The Hebrew tattoo craze exploded once mega-celebrities such as Madonna and Britney Spears began practicing Kaballah and Victoria Beckham and her soccer superstar husband, David Beckham, got matching Hebrew tattoos as a testament to their love and devotion. However, just like the Japanese kanji craze at the turn of the century, foreign lettering tattoos in any language are subject to scrutiny and misinterpretation unless you speak the language yourself or know (and trust) someone who does.
First of all, not many American cliches and idioms translate directly into a phrase that makes sense in another language. Commonplace sayings like keep it real or what the hell lose their meaning when translated into a different dialect. Additionally, there is not a Hebrew equivalent to every single American word that exists.
Many times translation websites simply select a translation that comes closest to the original word. In Hebrew lettering, the same set of characters is used to mean human as well as husband, depending on the context, so that a tattoo that is supposed to say I love my husband can just as easily mean I love my human.
Keep in mind also that there is a very specific calligraphy and style of lettering for each Hebrew character. Foreign languages that utilize characters have precise lines and nooks and crannies that we as Americans may not understand. It’s not like the English alphabet where an A is an A no matter how shabbily it is drawn; if it has two long lines and a shorter line connecting the two, it’s an A. Hebrew characters, on the other hand, may look astoundingly similar but actually mean something completely different.
Interestingly, the letters of the alefbet have corresponding numberical values, too. So, in Hebrew, numbers are written by using a combination of letters so that the overall word value represents the desired number. Supposed, in English, A represented the numerical value 1 and E was equaled to 5. To write the number 6, you could either write AE or EA because both 1+5 and 5+1 equal 6. This is a very simplified example, because there are many possible number combinations that can be added to get 6; 1+1+1+1+1+1, 3+3, 2+2+2, 4+2, 3+2+1, and so on, all equal the same value. Because of this, numbers in Hebrew are usually written with the fewest letters possible. There is no reason to write six letters for one number when writing only two is sufficient.
Like most other languages, there are many styles of written Hebrew. There is a style saved for sacred documents and texts, which should only be used for these, known as STA”M (an acronym of the names of the sacred text where the style appears). There is also a handwritten style that sort of corresponds to the cursive writing style of the Romantic Languages. This style is known as Rashi Script in honor of Rashi (a famous theologian and Jewish scholar), although he didn’t actually use it himself. Today, there are many fonts of the modern Hebrew language and any of them might be employed for tattoo designs.
Hebrew tattoos are kind of a strange occurrence because the Jews consider tattoos and tattooing to be contrary to the will of God. Although not all practicing and non-practicing Jews believe this, tattoos among the Jewish, and Hebrew speaking, community is relatively uncommon. Regardless of this, Hebrew is a favored language for tattoos for many reasons. Firstly, the Old Testament, which is partly the same as the Jewish Torah, was written in Hebrew.
Many fervent Christians appreciate Hebrew as the foundation of their religion and feel that the ancient language has a deep spiritual influence and connection to God. Others like the idea of Hebrew tattoos because the language, in comparison to most others, is relatively unknown. The majority of people who see the tattoo will be unable to translate it. In this way, the tattoo is a little secretive.
Some people simply enjoy how Hebrew looks in its written form. Still others became aware of Hebrew tattoos when the famous Beckhams, David and Victoria, got matching Hebrew tattoos to symbolize their relationship. This, combined with the trendiness of Kabbalah, a sect of Judaism that focuses on mysticism, helped to make Hebrew tattoos popular.
If you are choosing a religious phrase, remember to respect the traditions of Judaism. This is not to say that a tattoo in Hebrew is offensive, although some may take offense to it. However, tattooing the name of God is very offensive and some would even consider it blasphemous. Most Jews do not write the word God and would not appreciate a tattoo of their sacred word written in their language. Instead, find ways around using that word. Instead of saying “Owned by God” say “Owned by the Master” or “Owned by the Father.” The meaning here, is the same, but far less offensive.
Some people believe that writing Elohim, which translates to God, too, but in the sense of an a less personal God, is acceptable. The decision is ultimately your own. Also remember that the New Testament was originally written in the Greek language. Translating the words from Greek to English to Hebrew can be detrimental to the meaning unless done with extreme care. In this instance, it is probably best to just get the tattoo done in the original Classical Greek, which is equally meaningful and unlikely to be known by the average observer.