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According to the Talmud in Bava Batra 14a, the Luchot HabBerit were square. Where did the common "tablet" shape come from, with rectangles and a rounded top? Besides in pictures, I see it in Synagogues all the time. Is there a source for such a shape, or was it borrowed from Christian art? If the latter, should we try to replace them in our synagogues? (As a side note, I have seen correctly-modeled Luchot in the Shteblach of Meah Shearim.)

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Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/17068 –  msh210 Jun 14 '12 at 16:23
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3 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Indeed, the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l (sicha of Shabbos Parshas Ki Tisa 5741 secs. 55-57) called for them to always be depicted as square, in keeping with the Gemara you mentioned. (And Chabad publications long before that, as far back as 1942 at least, followed the same convention.)

He states that shape with rounded tops was popularized by non-Jewish printers. Wikipedia (lehavdil) traces it to the Middle Ages, when tablets of roughly that shape were in use for writing. (I also used to hear as a child that the non-Jews came up with this shape because it is reminiscent of a tombstone, thus suggesting (ר"ל) the death of Judaism; but I've never seen any written source that says so.)

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It's interesting, as here the Rebbe is standing by a podium with round luchos drawn on them –  Shmuel Brin Feb 2 '12 at 6:23
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@ShmuelBrill: true. This article speculates that Mesibos Shabbos may originally have been a local, non-Chabad organization, and so even when Merkos took it over they may not have been authorized to change its logo. –  Alex Feb 2 '12 at 6:37
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I heard in a recording of R' Akiva Tatz that it is a nice incorporation of a verse in Mishlei (3:3):

כתבם על לוח לבך

Write them on the tablet of your heart

The curved top luchos are an interpolation of a heart onto the luchos.

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Downvote just stam? –  YEZ Jun 8 at 2:26
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  • The luchot are a 1 amah cube of sapphire (6x6x6 tefachim) (Baba Basra 14a)
  • 3x6x6 tefachim individually (Baba Basra 14a)
  • The writing filled each side ("tradition". I think I saw this in a Gemara too)
  • There are more words in the first 5 commandments, so the letters were a smaller size to fit.(Mabit)
  • The letters were carved straight through the luchot. (Shmot 32:15)
  • The commandments may have been carved on all 6 sides of the cube. (Chikur HaDin II, ch. 2)

They may have looked something like this: Luchot @zaq

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+1 for the very cool illustration. :) –  Alex Feb 2 '12 at 16:20
    
I was mostly addressing the title "shape of the luchot". However, I planned on (and never got around to) editing the answer to make the point that the real shape of the luchot is actually rather complicated, and accurately representing them is equally so. While I personally think they should be represented by two rectangles making a square, as long as the icon of the luchot make you reflect on the ten commandments, then I don't think there is any harm in using the more recognizable-icon with the rounded tops. –  zaq Feb 10 '12 at 16:52
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