoo artist — doesn’t know a stitch of Hebrew. And she apparently doesn’t know how to surf the web or google anything, since she went ahead and got a major “Hebrew” tattoo without getting it checked out. Here is the picture that is circulating on the news services (I have shifted its orientation to better read the supposed Hebrew):


Danielle Lloyd's Incorrect Hebrew Tattoo

Danielle Lloyd's Incorrect Hebrew Tattoo



Not only is the tattoo gibberish; it isn’t written in Hebrew (i.e., the language) at all! When I first looked at the pictures of the tattoo, I couldn’t figure it out. It wasn’t Biblical Hebrew. I didn’t think it was modern Hebrew. I was looking up words in my modern Hebrew dictionary and starting to think that I shouldn’t be teaching Hebrew this semester! Then I figured it out. The tattoo isn’t written in the Hebrew language, but is English written with Hebrew letters! If you transliterate the Hebrew characters into their English counterparts, voila!, you get the supposed translation: “Only God can judge me, only God can judge me.” What makes this even more silly utterly ridiculous is that the transliteration isn’t even consistent. In the first occurrence, “can” is spelled qof-nun (קן) while the second time it is spelled kaf-nun (כן). Not only doesn’t Danielle know Hebrew, she apparently doesn’t even know how to spell “can” in English! (I won’t even comment on the rest of the supposed transliteration)

If there was a prize or award for the dumbest tattoo, this should certainly win. I just can’t believe it… this is beyond stupid.

I’m going to begin my Hebrew class tomorrow by highlighting yet one more benefit to learning Hebrew:  so you can make fun of דם celebrities!

(Note to any rich celebrities reading this: I will gladly provide you with the proper spelling for your Hebrew tattoo… at least for some money and fame!)


Posted in Hebrew, Tattoos | 21 Comments »

Jews and Tattoos

17th July 2008

The New York Times has an article on the tattoo trend among Jewish people. The article debunks the notion that if you have a tattoo you may not be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Despite the growing popularity of tattoos among Jewish young people, Jews traditionally have been against tattoos, primarily based on the injunction in Leviticus 19:28 (see this post for an interesting discussion of this verse from a Jewish perspective).

Most of the emails I receive about Hebrew tattoos come from Christians, among whom there does not seem to be any qualms about getting inked.

UPDATE: Check out Iyov’s sobering post here.

(HT Menachem Mendel)


Posted in Popular Culture, Tattoos | Comments Off

Yet More Hebrew Tattoos You Do Not Want!

10th July 2008

People never learn. Think before you ink! I came across a couple more examples of incorrect Hebrew tattoos. I can’t believe people don’t double and triple check foreign tattoos with someone they know understands the language before they get their skin scarred for life.

For more of my blog posts on incorrect Hebrew tattoos, click here.

The first example comes via The Aramaic Blog (the original tattoo is posted here). This nice looking tattoo is supposed to read “Yahweh/the LORD is my banner” and is more than likely taken from Exodus 17:15.

yahweh-is-my-banner1.jpg

The first error with this Hebrew tattoo is all too common: the Hebrew is written backwards. For those who do not know, Hebrew is written from right to left, not left to right as English. Thus, this tattoo is essentially gibberish. It means nothing. To add insult to injury, there are also a couple spelling errors in the tattoo: there is an extra vav in the divine name Yahweh (יהוה) and the noun “banner” (נס) has an extra yod.

yahweh-is-my-banner2.jpg

The second example comes from a google search. This poor fellow went through a couple tattoo sessions to get a nice picture of a lion head tattooed and then topped it off with what he thought was the Hebrew name “Judah” (get it? “Lion of Judah”; see Genesis 49:9 and Revelation 5:5). The problem is that he should of double-checked his Hebrew since it is written backwards and misspelled.

wrong-judah.jpg

I’m not quite sure how he got the spelling wrong. It should be yod-heh-vav-dalet-heh (יהודה) and he has (backwards) yod-heh-dalet-vav-heh (יהדוה); he has the dalet and vav mixed up.

wrong-judah2.jpg

All this goes to show that if you decide to get a Hebrew tattoo, you really need to get the spelling double-checked before you get it inked. While there are a number of web sites that will do translations, I would be careful with which one you use.

Since I first posted on incorrect Hebrew tattoos, I have got at least half a dozen requests every week asking to double-check this or that spelling. While I am not opposed to do this, I just don’t have the time, so most of the emails have gone unanswered. My wife had a brilliant idea, however. While I am not willing to take the time to check out a spelling or provide the Hebrew for a tattoo for free, I may be persuaded to do it for a very nominal fee. If you are interested, just send me an email to “tattoos AT biblical-studies.ca” and we can talk.


Posted in Hebrew, Tattoos | 2 Comments »

More Hebrew Tattoos You Don’t Want!

22nd July 2006

Since first posting on Hebrew tattoos, I have been innudated with requests for advice for proper spellings, etc. I don’t really mind that much; but I find it quite surprising how many people are thinking of getting Hebrew tattoos. In addition, every once and a while I follow the searches for Hebrew tattoos that brought people to my site to see if I can find more incorrect ones. I did this just the other day and found quite a number of tattoos which had a number of errors. So without further ado, here is another installment of…

Hebrew Tattoos You Don’t Want

Faithful_tattoo.jpg

This tattoo is supposed to say “faithful” (from bottom to top), though the vowel pointing is incorrect (there is a segol — the three dots — between the alef and the mem, but no vowel between the mem and final nun). I imagine the word that the poor individual was trying to write was something like ×?ֹמֶן, though I am not certain. I personally don’t think it looks very good vertically, and if I was going to put it vertically I would write it top to bottom (as my example). I would put it horizontally as indicated by my “Better” example (I would also lean towards the word ×?מת if I wanted to indicate faithful).

Beloved_tattoo.jpg

This tattoo is supposed to say, “Beloved.” The word that the woman was trying to have inscribed on her wrist (I believe) was the Qal passive participle of the biblical Hebrew word for love, ×?הב. The problem is that it was written backwards (remember, Hebrew is written from right to left!). I am also not sure that this is the best word to use if you want to say “beloved,” but that’s neither here nor there.

Now it seems as if “beloved” is a fairly popular Hebrew tattoo. If you are looking for the Hebrew spelling, you have to beware of who you ask. I found this image posted on the Christian Tattoo Association web board as alternatives for someone wanting the Hebrew for “beloved”:

Beloved_advice.jpg

The problem with this advice is that it is riddled with errors:

Beloved2_advice.jpg

As it turned out, the fellow who posted this advice recognized his error, but he never did repost a correct version (and you had to read through a lot of posts before you saw his comment about the Hebrew being backwards).

I have been asked a number of times for the correct spelling of “beloved” — with most people wanting the beloved that comes from the Song of Songs (e.g., Song 1:13, 14, 16, 2:3, 8, 9, 10, 16, etc.). In English the term “beloved” is a unisex term of endearment. The word in Hebrew, however, is not. The Hebrew word for beloved, דוד, is appropriate only if you are referring to a male (the word also means uncle). You shouldn’t really use it if you are referring to a female (which was David Beckham’s mistake). For a female term of endearment roughly equivalent to “beloved” I would probably suggest ×?הובה, which is based on the Hebrew root for love. I find that many Christians want to tattoo “beloved” in the sense of “beloved of God,” i.e., loved by God. For this sense I would probably suggest the passive form of the verb for love in Hebrew: ×?הוב. This is what I would suggest:

beloved1.jpg

The same fellow that gave advice on the Hebrew for beloved, also gave some incorrect advice on the spelling of “child” in Hebrew on the same web board:

Child_tattoo.jpg

This guy’s track record isn’t that great! I sure hope he isn’t a tattoo artist!

All this goes to show that you should be very careful before you decide to permanently inscribe something on your body in a language that you don’t know. Perhaps the Mishnah is correct in prohibiting tattoos due to their lasting and permanent nature (see m Makkot 3.6).


Posted in Hebrew, Humour, Tattoos | 19 Comments »

David Beckham’s Manly Tattoo

9th June 2006

With the 2006 FIFA World Cup starting today, I figured I should post something related to football (i.e., soccer for those of us in North America). Then I thought, why not profile the Hebrew tattoo on England’s celebrity skipper, David Beckham? I have posted on David Beckham’s Hebrew tattoo before, though I didn’t have a picture of it until recently (An individual from Germany who wanted some advice on a Hebrew tattoo sent it to me). As with many of the tattoos profiled in my previous post on incorrect Hebrew tattoos, David Beckham’s tattoo just doesn’t make sense. Here is a picture of the tattoo:

beckham_tattoo_sm.jpg

The words on the tattoo are taken from the Song of Songs 6:3 which reads as follows:

×?Ö²× Ö´×™ לְדֹּודִי וְדֹּודִי לִי הָרֹעֶה בַּש×?ֹּוש×?Ö·× Ö¼Ö´×™×?
“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine, he pastures his flock among the lilies” (Song 6:3)

While this is a very nice verse from the Song of Songs, it really isn’t appropriate for a man to have tattooed on his body! First, the word דֹּוד “beloved” in Biblical Hebrew is a term of endearment for a man, not a woman. It also can be used in the Bible to refer to your father’s brother (i.e., uncle), which is the primary meaning in modern Hebrew. It is not unisex like the English term “lover.” Second, the masculine reference is underscored with the last phrase of the tattoo: “he pastures his flock among the lilies.” The Qal participle “pasture” is masculine and clearly refers to a man. Some even argue that the image here is of a man kissing the tender part of his lover’s body. Thus, Beckham’s tattoo is totally inappropriate if he meant it to refer to his wife. And if he meant it to refer to his uncle, then it’s just sick! When it comes right down to it, this passage is really only appropriate for a woman to say to her male lover. It would have to be modified signifcantly to make it appropriate for a man to say to his female lover.

The moral of this story is, if you are a celebrity sports star with a lot of money and are thinking about getting a Hebrew tattoo, make sure you get it checked out by someone who knows what they are doing!

In fact, as a public service to all rich celebrities, I would be more than willing to advise them on their tattoos, or on anything related to the Hebrew Bible! That reminds me, do you want some more tutoring, Nicole?


Posted in Sports, Tattoos | 5 Comments »

Hebrew Tattoos: Buyers Beware!

8th March 2006

Believe it or not, one of the more frequent Google searches by which individuals happen upon my blog is a search for “Hebrew Tattoos.” This search, which appears to happen once every few hundred visits to my site, leads readers to my tongue-in-cheek post “Posh Hebrew Tattoos, David! (Beckhams Inscribe their Love).” I have also had individuals email me asking advice on Hebrew tattoos, primarily wanting verification about the spelling of this or that word. My own students also ask similar questions (the latest being just last week).

This interest in Hebrew tattoos intrigues me. It obviously piggy-backs on the popularity of tattoos in general, though I suspect that the fact you have high profile celebrities like David and Victoria Beckham, Madonna, and Britney Spears with Hebrew tattoos boosts their popularity. And, of course, you have the religious crowd that likes tattoos of a biblical character, whether Hebrew, Greek, or even Aramaic.

At any rate, after reproducing the Google search for “Hebrew Tattoos” you will come across a number of web sites that specialize in tattoos, even ones devoted to Hebrew Tattoos that want to cash in on the craze. Most of these sites have sample pictures of actual Hebrew tattoos. What I found troubling is the number of mistakes in these tattoos. As a public service to any individuals thinking of getting a Hebrew tattoo, I thought I would highlight some of the mistakes so that others may avoid them in the future.

Hebrew Tattoos You Don’t Want

hebrew_eloheem.jpg

This first example of the Hebrew term for “God” makes a simple mistake of confusing Hebrew characters that look similar (of which there are a few!). The bottom letter on the tattoo is a samech (a Hebrew “s”) while it is supposed to be a mem (a Hebrew “m”). Another possibility that Yitzhak Sapir noted in the comments, is that the final letter is the Rashi script for final mem. He suggests that “some Jewish figure who was uncomfortable writing out the name of God changed scripts as a result.” While this is certainly possible, it seems odd that the rest of the tattoo is standard Aramaic square script. I am also not sure how many Jewish tattoo artists are out there who know Rashi’s script! I think my explanation makes a bit more sense. This tattoo is an example of a simple mistake made by someone who was trying to match the letters from a picture or something (I get quite a few papers from students who know a little Hebrew and try to include Hebrew words but they confuse stuff like final mem and samech, resh and dalet, etc.). Either way, if you are going to get a tattoo, it’s probably better to use the same script for the entire thing!

holy_spirit_freedom.jpg

This tattoo, which has a Hebrew word purported by the website I found it on to mean “freedom” (perhaps based on Lev 19:20?) has the vowel points shifted incorrectly to the left. As such it is nonsensical. Moreover, as the comments to this post indicate, in modern Hebrew this word (if correctly pointed) means “vacation” — which I am pretty sure the individual who got the tattoo did not want (especially considering the symbol of the Holy Spirit above it!).

holy-to-the-Lord.jpg

This tattoo, which means “holy to the LORD/Yahweh,” has letters which are either not drawn very carefully or confused (note the difference in width in the second last character in the bottom word; the tattoo has what looks like a dalet or resh, which it should be a vav) as well as incorrect vowel pointing.

In_blood1.jpg

This tattoo is supposed to say “in blood” according to the website where I found it. The expression is not biblical Hebrew, but a modern Hebrew phrase for “blood relative” or the like (see the comments by Yitzhak Sapir). Of course, the tattoo is still incorrect since it is missing the silent sheva after the resh (and the resh looks a bit like a yod). (If I was going to write “in blood” in Biblical Hebrew, I would simply do it as I have it on the bottom.)

aramaic_yhwh.jpg

This tattoo of the name of the God of Israel, “Yahweh,” is fine, though the web page identified it as Aramaic. In fact, this is a paleo-Hebrew script of the divine name.

Hebrew_love.jpg

There is nothing wrong with this Hebrew tattoo. I just thought it’s funny because the word inscribed can possibly mean both “love” as well as “leather” (some scholars suggest that there is a homograph [×?הבה II] which means “leather” [see KB3]). It arguably occurs in Hosea 11:4 [perhaps] and Song 3:10 [more likely]). Perhaps this can be taken as a warning not to spend too much time in the tanning salons?! (Of course, in modern Hebrew ×?הבה clearly means love, and as I already noted, there is nothing wrong with this tattoo.)

The lesson here is that you cannot trust pictures of Hebrew tattoos on the internet! Make sure to double check the spelling of the Hebrew word you want tattooed!

Tips for Getting Hebrew Tattoos

If you are thinking of getting a Hebrew tattoo, consider the following:

First, think long and hard about getting a tattoo because they are permanent (notwithstanding modifying tattoos or erasing them). If you are set on the idea of getting a tattoo, think about getting a temporary one first. Also think about where you put your tattoo. Based on the experience of friends, I wouldn’t suggest getting a tattoo on any place where your body may change drastically as you age (and women, beware of tattoos on your stomach as if you ever get pregnant, your tattoo may be stretched beyond recognition (and it may not go back to its original shape — ask my friend!).

Second, if you are getting a Hebrew tattoo, make sure to double check with someone who knows Hebrew (or Greek if you are getting a Greek one) whether or not you have the proper spelling of the word. It would be a bummer to get a tattoo like those above — the only consolation would be that most people wouldn’t know you have a spelling mistake permanently inscribed on your body!

Third, one thing to decide before getting a Hebrew tattoo is whether or not to just use consonants (as Hebrew was originally written) or use consonants with the Masoretic vowel pointing (the little dots and dashes above and below the consonants). The vowel points were added to the text of the Hebrew Bible in the early centuries of this era by Jewish scribes called the Masoretes. While the vowel points represent an ancient reading tradition, they are not original to the Hebrew text, so you may not want to include them. (I personally wouldn’t include them if only for aesthetic reasons)

Finally, make sure to go to a reputable tattoo shop!

As a side note, I don’t have any tattoos nor any intention of getting one — and I hope that this trend will die down by the time my kids are older! My primary problem with tattoos is that they are too permanent; what you may think is cool when you are younger, you may later regret.


Posted in Hebrew, Popular Culture, Tattoos | 38 Comments »

Posh Hebrew Tattoos, David! (Beckhams Inscribe their Love)

4th August 2005

This was in the news yesterday (here, here, and here, among others), but I was too overcome with emotion to post it until today! Jewish soccer star David Beckham and his “posh” wife, Victoria Beckham, got matching Hebrew tattoos on their sixth wedding anniversary. The tattoo is apparently from the Song of Songs 2:16:

דודי לי ו×?× ×™ לו “My Beloved is mine and I am his”

There are actually web pages devoted to Beckhams’ tattoos!

I have mixed emotions about tattoos. I personally have no desire to get one and I sure hope this tattooing craze is spent by the time my kids grow up (OK, I guess they’re not so mixed!). The problem with tattoos is that they are just too permanent. I wouldn’t like to know what I would have tattooed on my body when I was 18! I’ve had students ask me (with increasing frequency) how to write this or that in Hebrew or Greek for a tattoo. I’ve been tempted to spell whatever they ask as נבל (fool!). Perhaps I should just quote Leviticus 19:28 and send them packing: “You shall not… tattoo any marks upon you: I am Yahweh” (I recall seeing this verse actually used as an argument against modern tattoos; I assume that the prohibition was due to some association with cultic practices of Israel’s neighbours rather than tattooing itself).

Hebrew, News, Popular Culture, Tattoos | 53 Comments »