Shabbat Special: Welcome the Good Hebrew Tattoos

Welcome to the first Shabbat Special, the one corner of Bad Hebrew Tattoos that is not about Hebrew tattoos gone wrong!

In this new weekly corner, published every Saturday, I'll showcase Hebrew tattoos which are lovely and special, and also some bad Hebrew that isn't necessarily tattoo related.

Today's feature is a nicely rendered tattoo of the name Yosef (the Hebrew form of Joseph). See how the name is seamlessly embedded into the design? That's a good Hebrew tattoo!

Yosef tattoo is a work of Theresa Gordon Wade.

Also, behold this truly beautiful Hamsa. Hamsa, in the Jewish tradition (and several others, too) is a symbol of good luck and protection from the evil eye. I'd have to say the charm worked, as the tattoo looks really good.

Tattoo by Tyson Ward.

You should know - the good Hebrew tattoos are extremely rare. I don't mean correct Hebrew tattoos, there is plenty of that going around. I mean the genuinely good looking, thought out, beautiful tattoos. Those are a rarity.

Do you know of any Hebrew tattoo that fits the bill? Mail it to, for a chance to be featured on BHT's Shabbat Special!

Bi-Directional Fail

Today's Hebrew tattoo is just a little bit strange.

This girl either wanted to make double-sure that her tattoo is readable or just to confuse the heck out of whoever tries to read it. Whatever the explanation might be, the words are rotated in different directions: To read the first word, you need to tilt your head to the left, but to read the other two, tilt your head right.

She went to all this trouble, and still, every single word in this tattoo is written backwards!

The words by themselves are simple enough, this victim of the Hebrew language went for "Life Love Trust".

Of course, she might have meant something else entirely. Something along the lines of "Live, Love, Believe" for example, but that's just my unconfirmed guesswork.

Yes. This is how "Life Love Trust" is meant to be written in correct, right to left, Hebrew:

I'll repeat once again for the sake of the uninitiated: Hebrew language is written right-to-left. Forgetting this simple fact might bring you a skinfull of grief.

Beware of Spiritual Gematria Gibberish

Today's victim has an especially spiritual Hebrew tattoo. So spiritual, in fact, that its impossible to know what he meant by it at all...

See, according to the victim, this Hebrew tattoo is supposed to have some Gematria meaning.

Gematria is the Jewish practice of converting Hebrew letters into numbers and then looking for some special meanings based on that value. This practice is of course completely bogus - you can pick and choose your results to suit your agenda, but it looks impressive enough to con the ignorant. For example, it might lead you to believe that Sarah Palin is the devil's disciple.

Back on topic, today's Hebrew tattoo is simply composed of random letters, and does not mean anything. Sure, it might convert to some number in Gematria, but who cares? In the Hebrew language this tattoo is just a pile of gibberish.

Eternally Misspelled

Today's victim went in for an "Eternity" Hebrew tattoo, got a proper translation and everything. Alas, it is so very difficult to match what you see in a picture to the actual letters that come out of your keyboard...

Lovely, isn't it? Three letters, and she even managed to get one of them right. Good job!

Instead of "Netsach" (eternity in Hebrew), her tattoo says "Betsat" which means "egg of". The girl just needs to add "surprise", and her tattoo will take a much tastier turn...

One of the mistakes is the same one that brought to the downfall of Wise Guy from previous post, with the Hebrew letters Tav and Het which are somewhat similar to each other.

The other mistake, however, is far stranger. The Hebrew letters Bet and Nun look nothing alike!

And this is how you correctly write "Eternity" in Hebrew:

Remember boys and girls, when mapping your Hebrew letters from a picture - it's important to get an exact match. Kinda-sorta matching is not good enough when your skin is on line!

So You Think You're Wise?

Self confidence is very important. If you think highly of yourself, you need to let everyone know! Like today's victim. He went for a Hebrew tattoo that was supposed to say "Wisdom":

Unfortunately, and quite ironically, this "Wisdom" tattoo is misspelled. In Hebrew wisdom is "Chokhma", but this guy spelled it as "Tokhma" instead. I'd say this is a rather stupid mistake.

This is what went wrong:

The letters Tav and Het look a bit similar, but they're not the same, and definitely not interchangeable! Maybe our wise guy is simply in need of a new pair of reading glasses?

And to wrap things up, this is how you correctly write "Wisdom" in Hebrew:

The Girl with the Drunk Tattoo

Check out this party girl's ink! She wanted a Hebrew tattoo saying "Celebrate Life", and somehow ended up with this:

At first glance it appears to be just random gibberish. However, closer study shows this to be a very confused rendition of the drinking toast "L'Chaim", which in Hebrew means "To Life!".

Celebrating life with a drink is all well and good, but I'd advise against getting Hebrew tattoos while under the influence.

Trust me, when the room is spinning, that's not the best time to either get or give a tattoo. You might get stuck with something really embarrassing. Like a drinking toast. With randomly rotated letters. Written backwards.

Just so you can compare, this is how you're supposed to write "L'Chaim" (To Life) in Hebrew:

The Girl with a Price Tag

In the last post we have seen a guy who got lucky, his misspelled Hebrew tattoo had a different-from-expected meaning, but it wasn't that bad. Today's victim, though, is very much the opposite:

This poor girl wanted her Hebrew tattoo to say a spiritual "I am free". She got her Hebrew backwards, but that's the least of her troubles. This unfortunate creation actually says "I'm for free". Really, this Hebrew tattoo beats any tramp stamp hands down!

The troublemaker here is of course the word "free". In English, this one tiny word contains many meanings. There is liberty (free as a bird) and then there is without cost (a free sample).

In Hebrew, the different meanings of "free" are contained in two different words. There is Chofesh that means "freedom", and there's Chinam - translated as "for free". I bet you know by now which one was unwittingly chosen by our poor victim...

Are you after your own "I am free" tattoo? This is how you correctly write it in Hebrew:

Mind, free as in "I am free" is gender specific. The free in "Free samples" is not.

The Guy Who Shared

Today's victim is a self taught scholar of the Hebrew language. He wanted a Hebrew tattoo saying "Shataph" (washed, flooded away). Observe the result:

I must admit, it was a brave effort, he almost did it. Unfortunately, there are two T letters in the Hebrew language and this guy chose the wrong one.

The word does have a meaning, just not the intended one. It can be read as "Shiteph" (shared) or "Shutaph" (partner). All the meanings derived from this word are sharing related, they have nothing to do with washing.

We've already seen the correct way to write the "Shataph" that means washed in Hebrew, just check out the wash-and-repeat guy, he got it right. It's written like this:

Still, I think today's victim is very lucky. His Hebrew tattoo actually has a meaning, a nice meaning too. What do they say? Sharing is caring...

The Gibberish Warrior

Today's victim is a real tough guy. Not only does he wear camo, he also got a Hebrew tattoo labeling himself as a warrior.

Or at least warrior in Hebrew was the intention... The result is just a sad gibberish tattoo.

It's interesting, we've already seen a warrior girl who ended up with a strange tattoo, now we also have the guy version.

This tattoo almost looks like a case of keyboard misuse (switching the keyboard to Hebrew and typing in the English word), except it's not consistent with the standard English-to-Hebrew keyboard mapping. I have no idea how he got it, do you?

Now, below is the correct Hebrew spellings of "warrior". You can see that it looks nothing like the random gibberish this guy got inked on his arm.

Yes, warrior is a gender specific word in Hebrew, don't say you weren't warned!

Jamil's First Hebrew Lesson

Continuing with the Hebrew tattoo name trend, today we have a victim named Jamil. Clever guy that he is, Jamil decided to conquer the Hebrew language all by himself...

He failed miserably. This Hebrew tattoo is impossible do decipher. It's a road map to disaster.

Instead of a J sound in Jamil, there's a G (as in God).

You can see that the tattoo was supposed to be a top-to-bottom feature, but there are actually two letters in one of the rows. Yes, Yod is a smallish letter, but it still deserves a row of its own!

We've seen that some of the Hebrew letters have two forms, the regular and the final. See the following table:

Our friend Jamil probably found a similar table and saw that the letter Mem has two forms. What did he do? He thought it would be best to use both forms in his tattoo. Better safe than sorry? Not in this case.

Now, this is how you properly write Jamil in Hebrew:

You see how I wrote the name right to left? It's because the letters are of different heights, it would look quite awkward and ugly written from top to bottom.

Worst Hebrew Jessica So Far

Edit: Yes, I admit it, I was wrong. As pointed out by Anonymous, Yiska is the original Hebrew name for Jessica (and I never knew!!). Most Hebrew speakers would probably be confused by this rather obscure name, but it's all true.

Deep apologies to the owner of this not-wrong-after-all tattoo. I'm leaving the post up, just so you can see that Typo can go wrong too.

Jessica is a popular name for girls, and apparently many of them want their names on Hebrew tattoos. I have already had the pleasure of hosting a bad Jessica tattoo here on the site a while back. The badness of today's entry, though... is very hard to beat.

To make a long story short, this tattoo says "Iska". I would have never identified this as "Jessica", had the owner not said so herself.

There are three big problems here, and a fourth smaller one:
  • The worst is the substitution of J by the Hebrew letter Yod. We've seen the same thing in Christina Aguilera's Hebrew tattoo. Unlike Aguilera's case, however, this one is a definite mistake that cannot be explained away!
  • The I in Jessica is tragically missing. Wherever did it go?
  • The Nikkud (vowels) is completely random. Honestly, if you don't know your Nikkud, it is much better to leave it out than to proceed making a fool of yourself.
  • And the most insignificant: The C in Jessica is not the one conventionally used for this name. The name Jessica is usually written with a Qof, while the tattoo uses a Kaf. It's not a very big deal, but the natives would notice.
Yes, this is how "Jessica" can be turned into "Iska" in just four easy steps!

Now, if you're also happen to be named Jessica, and you're after a Hebrew tattoo of your very own, this is how it's correctly written in Hebrew:

And do remember folks, if it's a name tattoo that you desire, never attempt composing it yourself! Even if you feel confident in your Hebrew abilities, there are conventions for writing foreign names in modern Hebrew, and you're very unlikely to get it right.

The only way to avoid a wreck is by asking a native Hebrew speaker for a translation, then verifying with another native speaker (you can never be too sure!). You could also use Reut's translation service. She's the one responsible for the surprising lack of bad Hebrew tattoos on Flickr these days...

Hebrew Inked Celebs: Christina Aguilera

The pop singer Christina Aguilera followed the hottest trend by getting her very own Hebrew tattoo:

And like many others who follow this particular trend, her Hebrew tattoo is a bad one.

Christina was going for the initials of her husband, Jordan Bratman, so her tattoo is supposed to say JB. Unfortunately, when you look at it, you just see the number 12 (like in 12th grade), as that's what this letter combination means in Hebrew.

See, biblical Hebrew doesn't have the letter J, and whoever advised Christina was probably unaware of the modern alternative, and used the letter Yod instead. You don't need to be a Hebrew linguist to realize that a letter named Yod doesn't sound much like the J in Jordan.

The second, and bigger, problem is that in Hebrew you don't just write initials as a bunch of letters. For Hebrew initials and acronyms you use a special punctuation mark called Gershayim (and looks like double quotes), before the last letter. When writing foreign initials, you just spell out the letters fully.

As for JB, the best way is definitely to spell it out (Jay.Bee), using the modern spelling of J (Gimel with Geresh). This is what Christina Aguilera should have gotten:

Tramp Stamp for your Favorite Uncle

Usually I'd be the first objecting the label "tramp stamp", but sometimes you just can't fight the evidence...

I have only a vague clue as to what this Hebrew tattoo was meant to say, probably some variation of "Beloved Forever". In actuality, it says "Uncle World". What a great Hebrew inscription for your butt!

Seriously, though. In Hebrew it doesn't even convey the dirty meaning. It just means an uncle named World, or a world who is an uncle. Weird stuff.

What happened here is the use of the word Dod (nowadays known only as "uncle", while in old Hebrew it also meant "beloved") combined with the misuse of the word Olam (which means "world", and sometimes, in appropriate context, can also mean "forever").