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Vatican university hosts symposium over the roles of tattoos in identity

VATICAN CITY--Tattooed mummies in ancient Egypt, Crusaders who branded their foreheads with crosses, and New Zealand's inked Maori warriors were fodder for an unusual conference at a Vatican university Tuesday on the role of tattoos in shaping identity.

“Into the Skin: identity, symbols and history of permanent body marks” was the brainchild of a Christian arts association and Israel's ambassador to the Holy See, an unlikely expert in the field given Judaism's prohibition of tattooing and the painful role that tattooed serial numbers played in the Holocaust.

Ambassador Mordechay Lewy acknowledged the paradox, saying the living memory of Auschwitz's blue death stamps added another layer to Jewish aversion to tattooing, which many orthodox rabbis forbid because it alters the human body as a divine creation.

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