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Question: Is one allowed to go to Madam Tassaud’s Wax Museum? is this not a violation of the Torah’s prohibition of graven images?

Ben Moseson
Via email



Answer: Let us review the biblical prohibition as regards graven images. It is found numerous times in the Torah, among them twice in the Decalogue – the Ten Commandments, first in the Yitro (Exodus 20:3,5) and repeated in Va’etchanan (Deuteronomy 5:7,9). We shall focus on these two identical citations. “You shall not have any other gods beside Me . . . You shall not make for yourself any carved idol, or any likeness of anything that is in Heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth”; and “You shall not bow down to them, nor shall you serve them, for I am a jealous G-d, punishing the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me and showing mercy to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

During the kriat HaTorah, the Torah reading in the synagogue of the two parshiyot Yitro and Va’etchanan, it is the custom for all to rise at the reading of the Aseret Hadibrot – the Decalogue, because it was these the Ten Commandments that Hashem gave Bnei Yisrael at Mount Sinai, and as such they are the fundamental foundation of our relationship with Hashem.

Now, it is clear that we are prohibited from fashioning any type of idol. The question that we must consider is whether the prohibition extends to fashioning any type of image?

Interestingly, Rabbi Moshe Sofer, zt”l discusses (Responsa Chatam Sofer, Yoreh De’ah 130) whether one is allowed to learn the art of sculpture as a means of livelihood, and with certain specific guidelines he would permit one who is so inclined to do so – although this entails fashioning an image, whether human or animal. Perhaps this might be the source to allow the two lions that appear to be holding up the Luchot with the Ten Commandments that is found above many an aron kodesh.

Another type of image we find is that which is engraved on coinage. One of the early coins is that of our Patriarch Abraham. In the Gemara in Perek Hagozel Eitzim (Bava Kama 97b) “The Sages taught: ’what is the coin of Jerusalem, David and Solomon on the obverse and Jerusalem the holy city on the reverse. And what is the coin of our Patriarch Abraham, an elderly man and an elderly woman on the obverse and a young man and a young woman on the reverse.” There are numerous views as to whether the image was a facsimile of Abraham and Sarah [the elder couple] and Isaac and Rebecca [the younger couple] or merely mention of their names. Similarly as regards the coinage of Jerusalem, were the actual images of King David and King Solomon engraved thereupon or merely the mention of their names?

Rashi (ad loc s.v. “zaken u’zekeina”) says it was Abraham and Sarah, which implies their images. Tosafot (ad loc s.v. “matbe’ah shel Avraham Avinu“) say that the words zaken u’zekena, bachur u’betula were engraved but not the images of the elder couple and the younger couple because to engrave an image is forbidden.

On the other hand, what would the image on a coin be? It would obviously be a headshot, as we find on our modern-day coinage in America, usually the headshot of a president or one of the founding fathers or, in England and the Commonwealth, the image of the sovereign. In such instances, Rosh (Avodah Zara, to the 3rd perek, ot 5) would permit engraving of the head without the body.

(To be continued)


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.