Q: “What is Judaism’s view on drawing human forms? I am taking an art class this year in school, and I am worried about violating the commandment not to depict anything of the heavens above and the earth below.”
A: If the prohibition truly applied to visual representations in any context, even the words you are now reading would be forbidden. Letters are simplified images, and some letters still bear noticeable resemblance to their original inspiration. For example, the letter “A” represents an ox head, and the shape of the head and two horns are still recognizable. The biblical prohibition restricts making such images in a religious context.
Two-dimensional drawings of human beings are permitted, assuming the drawings are only for artistic purposes, with no intent that they be incorporated into worship. It is forbidden to create two-dimensional drawings of human-like forms that are representations of “gods,” even if you intend for these drawings to be only for decorative or artistic purposes. It is permitted to create three-dimensional human forms for purely artistic purposes, as long as the three-dimensional form is not a perfect representation of the human form. If the three-dimensional human form looks cartoonish or unrealistic in some other way, it is permitted to create.
These laws can be learned in more detail in Hilkhoth Avoda Zara (Laws of Idolatry) 3,14-19, in the Mishneh Torah. Click here for the English.
R’ Yosef Eliyah
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