The Torah prohibits making certain images, (Deuteronomy 4:15-19). It includes males and females, animals, planets, and stars. It seems from these verses that a person's options when drawing the world around them are quite limited.

The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, (S' 168), goes in to some detail, prohibiting, from what I can tell, drawing certain types of angels, the sun, moon, and stars, the full face, (two eyes, full nose) of a person.

Where can I find more information about this topic, specifically what sort of things one can and cannot draw? I'm not looking for rules about other art forms, such as sculptures. Are their particular prohibitions for drawing people from Tanach? if I want to draw scenes or characters from Tanach, are there any that I would have to skip, due to their involving angels, or the moon?

Thank you!

  • Archeology has proven that Jews never had a taboo of drawing images. Devarim and the halachot, all refer to images for the sake of idolotry, not for random decorations.
    – avi
    Dec 26, 2013 at 7:40
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    The Kitzur is based on Avoda Zarah 43b
    – Baby Seal
    Dec 26, 2013 at 8:30
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    Perhaps. We were not perfect. I have seen some ancient artwork that did not show a full human face, so that would have been okay, based on what I know.
    – Baby Seal
    Dec 26, 2013 at 8:44
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    @Avi, we do find "writings of people", ie poskim, who object to a whole variety of such practices. The question brought a source for the problem and is asking for clarification, I do not see how the assumptions in your comments have clarified the question.
    – Yirmeyahu
    Dec 26, 2013 at 15:53

3 Answers 3


Maimonides Hil' Avodas Kochavim Ch. 3:10-11: prohibits drawing angels and heavenly bodies, and allows humans two-dimensionally, and other living things even when they are sculptures. the Kesef Mishnah there says that Maimonides is of the opinion that the only exception that can be made is for pedagogical purposes. He also says that Rabbi Isaac Alfasi espouses this view. The Tur codifies the Rif's opinion as such.

Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deyah 141 allows the drawing of angels, man and other living things, but prohibits any image of the sun moon or stars that is not for pedagogical purposes, (parenthetically the Tur's opinion about public pieces being allowed as there is no doubt of worship, is added in).

Tur Yoreh Deya 141 takes a similar stance to the Shulhan Aruh He even allows the sun and moon and the like to be sculpted if made for the public, but then he mentions the stance of Nahmanides, who prohibits not only drawing angels, but even drawing people.

Rabbi Yosef Berger told me that both humans and angels can be drawn, provided that the work remains flat. Thick oil paints would be an issue.

Within the above parameters, it seems as though depicting scenes from Tanach is allowed, as no mention is made of drawing specific scenes from Tanach being forbidden.


To echo what others have already said, I think creating artwork would only be problematic if it becomes questionable in terms of idolatry, or if it is for the purpose of placing a tattoo on the body (Leviticus 19:28), which also falls into the "idolatry" category since it would be an image on the self. Also, no art-making on shabbat, right? That's hard for me--I love to write. Honestly, I would imagine drawing characters from our Tanakh would be prohibited, since it sounds like a Roman or old Eastern art practice.

For more on this, here's a Jewish Encyclopedia excerpt that talks about the laws of beauty and construction thereof in Judaism. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/1823-art-attitude-of-judaism-toward I hope this helps.

  • Your first paragraph is partially unsourced and a little off topic, (no art on shabbat addresses the when of drawing, not the what, which was my question), consider revising to improve the answer.
    – Baby Seal
    Dec 26, 2013 at 19:50

Archeological evidence suggests that historically Jews did make two- and three-dimensional art, but were careful not to create art that depicted deities. While digs have not turned up much Jewish sculpture, archeologists have discovered much fine art on coins, for example. Also, depictions of the menorah on coins and lanterns were very common. However, the idea that it is forbidden for Jews to make artistic renditions of people or things in nature gets seriously undermined once you look at the artistic works left behind at the Dura Europos synagogue (Syria, 3d century CE), or the 6th century CE Beit Alpha synagogue, located not far from Beit Shaan, or the 4th-5th century CE synagogue in Susiya (near Hebron). In Dur Europos, there is a depiction of the binding of Isaac that features a disembodied hand that is apparently the "Hand of G-d." In another work at the same synagogue, based on the Exodus, G-d's outstreached arms are depicted. Similarly, the Hand of G-d appears in mosaics in Susiya and Beit Alpha.

The Beit Alpha synagogue also has a depiction of the Zodiac -- something I saw in a late-19th century or early 20th century Orthodox synagogue in Toronto.

BTW, I've been to Susiya and it is usually open for guided tours during chol hamoed of major festivals. It is a very valuable trip for anyone learnng Mesechta Shabbos or Eruvin because you can see how the town was laid out much as described in the Gemara and Mishna.

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    who said that they did it with the permission of the sages? Dec 26, 2013 at 19:29
  • @ShmuelBrin Who says they didn't?
    – avi
    Dec 30, 2013 at 11:01
  • @avi that's the question Dec 30, 2013 at 17:40
  • @ShmuelBrin - As I mentioned in my aside, Susiya's streets conform very nicely with the descriptions in Eruvin and Shabbos, making me think that they were clearly in touch with the rabbis of their era. More interesting is that you can see where the mezuzas were placed in a hole carved into the store door frames -- at a perfectly verticle pitch, taking the position of some poskim but not of others, and certainly not the compromise we practice today. These were observant Jews. I'm thinking that the rabbinic positions on art became stricter later. Dec 30, 2013 at 20:06

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