Broad City Was Wrong About The Whole Tattoos & Jewish Cemeteries Thing

In the season 4 premiere of Broad City, we finally see the origin story behind Abbi and Ilana's friendship. Between jumping turnstiles and going to Bed, Bath, & Beyond stoned, they pay a visit to a psychic, who tells them they're going to die that very day. Inspired by this ominous prophecy, Ilana suggests that they really live it up and get tattoos. At first, Abbi's reluctant because she says that having a tattoo would bar her from being buried in a Jewish cemetery.
Abbi's concern may have seemed like a throwaway line. But, as intrepid Broad City viewer and Jerusalem Post reporter Lahav Harkov pointed out on Twitter, that's actually a longstanding myth. (And, yes, at least a couple R29 editors were floored.)
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To be fair, the idea that you cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery if you have tattoos didn't appear out of thin air. According to the Torah, it's forbidden to "incise any marks on yourselves." Those who were forcibly tattooed during the Holocaust or used temporary tattoos for fun are exempt, but, in general, Jewish people are strongly discouraged against voluntarily getting permanent tattoos.
"The Torah has a very clear prohibition on tattoos," says Rabbi Esther Reed of Rutgers Hillel. But, she adds that the Torah doesn't state that having a tattoo is grounds for exclusion from a proper funeral and burial site. "That's definitely a misconception," she says.
Whether someone with a tattoo is admitted or not is up to individual cemeteries and synagogues — one might refuse service, while another might not even bat an eye at some ink. Case in point: The famously tattooed Amy Winehouse was interred at a Jewish cemetery following her cremation.
Considering how widespread this myth appears to be, we can't fault Broad City for referencing it, whether or not the writers knew it wasn't true (FWIW, Curb Your Enthusiasm also referenced this misconception in 2002). And, in case you paused the episode to find out the truth, spoiler alert: Abbi bites the bullet and gets a lower-back tattoo depicting Oprah. We're guessing she'd be relieved to know that she probably doesn't have to worry about the whole Jewish cemetery thing.
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