Hebrew is a Semitic language and is the official language of Israel. It is usually considered the language of the Jews, although not all people of Jewish descent speak Hebrew and many people who are not Jewish speak Hebrew. Hebrew is an ancient language that dates back thousand of years, and although there are modern variations spoken in Israel and around the world, Classical Hebrew is used for prayer and study. Hebrew tattoos have, surprisingly enough, become quite trendy.
Unlike English, Hebrew is written right to left. The Hebrew alphabet, known as the “alefbet” because the first letter is Alef, is comprised of 22 letters, none of which are vowels. For this reason, Hebrew is often written with small symbols called “nikkud” that aid pronunciation and facilitate understanding. Hebrew is correctly written with and without these dashes and dots, and those with enough fluency will have no problem reading either.
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 are 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.
Hebrew tattoos usually feature simple words or phrases, like 'love,' 'freedom,' or 'faithful'. Unfortunately, for every correctly translated Hebrew tattoo, there are tons of mis-translations and plain jibberish. Translating a word correctly into a language you don't speak is risky, because languages are complex and cultural meanings of specific words varies from place to place. In Hebrew, simply putting the nikkud (or the mark that represent vowels) in the incorrect place can completely change the meaning of the entire tattoo. For this reason, it is essential that you find a speaker of Hebrew to translate your tattoo. Be especially wary of sites that offer translations, because these can be just as untrustworthy as online translators even though you pay a fee. And remember, the tattoo artist most likely does not speak Hebrew and will not know if your chosen word or phrase is correct or not. Contemporary phrases and English idioms will not translate well into any language, including Hebrew.
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.