The Times chose to illustrate an article about genetic testing for breast cancer in Israel, a country with a high rate of the disease, with this photo:
There’s been a lot of flak about the nipple—or to be more accurate, the half-aureole. Is it appropriate for the front page of the Times? In today’s world, I suppose so, because there are no standards anymore, and the paper is trying to generate controversy and the resultant readership.
I get it. Even bloggers know that some T and A will get you a few hits, if that’s what you’re looking for. Apparently that’s what the Times is looking for, even in a breast cancer story.
But there’s more, lots more. Anyone who knows history knows that the tattoo is reminiscent of two things: the yellow Jewish stars the Jews were forced to wear in many Nazi countries, and the more permanent marks—the tattoos—that inmates of many concentration camps were forced to endure.
That’s the limit of most of the buzz in the media about objections to the photo, which has been considerable: the sexual aspects and the Holocaust references.
But I first saw the photo today in the actual newspaper—that’s right, dead tree version—because I’m at the home of relatives in New York for Thanksgiving. It struck me that, in addition to those two obvious controversies, there’s a more subtle one. Because the image the woman is wearing is both a Jewish star and a tattoo, it would most likely be doubly offensive to more strictly religious Jews who observe the Jewish laws about tattooing:
The source of this prohibition is Leviticus 19:28: “You shall not etch a tattoo on yourselves.” This prohibition applies to all tattoos besides those made for medical purposes, such as to guide a surgeon making an incision…
The human body is G‑d’s creation, and it is therefore unbefitting to mutilate G‑d’s handiwork…In ancient times, it was customary for idol-worshippers to tattoo themselves as a sign of commitment to their deity—much like an animal that is branded by its owner…The covenant of circumcision is unique in its being a sign in our bodies of our relationship with G‑d.
The NY Times is hardly known for its religiosity, but it certainly can’t plead ignorance of this Jewish teaching, because it published a lengthy article on this very subject in 2008, illustrated with another photo of a Jew with a tattoo designed to offend Jews of a more religious bent: