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I do not know if a realistic or abstract freestanding or hanging sculpture of any creature as art (for a museum or store) is permitted me to create or for Jews to view, or whether it would be confused for an idol. What are the restrictions on Jews to create sculpture?

  • Great question. I was wondering this myself, seeing as how the Israeli town of Herzliya goes out of its way to avoid a statue to its namesake, Theodore Herzl, going as far as to create a faux statue. (See bit.ly/herzlstatue) Meanwhile, there are real statues with apparent rabbinic approval, for example, the statue of the young girl who survived the Holocaust, erected just outside of David's tomb near the Old City (see bit.ly/stellaknobel) – Judah Gabriel Himango Jul 13 '15 at 21:57
  • Concerning statues made by Jews I have heard it would be ok if it did not have a face if it were an animal or human – Dude Jun 14 '16 at 19:28
  • For a very poetic, but technical and brief, treatment of the issue of what one may sculpt see Rav Kook's dedication of the Betzal'el art institute, reproduced in Igros Har'iya v.1 #158. He describes the prohibition on making a human form and ways one can avoid doing so while producing all manner of art forms in their grandest forms. – WAF Jan 12 '17 at 2:54
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The problem of sculpture is "Lo Taasun Iti" Not everything falls under the prohibition. We see developments in Gemara RH 23 and AZ 43ab.

See Rambam hilchot AZ 3, 10-11 (with sources)

Abstract

Jew may create sculpture, under the above restrictions. For pictures also, it seems from the text of Rambam that there are some restrictions.

  1. Statue of animals and other living being
  2. Statue of trees and grasses
  3. Statue of Human faces lacking some part, e.g. lacking one eye,
  4. Statues with a pedagogic function, (this seems obviously allowed in Gemara, but Rambam does not written this because all prohibitions mentioned are when the form is for beauty. But if it is for an other purpose, i.e. for learning something (the form has a function of model), the prohibition do not apply at all. SA mentioned this rule explicitly)
  5. Human face on Bas-Relief , but not sun, moon and stars, constellations or angels.

    Acharonim in Responsa treat largely the question. My intent was not to provide an accurate halachic answer but rather to give an introduction to the topic.

Text: not commented with few references.

טו [י] אסור לעשות צורות לנואי, ואף על פי שאינן עבודה זרה: שנאמר "לא תעשון, איתי: אלוהי כסף ואלוהי זהב" (שמות כ,יט) כלומר צורות של כסף ושל זהב שהן לנואי, ‏

It is prohibited to make images for decorative purposes, even though they do not represent false deities, as [implied by Exodus 20:23]: "Do not make with Me [gods of silver and gods of gold]." This refers even to images of gold and silver which are intended only for decorative purposes,

Midrash Hagadol added bellow for comparison.

‏ [מדרש הגדול] ת"ר לא תעשון אתי אלהי כסף ואלהי זהב. אי לעבדן, כבר נאמר לא תעשה לך פסל וכל תמונה!? מה אני מקיים לא תעשון אתי? שלא תאמר כדרך שאחרים עושין לנואי עושין צורת חמה ולבנה ודרקון על שערי העיר ועל המבואות, כך אני אעשה!? ת"ל לא תעשון אתי, לא תעשו אפילו לנואי.‏

Rambam

כדי שלא יטעו בהן הטועים וידמו שהן לעבודה.‏

lest others err and view them as deities.

Mechilta Derabbi YIshmael

‏ [מכילתא דרבי ישמעאל פרשה יו"ד] רבי נתן אומר לא תעשון איתי, שלא תאמר, עושה אני לו כמין דמות ואשתחוה לו, ת״ל לא תעשון איתי, וכתיב ונשמרתם מאד לנפשותיכם כי לא ראיתם כל תמונה.‏

Rambam

ואין אסור לצור לנואי, אלא צורת האדם בלבד.‏

It is forbidden to make decorative images of the human form alone.

Gemara AZ 43b

‏ [ע"ז דף מג' עמוד ב'] תניא כל הפרצופות מותרין חוץ מפרצוף אדם ‏

'Of all faces are permissible except that of a human face'

Rambam

טז לפיכך אין צרין, לא בעץ ולא בסיד ולא באבן, צורת האדם: והוא שתהא הצורה בולטת, כגון הציור והכיור ‏

Therefore, it is forbidden to make human images with wood, cement, or stone. This [prohibition] applies when the image is protruding - for example, images and sculptures made in a hallway and the like.

Gemara Baba Batra 60b:

‏ [ב"ב דף ס' עמוד ב'] מיתיבי אין מסיידין ואין מכיירין ואין מפייחין בזמן הזה [בשאילתות ליתא "בזמן הזה"] לקח חצר מסוידת מכוירת מפויחת הרי זו בחזקתה.

An objection was raised [against this from the following]: 'It is not proper to stucco or decorate or paint [our houses at the present time {In Sheiltot there are no words "at the present time"}]. If a man buys a house which is stuccoed or decorated or painted, he is entitled to keep it so.

Rashbam

‏ [רשב"ם] ואין מכיירין. צורות שצר בסיד וי''מ דהיינו נמי סיוד אלא שהכיור לבן יותר: ‏ שבטרקלין וכיוצא בהן; ואם צר, לוקה. ‏ If he makes this he is punishable by flagellation.

Rambam

אבל אם הייתה הצורה מושקעת, ‏

In contrast, it is permitted to make human images that are engraved

Gemara AZ 43b

‏ [עבודה זרה מג' עמוד ב'] טבעת שחותמה ... שוקע מותר להניחה ואסור לחתום בה. ‏

Rambam

‏ או צורה של סמנין כגון הצורות שעל גבי הלוחות והטבליות, ‏

or painted - e.g., portraits, whether on wood or on stone -

Gemara AZ 43a

‏ [עבודה זרה מג' עמוד א'] דמות צורות לבנות היה לו לר''ג בעלייתו בטבלא ‏

Rabban Gamaliel had a picture of lunar diagrams in his upper chamber in the form

Rambam

או צורות שרוקמין באריג--הרי אלו מותרות. ‏

or that are part of a tapestry.

Gemara AZ 43a

‏ [עבודה זרה מג' עמוד א'] בטבלא בכותל שבהן מראה את ההדיוטות ואומר להן כזה ראיתם או כזה ראיתם ומי שרי והכתיב {שמות כ-כג} לא תעשון אתי לא תעשון כדמות שמשי המשמשים לפני ‏

We have learnt elsewhere: R`Gamaliel had a picture of lunar diagrams in his upper chamber in the form of a chart hanging on the wall, which he used to show to the unlearned and ask then', 'Did you see (the moon] thus or thus? ' But is [such a picture] allowed, for behold it is written, Ye shall not make with Me

Rambam

‏ יז [יא] טבעת שיש עליה חותם שהוא צורת {[ע"ז דף מג' עמוד ב'] סמי עיניה דדין} אדם אם הייתה הצורה בולטת אסור להניחה, ומותר לחתום בה; ואם הייתה הצורה שוקעת--מותר להניחה, ואסור לחתום בה מפני שהנחתם תיעשה בו הצורה בולטת. ‏

[The following rules apply regarding] a signet ring which bears a human image: If the image is protruding, it is forbidden to wear it, but it is permitted to use it as a seal. If the image is an impression, it is permitted to wear it, but it is forbidden to use it as a seal, because it will create an image which protrudes.

Gemara AZ 43b

‏ [ע"ז דף מג' עמוד ב'] דתניא טבעת שחותמה בולט אסור להניחה ומותר לחתום בה חותמה שוקע מותר להניחה ואסור לחתום בה ‏

for it has been taught: It is forbidden to put on a signet-ring which is cut in relief but it is allowed to seal with it; and if the signet is in, one may put the ring on but not seal with it.

Rambam

‏ יח וכן 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. ‏

Similarly, it is forbidden to make an image of the sun, the moon, the stars, the constellations, or the angels, as [implied by Exodus, ibid.]: "Do not make with Me [gods of silver...]" - i.e., do not make images of My servants, those who serve before Me on high. This [prohibition] applies even [to pictures] on tablets.

‏ יט צורות הבהמות ושאר נפש חיה חוץ מן האדם, וצורות אילנות ודשאים וכיוצא בהן מותר לצור אותן, ואפילו הייתה הצורה בולטת. ‏

The images of animals and other living beings - with the exception of men - and similarly, the images of trees, grasses, and the like may be fashioned. This applies even to images which protrude. ‏ [ע"ז דף מג' עמוד ב'] תניא כל הפרצופות מותרין חוץ מפרצוף אדם ‏

Gemara AZ 43b

so how can it have been taught: 'Of all faces are permissible except that of a human face'!

  • All errors have been fixed (I hope...) – kouty Jun 6 '16 at 13:55
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It would seem that if the form of the image is seen to be secondary to a message the image represents this is permissible because the formation of the sculpture has not enhanced the prestige of the creature, rather it has used the creature as a medium of expression.

See for example the alef beis sculptures by John Milder (Australian artist) as an extreme example of this.

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Shulchan Aruch Yore Dea 141, sayif 4 & 5. I'll trying to summarize the opinion of the Shach.

Shach SQ 21:

  1. If you have a composition with a face of man which someone else made, or that you made yourself earliest, and you complete the "last 3 faces" you violate Lo Taasun Iti. (The 4 faces are described in the Merkavah of Yechezkel, the Chayot has a face on each of 4 sides, man, cow, eagle and leon following the hour rotation sense).
  2. If you make the 4 faces together, you violate 2 prohibitions.

SQ 22:

  1. There is a prohibition to make forms quoted above even for a non-Jew, the act of design or sculpt is the ban.
  2. To design for beauty (art) forms of man or other forms quoted above, is prohibited.

SQ 23:

  1. There is a Rabbinic prohibition to say to a non-Jew to make a form.
  2. If a non-Jew give you a form, it is prohibited to save it because of suspicion that will be used for idolatry. This late ban is rabbinic but similar to scriptural ban.

SQ 24:

In cases which are rabbinically prohibited, the forms are permitted to profit.

SQ 25:

  1. The "Lo Taasun Iti" prohibition is limited to human face and the servant of the "uppermost section" (following the description of Chayot in Yechezkel 1.) is because they are soon in dream as real personages;
  2. There is no difference between a relief and bas-relief form;
  3. According to the Levush, servants from the "lowest section" are also concerned by a suspicion that they will be used for idolatry. So it may be prohibited to save them, even bas-relief. The Rosh allows but the Ran prohibits. The Shulchan Aruch itself rules according to the Rosh.
  4. Shach understand the Levush as follows. The prohibitions of fabrication and saving are dependent on The rule of who find an utensil. If you find an utensil with a design of sun or moon, even without relief, it is prohibited. This is a proof that idolators serve designs, not only statues. So the ban of designing or saving such designs du to lo taasun apply for non relief form of sun and moon. Shach does not agree with this.
  5. The ban is to design the whole body with all details of the face.

SQ 27:

  1. If a form is the property of the community, there is no doubt, they do not will to make it an idol. They can maintain it (Gra do not agree)
  2. But to make a form for community is prohibited

SQ 30:

  1. The prohibition to design stars is only if you design "the 12 stars" together.

SQ 31:

It is allowed to make and maintain forms of animals or vegetables.

SQ 32:

Who will be stringent to prohibit for itself form of human face without body, blessed be he.

  1. It is allowed to design a dragon and profit from it, but it is prohibited to save it at home because of suspicion (It is not obvious that nowaday suspicion is a real problem.)

Parenthesis:

The problem of suspicion is treated in SA Sayif 3. See also Rema and Shach. A broad spectrum of suspicion may exist: Suspicion toward the owner or the custodian, perhaps he uses this for idolatry; suspicion toward the form, perhaps it was an idol in the past; to protect itself from suspicions. The issue is a little complex.

SQ 36:

It is allowed to make a reproduction of the Menorah, even smaller than 18 tefachim.

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