From where do we learn our Judaism?

Rabbi Weiman is a speaker, teaches Jewish history at Esther Miller Bais Yaakov, and is author of the new book, “48 Things, 49 Days,” (Targum Press) as well as “A Simple Guide to Happiness,” “A Map of the Universe,” and “the Everything Learning Hebrew Book.”


For some the answer is obvious, the Torah, of course. For others it’s the Talmud or the Shulchan Aruch – the Code of Jewish Law composed in the 1500s. For still others it’s their personal teacher or rabbi.

But for some of us, and for some things, it’s hearsay. That’s right, “someone told me.” Someone told me the world is flat. Someone told me black cats are bad luck.

Otherwise intelligent worldly rational folks throw logic out the window when it comes to Judaism. Someone told me…becomes the same as a commandment carved into the stone tablets Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai amidst signs and miracles.

Hopefully a Rabbi gets their opinion from the Torah. And the Code of Jewish Law and Talmud trace their ideas back to the Torah. We may disagree about what the Torah is teaching us. That’s fine. At least we’re dealing with the same base. That’s what makes us Jewish.

One common example (even quoted in the Jewish Light itself) is the misconception that someone with a tattoo can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery. While the prohibition to tattoo is clearly in the Torah and traditionally observant Jews would no sooner get a tattoo than eat a BLT, once a tattoo is on a body, there is no obligation to remove it, nor is there any penalty in any way for having it. Rabbi Zev Leff’s Orthodox synagogue in Florida regularly gave Maftir Yonah, an important honor, to Herbie, a sailor with tattoos.

Nowhere in the Torah, Talmud, or Code of Jewish Law is there a mention of this supposed custom not to bury someone with a tattoo in a Jewish cemetery. Reform, Conservative, Orthodox have always and continue to be united on this one. (Don’t faint.)

In fact the Orthodox Union’s website states that while there is a custom not to bury a wicked person in close proximity to a holy person, complete exclusion from proper Jewish burial or a Jewish cemetery is almost unheard of. In fact, they write, that if we kept those of us that sinned out, the Jewish cemetery would be a lonely place indeed.

Please spread the word: There never was any custom not to bury a person with a tattoo in a Jewish cemetery, nor a person who violates the other commandments either. Traditional Judaism forbids tattooing, but doesn’t hold it against you after the fact. And it goes without saying Holocaust tattoos should be worn proudly.

What makes us Jewish is the Torah, not hearsay.

Local commentary

Rabbi Max Weiman is Director of Kabbalah Made Easy and author of ‘A Simple Guide to Happiness,’ available on More of his articles are found online at