Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lessons in Ahavas Yisrael: Tattoos in the Mikvah

(I'm not so bright, so I accidentally scheduled this for tomorrow's date. Sorry!)

A really nice story to start your day off right!

I don't think any story can really be classified as a "chassidic story" unless it involves a forest in The Old Country, a miraculous job offer, and someone who gets pregnant after at least a decade of barrenness. But this is a pretty good one. I like it.

Since tattoos in conversion and/or the mikvah is one of the biggest search engine draws to my website, it seems especially appropriate to post here!

Remember: your previous tattoos are ok. You are fine. I wouldn't rush out to get new ones though. 

If that is the case, why the opposition in the story? Because sometimes, people are crazy. Either they don't know the halacha, don't seem to care about teshuvah, or they simply don't like you because you are different. However. Whether the other person is crazy, mistaken, or both...try your best to take the high road. Judge favorably and assume they have simply made a mistake. 

Gotta love Breslov.

For the uninitiated, who are the Breslovers? They are a Chassidic dynasty founded by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, who was the great-grandson of the founder of Chassidism, the Baal Shem Tov. I think it's very interesting that there has not been another "Rebbe" since Rebbe Nachman passed away. That's very unusual in the Chassidic world (perhaps unique?).

The Breslav emphasize joy in serving Hashem. They live life passionately. As Rabbi Nachman said, "It is a great mitzvah to always be happy." The Breslov also hand out booklets of Rebbe Nachman's teachings on streets and in kosher restaurants. I currently have four booklets (I was so excited to get them!) on topics such as "Don't Take It Personally" and "Forget About it!" Personally, I think of it as chassidic mussar. And I think it's no coincidence that "lover" is in the name!

Not everyone likes the Breslov as much as I do. Or more accurately, people tend to make fun of a subgroup of the Breslov, the NaNachs. Their name comes from their meditation mantra, "Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman." Rabbi Nachman advocated this form of meditation, but personally used a different mantra. The Na Nachs are most easily spotted by large white, knitted caps that say "Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman" on the bottom. It isn't complete without the pom pom on top. That's how you can spot them from at least a block away.

A lot of people think the Na Nachs are annoying hippies. (What? You thought I'd sugarcoat it for you?) They dance in the streets to chassidic techno music. (Never thought I'd ever say "chassidic techno.") And to some people's annoyance, they also graffiti their mantra all over Israel.


  1. I recorded that video on motzaei-Shabbos at an impromptu melava-malka after a Shabbos of inspiration with Rabbi Brody. I'm really glad you shared it, and to have found your blog.

    There's a baal-teshuva in my community who I once ran into in the mikveh. It was then I discovered his body is covered in tattoos. Trying not to stare, it was a humbling experience. How great is Hashem and the radical nature of teshuva. Ironically, it elevated this Jew even further in my eyes, one of the most G-d fearing people I know.

    As far as teshuva is concerned, the sin of getting the tattoo was washed away long ago, and, as we know, teshuva mei'ahava converts sins into veritable merits. So, if anything, I was looking at a body of tattoos of merits! :)

  2. as a tattooed convert (shhh don't tell) I love this post. I also love Breslevers... even the na-nachs! :) I don't think I have ever met kinder people.

  3. Wow, I'm amazed you found this post and found it so quickly! I'm glad you made the video :) Is there an established Breslov community in Denver or just a pocket? I didn't think of Denver having that much diversity within its orthodox community!

    I think tattoos in the mikvah will only become more and more common. It's good to lay these ideas as a foundation NOW in order to view them in the proper light as this becomes more common with each passing year. I liked your approach!

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  5. The Curmudgeonly Israeli Giyoret says:

    Ladies--Tatoos or not, the mikveh ladies have SEEN IT ALL--scars, mastectomies, stomas, everything.

    Personally, I had a hideous experience in which my kids had given me lice in my (then)long hair two days before mikva night. I had happenned to hear a bit of "good advice for getting rid of lice immediately--pour melted margarine on the hair, and comb out. This got rid of a lot of lice, but left even more margarine, which no amount of shampooing would remove. I also called my friend the mikva lady, who spent over an hour helping comb me out the next day. Finally, mikva night, I arrived with a sore scalp and some doubt whether I had emoved all the lice and eggs. I brought this up with the mikva staff, and the most veteran of them, a saintly woman named Batsheva, who has since passed, asked me whether I had shampooed and combed to the best of my ability. I said yes, of course. With the confidence born of experience, Batsheva announced that since I had done so, whatever remained was not considered an obstruction, and that had I any doubts, we could call either of the two local rabbis.
    This was nothing new for her, not even anything surprising.

    A tattoo is not an infestation. A good "balanit" (mikva lady) will not even bat an eyelash.

  6. Bresolvers were seen wearing personal mechitzahs... not sure I would get too cozy here...