Judaism and henna

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Posted by Catherine Cartwright Jones on May 15, 2002 at 22:56:42:

In reply to: Obscure Judaism question... posted by Jeanie on May 15, 2002 at 22:28:04:

Tattooing is unquestionably against Jewish tradition. Henna is part
of Jewish tradition. Here's the story:

When Jewish people originally settled in Canaan (area of Israel-Syria,
along the eastern Mediteranean, the indigenous people were using
henna, and tattoing their faces as a part of the Baal/Anath religion.
This was the religion that featured the golden calf (one of the
aspects of Baal) Asherah, Ashtoreth, Anat, ritually serving both meat
and milk together, offering pork to a deity, lively fertility rites, a
springtime sacrifice of a domestic ruminant, henna .... and a
porchload of deities. The Jews ended up shepherding around the
indigenous folks who had pretty much settled down to farming. They
sometimes got along and intermarried, and they sometimes adopted their
customs, sometimes the fought and tried to separate themselves from
their neighbors. Many of the original "Jews don't do this" laws come
from the Jews trying hard to keep their religious and ethnic identity
apart from their neighbors.

Here's what the Jews adopted from (or at least shared with depending
on your perspective)the Canaanites: henna, the "hennaed hand" symbol
for averting evil which the Jews term "the hand of Miriam", the purple
stripes on prayer shawls, the springtime sacrifice for redemption of
sins (which in Jewish tradition is Abraham and Isaac, in Islam is
Abraham and Ishmael, and we've got this guy nailed to a cross). Plenty
more .... Here's what they would NOT share: any permanent markings or
rituals that were specific to Baal and Anath worship: facial
tattooing, sexually active fertility rites, uxorilocal households and
female sexual self-determination, dozens of gods (one specially
engineerred for every need)(the Jews said that they had a "jealous"
god, and there were to be NO other gods on the premisis). The Jews
thought male circumcision was a better thing than female facial
tattooing, and they stuck to it as it was a good way to tell people
apart who otherwise looked about the same.

By 1000 BCE, the Jewish people had thoroughly incorporated a "night of
the henna" into Judaism, and henna was commonly used among Jewish
women. Henna was used continuously among Sephardic Jewish people
until ...mmmmmm about ...... 6:15 this evening and it's probably still
going on. Not every village, every person, every time, but it's
certainly been a continuous tradition. Sometimes there was a
separating of Muslims and Jews on the Middle Eastern, South Asian, and
North African village level, and Jews used henna less than Muslims,
but it never vanished. If there was a holiday or festival or special
occasion .... out came the henna. Of course, henna never went north
into the Ashkenazi Jewish communities, because it wasn't going to

As far as Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, I've been told by a woman who lived in
Israel all her life, that, yes, Henna came out for the celebration,
depending on the community. Women hennaed their hands, men did a
little henna too. It was just standard rural village life.

: I've heard about several of you guys doing henna at bar/bat mitzvahs,
: but I'm curious... is this common? A close friend of mine is
: Orthodox Jewish, and I believe she told me that tattooing is, well,
: kind of frowned upon in Judaism. She's a *very* strict observer, and
: I realize that many of the expensive, catered bar & bat mitzvahs are
: mostly for people that aren't as strict as she is (i.e. not Orthodox/
: what have you.)
: Anyone know anything about this? Am I making sense???
: Thanks,
: Jeanie


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