Posted by: Steve Coplan | August 21, 2006


Apart from an indirect endorsement of vegetarianism and the concession of allowing the consumption of meat as a compromise, last week’s parsha Re’eh includes this prohibition against self-flagellation and mutilation:

“You are the children of Hashem: you shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead.”

The commentators tend to see this as a fairly straightforward admonition, since these exercises in self-inflicted capital punishments were associated with different cults (not unlike child sacrifice with the cult of Molloch), and are assumed not to have been a fabrication. Let’s assume even the most conservative estimates based on literary analysis that the bulk of the Torah is 1,500 years old. If that’s the case, then some fairly interesting practices have persisted amongst the Shia in Iraq and Pakistan, as the photo below from award-winning photojournalist Raul Gutierrez illustrates. Here’s a BBC report on the festival of Ashura, and one on the pilgrimmage to Karbala.



  1. “Accessing shared memory through pain.”

    Does the prohibition against mutilation includes piercing and tattoos?

  2. Yes indeed. Technically speaking, you cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery with tattoos.

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