UCL Hebrew & Jewish Studies


Tattoos in Jewish Languages

08 June 2022, 4:00 pm–5:00 pm

putple square with 'sacred ink: body marking through the ages' writton on it

Sacred Ink: Body marking through the ages online lecture by Prof. Lily Kahn and Prof. Aaron D. Rubin (Penn State University)

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to

All | UCL staff | UCL students | UCL alumni






Casey Johnson



This talk will explore the role of Jewish languages as a component of secular Jewish identity through the lens of tattoos. Many non-observant Jews in the contemporary world choose tattoos as a way of expressing their Jewish identity. While common Jewish symbols such as the magen david, hamsa, menorah, and others are popular choices for tattoos signalling the bearer’s Jewishness, many tattoos feature text in Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, and other Diaspora Jewish languages. Jewish-language material appearing in tattoos includes citations from the Bible, Mishnah, Talmud, Zohar, and other traditional Jewish texts in Hebrew and Aramaic, in addition to Yiddish proverbs, folk sayings, and songs, as well as individual words in a Jewish language referencing additional aspects of the bearer’s identity. In some cases the tattoos reflect the bearer’s familiarity with and strong connection to the language in question (e.g. tattoos in Yiddish chosen by Yiddishists and other individuals with a significant investment in Yiddish language and culture), while in other cases they are rooted in a symbolic desire to express a particular Jewish identity (e.g. Mizrahi, Ashkenazi, etc.), rather than a particular affiliation with the language in question. In this talk we will explore the various aspects of Jewish language tattoos, including the choice of language, the use of Hebrew script in various contexts, and the types of texts selected. Tattoos in Jewish languages offer us a fascinating insight into the powerful role that language and script plays in this quintessentially secular way of expressing Jewish identity.

Sacred Ink: Body marking through the ages programme (PDF)

The Department of Hebrew & Jewish Studies is hosting the Sacred Ink eLecture series, which focuses on body marking for ritualistic, aesthetic, and other benign purposes throughout the ages, from Ancient Egypt up to the present day. The eLectures take place each Wednesday from 27 April until 1 June 2022 from 16:00 until 17:00BST via Zoom. We are delighted to invite you to this free online event and we look forward to seeing you in one of the meetings.


About the Speakers

Prof Lily Kahn

Professor of Hebrew and Jewish Languages at UCL

Prof Kahn completed her BA (2003), MA (2004), and PhD (2008) in the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at UCL, specialising in Hebrew and Yiddish philology. She teaches Biblical Hebrew, Rabbinic Hebrew, Ugaritic, and Yiddish in the Department and is Co-Convenor of the interdepartmental BA in Ancient Languages. She supervises dissertations on Hebrew and Semitic linguistics. Her main research area is Hebrew in Eastern Europe. She is also interested in Yiddish, the history of Hebrew, comparative Semitic linguistics, Jewish languages, translation studies, endangered language revitalization, and the development of Hebrew and Yiddish pedagogical materials.

More about Prof Lily Kahn

Prof Aaron Rubin

Malvin E. and Lea P. Bank Professor of Jewish Studies, Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies, and Linguistics at Penn State

Professor Rubin teaches courses on Biblical Hebrew, biblical literature, and, when in demand, Arabic, Aramaic, Comparative Semitics, and Yiddish. He conducts research and has published on all periods of Hebrew, Aramaic, Modern South Arabian, Ethiopic, Comparative Semitic linguistics, and Jewish languages. He has published numerous articles and eight monographs, including A Brief Introduction to the Semitic Languages (Gorgias, 2010), Omani Mehri: A New Grammar with Texts (Brill, 2018), and Jewish Languages from A to Z (Routledge, 2021). He has also edited four books, most recently the Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics (4 vols, Brill, 2013) and the Handbook of Jewish Languages (Brill, 2016).