Question: I would like to speak to a youth group about graffiti in the Jewish religion. Is it a frowned upon form of art in the Jewish religion?
Thank you for your excellent question. There are many volumes of the Talmud speaking of the laws of torts and damages, mostly referring to the consequences of accidentally damaging another person’s property. Intentionally damaging another person’s property is considered to be theft, and is most certainly forbidden. Even though graffiti is very common in Israel, there is no excuse for doing so if it is not your own property, and anyone who defaces another person’s property must pay for the damages, unless the owner gives them permission. Even if the owner forgives them permission later, and does not demand their right to payment, the act itself is a sin if it is done without permission.
However, there is nothing wrong with the modern-day art form itself if it is done to your own property or with the permission or hiring of the property owner where it is done. I would imagine that there must be some religious graffiti artists who do ask permission, considering how widespread it is in Jerusalem.
To summarize, there is nothing wrong with the art form itself, as long as it is done with permission (or on paper or another medium).
All the best,