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Creating Forbidden Images

Adapted from a shiur by Rav Moshe Zev Granek on Parshas Beshalach

(לא תעשון אתי אלהי כסף ואלהי זהב לא תעשו לכם (שמות כ:כ

The Gemara (Rosh Hashana 24, Avoda Zara 43) explains that this pasuk is the source for a prohibition not to create images of humans, celestial bodies (e.g. sun, moon), angels, and the Beis Hamikdash or its kelim (utensils). The Gemara distinguishes between 3-D images (bolet) and 2-D images (shakua – sunken or flat), but Rishonim dispute the parameters.

  • Tosafos (in Rosh Hashana) – 2-D images of celestial bodies are forbidden (because that’s how they look in the sky), but all other images above are forbidden only when 3-D.
  • Ramban (in Avoda Zara) – Even 2-D images are forbidden to create; only retaining 2-D images when made by a non-Jew is permitted.
  • Rambam – Human 2-D images are permitted, but all other 2-D/3-D images are forbidden.
  • Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 141:1)Rules like Rambam, though some Acharonim are machmir for Ramban.

There are two other leniencies mentioned by the Shulchan Aruch:

  • L’hislamed – For educational purposes all images are permitted, though poskim dispute the parameters of l’hislamed.
  • Picture of human face/body alone– This is permitted (without the entire body), though some are machmir here too (see Pischei Teshuva). 

Commentaries also discuss creating an image of the Beis HaMikdash to size or kelim.

  • Rambam – Quotes the issur in Hilchos Beis HaBechira, not Avoda Zara. There are two nafka minas to the difference.
    • L’hislamed – If it’s in Beis Habechira, there is no heter for l’hislamed; if it’s in Avoda Zara, it is permitted.
    • Which measurements – If it’s based on Beis HaBechira, whichever Beis HaMikdash exists at that time (today is unclear), while if it’s about Avoda Zara, perhaps any of them.
  • May one make a replica of the Beis HaMikdash?
    • Salmas Chaim (O.C. 272) – No, because assur even not to scale unless it’s l’hislamed, and this doesn’t qualify.
    • Igros Moshe (Y.D. 3:33) – Yes, it’s not to size.
    • Minchas Yitzchok (10:73) – Intent for replica is possibly assur.
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