When actress Regina King won a Golden Globe award last night for her role in the movie If Beale Street Could Talk — a well-deserved nod, in my opinion! — many Jews off and on Twitter couldn’t help but notice her tattoo, which features what looks like three Hebrew letters.
(What’s the Hebrew tattoo on Regina King’s arm?)
— Emily L. Hauser (@emilylhauser) January 7, 2019
As a Hebrew speaker myself, I recognized the three letters as “hey, hey, ayin” — a combination of letters that does not mean anything in modern or biblical Hebrew.
Mysterious, I thought to myself, as I refreshed Twitter for the 873rd time and contemplated another snack (hey, a nursing mom’s gotta eat!). There is a long tradition of bad Hebrew tattoos, after all, but I was certain a brilliant actress like King would not stoop so low.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to do much digging to find out the tattoo wasn’t in Hebrew at all, at least according to its wearer. King herself explained the meaning of the tattoo way back in 2015.
She told Vulture that the tattoo means “unconditional love” in Aramaic. The backstory: King and her only son, Ian, got a matching tattoo of the three letters right before she took him to college. “We considered different ones,” she said, “but we felt this really embodies how we feel about each other.”
No matter your feelings about tattoos, the sentiments behind this particular one are just beautiful.
However, former Hasid and author Shulem Deen, who I assume has some knowledge of Aramaic, could not figure out what this word was.
Turns out it’s been noticed before, except… how exactly does Heh-Heh-Ayin translate to “unconditional love”? (Maybe nobody tell King that get tattoo is in fact gibberish…) https://t.co/iL3IsgyEtJ
— Shulem Deen (@shdeen) January 7, 2019
At this point, I was determined to get to the bottom of this. Thanks to a bit of judicious Googling, I learned that this three-letter combination refers to a Kaballistic principle: The letter sequence on King’s arm is one of 72 three-letter combinations in the Book of Exodus that are considered to be “names of God.”
The Kaballah Centre claims that each of these 3-letter sequences “have the extraordinary power to overcome the laws of nature in all forms, including human nature” and can “act like an index to specific, spiritual frequencies.” (Astute observers of early-2000s pop culture may recall that Madonna also sported a three letter tattoo, “lamed, ayin, vav,” in her video for “Die Another Day.” That, too, is considered a name of God!)
According to kabbalahnames.com, hey-hey-ayin stands for “here I stand today” (hineni omed hayom) and “unconditional love.” Its “functions” include “relieving bitterness and resentment” while encouraging “marriage, parenthood, and making friends.”
So there you have it. While King’s tattoo does stand for unconditional love, it’s not in Aramaic. But, hey, (hey, ayin!), unconditional love for our children is totally something we can totally get behind.