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There is precedent in halachah that one may not create images of celestial bodies such as the moon and stars; see here for background. This is derived in the Gemara from the pasuk "Do not make [images of that which is] with me."


Given the following mitigating factors, would accurate flat images of such bodies be permissible to create today?

  • The context of the pasuk relates to idol worship, and worship of celestial bodies is negligible in the West today

  • The inclusion of flat images in the Biblical prohibition altogether is subject to disagreement among the Rishonim (see Gershon's answer)

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Any reason why the Biblical prohibition against making images of celestial bodies should change based on if anyone else worships them? – Double AA Feb 13 '13 at 20:04
@DoubleAA the identity of which images are included in the Biblical prohibition at all is a machlokes Rishonim. Beyond that, I'm not well-versed enough in meta-halachah to know whether we ever "freeze" a Biblical prohibition based on historical considerations. – yitznewton Feb 13 '13 at 20:09
@DoubleAA, better? – Seth J Feb 13 '13 at 21:32
I think it's rather stronger than an "assumption" that this prohibition is based on the worship of these objects. Also, as the OP I must object to others transparently attributing assumptions to me in edits. – yitznewton Feb 13 '13 at 22:03
@yitznewton, feel free to re-edit! (An explanatory edit summary may help prevent further such edits.) – msh210 Feb 13 '13 at 23:07
up vote 4 down vote accepted

The Rambam ruled in Hilkhos A.Z. 3:18

אסור לצור דמות חמה ולבנה כוכבים ומזלות ומלאכים, שנאמר "לא תעשון, איתי" (שמות כ,יט)--לא תעשון כדמות שמשין המשמשין לפניי במרום, ואפילו על הלוח.

it is forbidden to fashion the likeness of the sun, the moon, the stars, the constellations, or the angels, as it is said (Ex. 20:19): "Do not make with Me [gods of silver...]" -- do not make the likeness of servants that serve before Me on high, not even on a tablets.

In the Peirush al ha-Mishna (A.Z. 3:3) his intent is clarified:

צורת חמה ולבנה - אין ענינו שימצא עיגול ויאמר זו השמש או חצי עיגול ויאמר זה הירח, אלא בעלי "הטלאסם" מיחסים לכוכבים צורות עד שאומרים צורת שבתאי צורת זקן שחור מופלג בזקנה, וצורת נוגה צורת נערה יפה עדויה זהב, וצורת השמש צורת מלך מוכתר יושב בעגלה, וכך מיוחסים לכל המזלות והכוכבים צורות רבות, והם חלקין באותן הצורות מחלוקת גדולה, מפני שהם דברי שקר, והשקר על איזה דבר שיהיה מתרבה ויתרחב בלי ספק. ואמרו צורת חמה ולבנה, רוצה לומר שימצא הצורה המיוחסת לחמה והצורה המיוחסת ללבנה לפי איזו דעה שתהיה.

"The form of the sun and the moon" - This does not concern one who comes upon a sphere and says that it is the sun or upon a half-sphere and says this is the moon, rather it refers to Baalei Talesam (i.e. those who circulate talismans, astrologers, etc.) who associate stars to forms to the extent that they say Saturn's form is is that of an dark man of ripe old age, and Venus's form is the form of fine maiden bedecked with gold, and the form of the sun is the form of a crowned king sitting atop a chariot, and so forth they connect all of the stars and constellations to many forms, and they are divided over those forms into great controversy, for they are falsehood, and the lies about this matter undoubtedly increases and expand. "The form of the sun and the moon" that is to say the form connected to the sun and the form connected to the moon in accordance with whichever belief is extant.

It would appear that at least according to the Rambam, simply representing various astronomical entities is not in and of itself forbidden. It is only when they are symbolically represented in the fashion of Baalei Talesam that it becomes prohibited. I do not believe that he would have taken issue with NASA photos, models of the solar system which one might find in the classroom, and similar such representations.

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Hi Deuteronomy and welcome to Mi Yodeya! I've made a minor edit to your answer (formatting only) to make the quotes easier to read; I hope you don't mind. I look forward to seeing you around the site. – Monica Cellio Feb 14 '13 at 3:56
@MonicaCellio - Thanks for the welcome and no problem :) – Deuteronomy Feb 14 '13 at 4:59
Certainly interesting sources and analysis, but I'm not sure that it's terribly compelling to say that in his halachic code he omitted a detail that entirely negates the plain meaning of the text. Perhaps it's more plausible that he changed his mind by the time he wrote the Mishna Torah. – Loewian Jan 28 at 5:20

Per Torah.org

Contemporary poskim debate whether taking a photograph of the sun or the moon is similar to drawing a flat image. Several rule stringently on this issue.

There is an Igros Moshe Orach Chaim 5 - 9:6 that discusses this, however I am not able to find it online.

Minchas Yitzchok 10:72 seems to prohibit it, however says it may be permitted with difficulty for learning purposes.

Shevet HaLevi 7:134 is leaning a bit more towards allowing it, however he says it is clear that it is prohibited to own the printed picture..

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Shevet haLevi leans towards permitting taking the picture, but he says it is clear that it is prohibited to own the printed picture. – Double AA Feb 13 '13 at 20:08

When Tzivos Hashem was founded, the Lubavitcher Rebbe asked Michel Shwartz to draw a logo for it. In its first draft, he included a picture of the sun and the moon (I've seen a copy a while ago. The sun was (IIRC) a full circle inside the red part of the Tzaddik and a (waxing/waning crescent) moon inside the blue part).

The Rebbe told him to remove the moon and stars "as this was idol worship"

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