Photo Credit: Bgelo777, Wikimedia
Wax figure of Queen Elizabeth II at Madame Tussauds.

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.

We then cited Rabban Gamaliel’s response to a gentile who questioned him about his using a bathhouse that was adorned with Aphrodite, that when the idol adorns a place that has a very mundane use such as a bathhouse there is no violation of any biblical law as regards idolatry. We also noted that an object that was never served as an idol is also not in violation. We also noted, like Rosh, the view of Chida that coins with human forms are not treated as forbidden objects, even though the depicted images protrude.

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Answer: The reason for leniency in this matter finds its source in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 64a) where we find the following, which in itself reflects the ongoing battle that Bnei Yisrael had waged against idolatry. The battle was so overwhelming that they cried out, the verse (Nehemia 9:4) states, “…and they cried with a loud voice unto the Eternal L-rd their G-d.”

The Gemara asks, “What did they cry?” R. Yehuda said, or as others say, it was R. Yochanan who said: “Woe, woe it is the very same idolatry that destroyed the Sanctuary, destroyed our Holy Temple, slew the righteous, and exiled the children of Israel from their land, and it still cavorts amongst us. Have you not set it forth before us [as a temptation] for the purpose that we receive reward [when we resist it]? We desire neither it nor its reward.” Thereupon they fasted for three days, all the while beseeching Heavenly mercy. Then a note fell from Heaven with the word Emet written upon it. R. Chanina commented: This proves that the seal of Hashem is Emet – truth.

The Gemara continues: “And the shape of a fiery lion’s whelp issued forth from the Kodesh Kodashim – the Holy of Holies. The prophet [Nehemia] called out to the people of Israel: ‘This is the one that tempts us to idolatry.’ As they held it firmly, a single hair from its body fell out, and his painful roar was heard four hundred parsa away.

“Witnessing his pain, the people cried out: ‘What are we to do? Perhaps Heaven will have pity on him!’ Nehemia responded: ‘Cast him into a lead cauldron, cover it with lead to absorb his voice, as it is written (Zechariah 5:8) “And he said, ‘This is wickedness,’ and he cast it into the midst of the ephah, and he cast a stone’s weight of lead upon the mouth.”

Thus the pain, evil inclination to worship idols was destroyed. The Gemara relates how seeing their success over this enemy led them to seek to destroy other aspects of the evil inclination, such as the desire to sin via lust. But when they succeeded in so doing, they discovered that not a single egg was laid by a single chicken in the land; this meant that all procreation had ceased. Realizing the impossibility of their request, they changed their request in a manner that altered that lust so as to curb the lust for forbidden relations.

Now, as to any image, whether it appears as a statue, an adornment (such as a cameo) or even a coin, it is only forbidden if it is worshipped. Surely these are not worshipped.

Maharsha (Sanhedrin 64a) explains why the image of a lion’s whelp (a lion’s cub) is used. Since the mazal of the month of Av, during which the Holy Temple was destroyed, is the lion and the destruction was due to their idol worship, the prophet told them this was the evil inclination that caused the destruction of the first Temple.

The Gaon Rabbi Menashe Klein, zt”l, is quoted as asking (Responsa Mishneh Halachot), “What is the yetzer hara doing in the Holy of Holies [such] that it is from there he emanates; it should be that he emanates from a different source such as a place of defilement. The answer is that one is juxtaposed against the other. It is specifically there, where the entirety of that sacred space is the power of thought, that idol worship seizes the heart and core of the person. Just as we find that water, which is the source for tahara, ritual cleansing, also causes food to become tamei, ritually unclean.

The Chasam Sofer (Derashot 1: page 48) sees the enactment of our daily order of prayer and the established of synagogues in every place [of Jewish settlement] as the principal means of eradicating idol worship. He decries those who lack the proper kavana, intention, in their prayer as this stirs the ire of Hashem.

Now as to Madam Tassaud’s or any other wax museum, the objects are not fashioned for idol worship but for sheer entertainment; therefore, if one wishes to have a personal picture with Winston Churchill, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin or Ronald Reagan, that is probably the only venue to do so. These figures, in addition, are formed from a type of material that is not permanent and which without proper care would begin to break down – hardly what one would expect for one fashioning an idol.

(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.