The New York Times chose the following photo to illustrate a front-page article about genetic screening in Israel for a breast cancer gene:


There’s been a lot of flak about the photo’s inclusion of the nipple—or to be more accurate, the half-aureole. But that’s hardly the only issue. Anyone who knows history knows that the tattoo is reminiscent of two things: the yellow Jewish stars the Jews were required to wear in many Nazi countries, and the more permanent marks—the tattoos—that inmates of many concentration camps were forced to endure.

That’s the limit of most of the buzz in the media about objections to the photo, which has been considerable: the sexual aspects and the Holocaust references.

But in addition to those two obvious controversies there’s a more subtle one. Because the image the woman is wearing is both a Jewish star and a tattoo, it would most likely be doubly offensive to strictly religious Jews who observe the Jewish laws about tattooing:

The source of this prohibition is Leviticus 19:28: “You shall not etch a tattoo on yourselves.” This prohibition applies to all tattoos besides those made for medical purposes, such as to guide a surgeon making an incision…

The human body is G‑d’s creation, and it is therefore unbefitting to mutilate G‑d’s handiwork…In ancient times, it was customary for idol-worshippers to tattoo themselves as a sign of commitment to their deity—much like an animal that is branded by its owner…The covenant of circumcision is unique in its being a sign in our bodies of our relationship with G‑d.

The NY Times is hardly known for its religiosity, but it certainly can’t plead ignorance of this Jewish teaching, because it published a lengthy article on this very subject in 2008, illustrated with another photo of a Jew with a tattoo designed to offend Jews of a more religious bent:



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