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Making sculptures

Category: // By Rabbi: הרב ירון אשכנזי // Answer date: 10.01.2021

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Question:

I have been an artist of the past twenty years. I have done many art exhibitions. I have recently become religious and I still want to do art exhibitions. I don’t want to be making things that look like Avoda Zara. What are my limitations? Also I heard there are those who don’t want their picture taken why is that? I do a lot of photography.

Answer:

You are not allowed to make three-dimensional images of people, and if you do you have to mar them in some way. You may not create two-dimensional images of the Sun or the Moon. If the images are not complete i.e. half a sun or half a person that would be alright. You are allowed to make two-dimensional pictured of people so taking a picture is OK. There are some opinions which are stringent but digital pictures are fine.
The Gemara in Avoda Zara 43a discusses that Mishna in Rosh Hashanah says Rabban Gamliel had had models of the Moon phases in his Bet Din to rule on Kiddush Hachodesh and asks: And is the mere fashioning of figures of the celestial bodies permitted? But isn’t it taught in another Baraita that the verse: “You shall not make with Me gods of silver” (Exodus 20:20), is understood to mean that you shall not make figures of My attendants who serve before Me on high, for example, The sun, and the moon, the stars, and the constellations. This is proof that it is prohibited to fashion figures of the sun and the moon.
The Gemara asks: But there is the case of Rav Yehuda, where others fashioned for him a seal with a figure of a person on it, and Shmuel said to Rav Yehuda, who was his student: Sharp-witted one [shinnana], destroy this one’s eyes, i.e., disfigure it, as it is prohibited even to have a figure of a human being in one’s possession.
The Gemara answers: There, in the case of Rav Yehuda, his was a protruding seal, i.e., the figure projected from the ring, and Shmuel prohibited it due to the potential suspicion that he had an object of idol worship in his possession. As it is taught in a Baraita: In the case of a ring whose seal protrudes, it is prohibited to place it on one’s finger due to suspicion of idol worship, but it is permitted to seal objects with it. In this case, the act of sealing forms a figure that is sunken below the surface of the object upon which the seal was impressed, which is not prohibited. If its seal is sunken, it is permitted to place it on one’s finger, but it is prohibited to seal objects with it, as that forms a protruding figure… And if you wish, say there is an alternative answer, namely, that these figures were not whole; rather, they were formed from pieces of figures that had to be assembled. Only complete figures are forbidden.
We learn from the Gemara is that a three-dimensional image of a man is forbidden unless you mar it. A two-dimensional image, or sunken image, is also permitted. A partial image is also fine. So ruled the Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 141:4: it is forbidden to create images of heavenly beings like angels and it is also forbidden to make an image of man even just of decoration and you may not even hold onto them… That is only by three-dimensional images but sunken/2D like those woven into clothing or painting onto a wall is permitted. Images of the Sun and moon and stars are forbidden in all forms 3D and 2D.
The Taz comments there that the Ramban was of the opinion that even sunken/2D images of man are a problem. He understands that when the Gemara is discussing three dimensions as opposed to two dimensional it is discussing if someone made it for him then there is a difference between them. However, the making of images is forbidden however it is. The Minhag is not like the Taz, but it is a good idea to be stringent.
Therefore creating art would be problematic unless one mars it or as it says in Se’if 7 that these are only forbidden if they are complete but if they are partial forms is permitted.
Regarding taking pictures in the past when there was film, taking pictures of people was more complicated and according to the Ramban, forbidden. If the pictures are digital then it more lenient because it is not any physical medium rathe on a screen of pixels. So photography is fine.

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