Tattoo Ideas: Hebrew Words + Phrases
The Hebrew tattoo craze exploded once mega-celebrities such as Madonna and Britney Spears began practicing Kaballah and Victoria Beckham and her soccer superstar husband, David Beckham, got matching Hebrew tattoos as a testament to their love and devotion. However, just like the Japanese kanji craze at the turn of the century, foreign lettering tattoos in any language are subject to scrutiny and misinterpretation unless you speak the language yourself or know (and trust) someone who does. First of all, not many American cliches and idioms translate directly into a phrase that makes sense in another language. Commonplace sayings like "keep it real" or "what the hell" lose their meaning when translated into a different dialect. Additionally, there is not a Hebrew equivalent to every single American word that exists. Many times translation websites simply select a translation that comes closest to the original word. In Hebrew lettering, the same set of characters is used to mean "human" as well as "husband", depending on the context, so that a tattoo that is supposed to say "I love my husband" can just as easily mean "I love my human".
Keep in mind also that there is a very specific calligraphy and style of lettering for each Hebrew character. Foreign languages that utilize characters have precise lines and nooks and crannies that we as Americans may not understand. It's not like the English alphabet where an A is an A no matter how shabbily it is drawn; if it has two long lines and a shorter line connecting the two, it's an A. Hebrew characters, on the other hand, may look astoundingly similar but actually mean something completely different.
When we write in English, it doesn't matter if our style of writing is print or cursive, bubble letters or block letters. The same is not true in many foreign languages, including Hebrew.
Thanks to this biblical studies site for pointing out these errors.
So if you're thinking about getting a Hebrew tattoo, be sure to consult not just one, but several sources beforehand. Just as we have modern English and Old English, other languages have modern and ancient dialects as well. Online translators can be helpful but are not always accurate; it is best to find a native speaker or Hebrew scholar just to be sure.