WHY NO EARRINGS?
We love jewelry. A precious ornament says “I love you” when
given as a gift. A piece of adornment can also be a great gift to yourself,
serving as a silent, tactile affirmation – to give strength, give confidence,
and make the wearer feel beautiful.
Contemporary Judaic bracelets, necklaces and pendants are
the specialty of the house here at Alef Bet. We create jewelry from many
different materials, with many different “vibes”, literally ranging from
diamonds to leather. In fact, perhaps we should experiment with combining these
two, for a really interesting fusion?
What we don’t have too much of: earrings. Or nose-rings. Or
ornaments which would fit into any other punctured body-part.
We do get requests for earrings. And, we’ve gotten feedback
that some people conclude that we don’t make or sell earrings because we are
opposed to piercing, on religious, moral, ethical or esthetic grounds.
Not really. While we don’t pose as Talmudic scholars, we do
note that in the days of Rebekah, wife
of Isaac, and other Jewish matriarchs, piercing—of the NOSE, not the ears—was
accepted, and a woman’s nose-ring was a normal part of her attire, like her
bracelets…and maybe a nice cashmere sweater. (Genesis 24:22)
Piercing of the ears in those days seems more controversial,
and seems to have an association with enslavement (see EXODUS 21:6). The same
association, by the way, follows tattooing, which in ancient times was the mark
of a slave, like a cattle-brand. In other cultural traditions, tattooing has
strong associations with the criminal underworld and other behaviors considered
“deviant” by the mainstream.
Both piercing and tattooing get mixed reviews in various
traditions within the Jewish community, but hey, times change. In the past couple
of decades, extravagant multiple piercings and tattooing of the face, and even
the most intimate (!) reaches of the body, have become much more commonplace. The
fact that these once-taboo practices are so ordinary, so suburban, so
“everywhere”, seems to have robbed them of their once-outlaw or deviant status.
From a Judaic standpoint, this contemporary theatrical
approach to piercings—way beyond a discreet opening in the ear-lobe for a delicate
post or wire—seems to have more in common with pagan practice, and even with
some aspects of Christian sacred art. I am thinking especially of Latin (Italian,
Spanish, Mexican) Roman Catholic art, where drops of blood, crowns of thorns,
the Passion of Christ on the Cross, the sacred heart pierced by a sword, the
mortified flesh, and so on are depicted with graphic realism. This is where we
get the word “excruciating”—as in, the pain of a human body being removed from
the Cross. But, I digress.
Jewish sacred art has historically forbid this kind of
depiction, the stated reason being that it verges on idolatry. And in my
observation, the art of Islam follows a similar reasoning. This is part of why
the art forms of the Middle East and North Africa are filled with such dazzling
mathematical and geometric designs. Strictly speaking, depictions of humans and
animals were often discouraged in those artistic traditions.
In any case, maybe we’ll design some earrings for pierced
ears—almost no one I know can stand to wear clips or screw-backs. In fact, the
latter do indeed seem like something from the Spanish Inquisition! What about thorns….
But the nose-ring, in spite of its long Jewish history, will
have to wait. Ditto for the belly-button jewelry and all the rest.