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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



Synopsis: We first reviewed the Torah’s prohibition as it relates to graven images and the reverence that we accord the reading of the Ten Commandments by standing during their twice-yearly reading. We cited the Chatam Sofer in relation to whether one who wishes to sculpt (for a living) is allowed to do so. He is inclined to permit it in certain specific guidelines. We also discussed the image on the coinage of the time of the patriarch Abraham, where there seems to have been a graven image of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca. We noted that the image was probably only a headshot and, as such, Rosh would permit it.

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Answer: We might ask why a headshot on a coin or in any other form is permitted – is that still not a graven image? The Mishna (Avoda Zara 44b) relates that Pruklus b. Philosofus asked Rabban Gamaliel, who happened to be in the same bathhouse of Aphrodite in Acre (Aphrodite was an adornment of that bathhouse): “It says in your Torah (Deuteronomy 13:18) “And nothing of that that was devoted to destruction, [the graven images] shall remain in your hand.” So how do you bathe in this bathhouse adorned and dedicated to Aphrodite? He responded: “We don’t issue [or even discuss] rulings in a bathhouse [where one is not clothed]. After they left, he responded: I didn’t go into her domain, she came into my domain. They didn’t say let’s make a bathhouse as an adornment for Aphrodite, rather they said let’s make Aphrodite as an adornment for the bathhouse.”

Rashi (to the Mishna ad loc) explains he gave two answers. First, the bathhouse was constructed for all who come to use it – and by what right may Aphrodite come and steal from the public their right to use it? Additionally, they didn’t say, “Let’s make a bathhouse as an adornment for Aphrodite; rather they said, “Let’s make Aphrodite as an adornment for the bathhouse.”

The Mishna continues with yet a further response of Rabban Gamaliel; “If they paid you a nice sum, you would not go before your idolatry when naked and in a state of uncleanness and even urinate before it. This statue stands upon the [sewer] channel and all come and urinate before it. Does it not say “These are their gods that you are to destroy.” [He responded] that which was worshipped as an idol is prohibited [and] that which is not used for purposes of idolatry is permitted.”

Interesting is how the Mechaber rules regarding such graven images, even when not found in a bathhouse (Yoreh De’ah 141:1). “All graven images of the idolaters when found in the villages are prohibited, because most probably their purpose is for idolatry; those found in the city are permitted as they surely for the purpose of adornment [only].

However (here he is quoting the Rambam, Hilchot Avoda Zara chap. 7:6), if they are found above the city gate and in its hand is the image of a scepter, a bird, a disc, a sword, a crown or a ring [then they are prohibited, otherwise they are presumed to be for the purpose of adornment and are permitted].

Rema in his glosses (ad loc Y.D. 141:1) states: “Images to which they were found to be bowing have the same rule as those that we know for sure are for the purpose of idol worship and are prohibited, where they were not nullified. However, as to those that are worn around the neck just as a keepsake, are not considered as prohibited images and are permitted.

Thus, what we are dealing with is objects that were either surely served or objects that were not served but might possibly be served. Concerning the latter, there is room for leniency (see Shach Yoreh De’ah 142 sk2).

Now as to coinage the Chida (Birkei Yosef, Yoreh De’ah 141: sk 6,7) rules that we are lenient [even] when they bear a human image that protrudes. Now just imagine if the ruling would be otherwise – how would we deal with our money, as almost every coin bears some sort of human image.

(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.