Friday, November 14, 2008

Milkhig Dishes and Tattoo Burials

Milkhig Dishes

I was at a business dinner a few months ago. As the waiter brought me my completely sealed kosher dinner that had been delivered from a kosher restaurant and I proceeded to unwrap it, a colleague sitting next to me got very excited and started asking me repeatedly, "Where are the milkhig (dairy) dishes?" I assumed that he simply got his Jewish terms confused and explained to him that I was eating meat so I would not use a milkhig dish. He then asked me, in surprise, whether the term "milkhig dishes" actually means something. If you are reading this and you don't have cable TV, you're probably as confused as I was.

Click here to read moreHe explained that there is a TV show on cable, written by and starring Larry David, one of the co-creators of Seinfeld, that often discusses Jewish topics. Evidently, there was one episode in which the star pretended to keep kosher and then his kosher guest noticed that they were using the same dishes for meat and dairy, at which point she started yelling at the star "Where are the milkhig dishes?" and then he yelled the same question at his wife. However, the show does not seem to represent Judaism particularly accurately, and I had to explain to my colleague that we do not bury dishes that are used improperly. (There is a practice to take metal cutlery that was used improperly and bury it for three days, although I don't think it has any solid basis in Jewish tradition.)

Tatoo Burials

It seems in another episode, this show promulgated one of the biggest and most prominent myths about Jewish law. The star of the show's mother died but because she had a tattoo she was not allowed to be buried in a Jewish cemetery and was instead placed in a special section on the outskirts of the cemetery (see the summary of episode 26 here: link). I don't know who started this myth or how it became so famous, but it isn't true.

If my word is not sufficient, here is R. Shlomo Aviner writing about it (link):

It is forbidden to get a tattoo (Vayikra 19:28), but after someone already has violated this mitzvah, s/he is not disqualified from being buried in a Jewish cemetery (despite what many people think). There is also no obligation to remove the tattoo after death and there may even be a problem of “nivul ha-met” (desecrating the dead) if one cuts a corpse.

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