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    Sculptures in Israel – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. How can a Jewish State allow sculptures to be put on display when the Second Commandment bans making the form of anything?

    A. This was the view taken by the Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel in 1960 in relation to the Rose art gardens in Jerusalem. Deeming the sculptures to contravene the Biblical prohibition against graven images, the Chief Rabbinate called them “contrary to the spirit of Judaism and a profanation of the name and character of the Holy City”. The rabbis even forbade displaying sculptures within the walls of a museum, though they admitted that any protest flew in “the face of facts accepted by both the State and the public”.

    Those who disagreed with the rabbis’ stance argued that the sculptures were works of art expressing the creative spirit of the sculptors, not idols or images for worship, and nobody would misconstrue what they saw when they visited the exhibition.

    Though sculpture is a more difficult halachic issue than portraiture, it is on record that when Rav Kook lived in London during the First World War he used to enjoy visiting the National Portrait Gallery and was lost in awe and amazement when he studied Rembrandt’s paintings, including portraits.

    A number of orthodox synagogues have rabbinic portraits on display and as far as I am aware no-one has demanded that they be taken down.

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