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When The Lord says, "Do not make for yourself an image," does he mean an image for the purpose of worship, that is an idol, or any image whatsoever, such as the depiction of a narrative or a representation of a creature or person for remembrance? How do modern observant Jews observe this command?

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    I don't know much about modern observation, but they sure didn't interpret it too strictly back in the days of the First and Second Temples. The oxen holding up the molten sea, the lions on Shlomo's throne, the Cherubim on the Aron and elsewhere, the pomegranates on the Kohen Gadol's robes...there were decorative figural representations all over the place. It seems to me that images for worship were intended. – Gary May 4 '15 at 3:57
  • @Gary In this verse it says, do not make for yourself. Is that significant? – Andrew May 4 '15 at 5:21
  • Good question! Not sure if the context of the command means "for yourself" or "for yourselves". The Hebrew experts here might be able to clarify, and maybe provide some clues as to how our ancesters viewed/observed it. – Gary May 4 '15 at 21:30
  • @Gary In the previous comment I mean not to distinguish between for yourself and for yourselves, but to distinguish between those graven images made in violation of this commandment (made for yourselves) and those made at the request of the Lord for the Tabernacle and Temple(s) (made not for yourselves, but at the request of the Lord), or to ascertain if a distinction does exist. I hope that they can indeed clarify this and provide some clues, as you say. – Andrew May 5 '15 at 16:56
  • related: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/26269/… – Loewian Jan 28 '16 at 5:15
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Part 1: Understanding the verse

Sources here.

Rashi to that verse (Exodus 20:3 or 20:4, depending on the version) interprets the verse to mean not making any image of something in the sky (i.e. sun/moon):

Ibn Ezra understands this verse as a prohibition to serve or bow to any image whatsoever.

Bechor Shor understands this as a prohibition to make images of "heavenly beings".

There are a few other interpretations offered, see above link.

Part 2: Actual Jewish Law

Modern observant Jews follow Halacha, or Jewish law. While this is based on interpretation of the bible, not every interpretation is codified as law. In this case, the two major authorities that mention this verse within the system of Jewish law are Rambam and Beis Yosef.

Rambam (Hilchos Avodah Zarah 3:9) seems to understand it as being related to simply making an idol (see also Devarim 5:7, where the decalogue is repeated, and it omits the "and" found in this verse). I would suggest reading that chapter to find out exactly what is prohibited in Jewish law, see specifically 3:11 which discusses making "tzuros" of various things.

Beis Yosef (YD 141:6) quotes a number of authorities quoting the Mechilta, which understands this verse as referring to a particular style of idol. Again, reading Shulchan Aruch and Beis Yosef there will give you the full details of what is prohibited.

We can safely conclude from these 2 Halachic sources that the issue here is making some sort of idol, not simply drawing any picture of a real-life situation.

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Both. Idols and icons. At least in my Tanakh. My Tanakh (New JPS translation) says (Deuteronomy 5:7) "You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above or on the earth below or the waters under the Earth."

  • This doesn’t answer the question. The OP asked about images to be worshipped vs. images, period. Your answer doesn’t address that distinction whatsoever. – DonielF Aug 15 '18 at 22:31
  • @DonielF I assume he was addressing that by saying "any likeness". – Alex Aug 16 '18 at 0:38

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