24

According to the Talmud in Bava Batra 14a, the Luchot HaBrit were square. As a side note, I have seen those "correctly-modeled Luchot" in the Shteblach of Meah Shearim.

Where did the common "tablet" shape come from, with rectangles and a rounded top, like those that we 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?

4
  • 2
    Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/17068
    – msh210
    Jun 14, 2012 at 16:23
  • Where does it say they were square? even with rounded top or rounded corners , it could be 6x6
    – Al Berko
    Feb 22, 2019 at 12:41
  • The Israeli chief rabbinate at one point had the rounded luchos (on their website) then changed it to the square shape some few years ago. Why they did it I think they took on board what the Lubavitcher Rebbe said on this matter. Feb 22, 2019 at 13:03
  • See pirkei Avos 5:6 with Bartenura (s.v. V’haluchos). He adds that they were rolled up. I don’t know his source Aug 15, 2022 at 16:59

4 Answers 4

21
  • 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 Luchot @zaq

Click to enlarge:

enter image description here

5
  • 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, 2012 at 16:52
  • The majority opinion in the Talmud (Shekalim 25a) thought all 10 commandments were written on each tablet, not 5 and 5 with different size letters.
    – Double AA
    Aug 8, 2017 at 16:05
  • Very interesting. Does anyone mention what it weighed?
    – DanF
    May 11, 2018 at 13:44
  • I’ve been trying for a long time to figure it out. If they were carved all the way through on all sides it would have been much much lighter than one would have originally imagined. One day I’ll have a fast enough computer to fully render my 3D model and take a guess.
    – zaq
    Dec 31, 2021 at 3:23
  • @DanF, the Talmud Yerushalmi 4:5:2 says “The tablets were a load of forty seah but the writing was carrying them. When the writing flew off they were too heavy for Moses's hands, they fell, and broke”
    – zaq
    Mar 22, 2023 at 1:29
19

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.)

3
7

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.

0
3

Although many sources say that the Luchos was squared, Rabbi Ben Zion Mutzafi quoting a Zohar in Parshas Yisro and the Ramak רבי משה קורדובירו says that it was squared at the bottom and rounded on the top.

2
  • Upon followup he says this is found in אור חמה צג, which is a bit ambiguous. Could be here or here or here, but I can't find any such reference. You?
    – Yishai
    May 19, 2015 at 21:05
  • The reference is here (bottom left): link
    – mosheb
    Jun 3, 2022 at 2:29

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .