Friday, December 29, 2006

Daf Yomi - Rosh Hashana 24 - The Permissibility of Photographing People

(The Meoros Daf Hayomi from the Kollel Sochitshov issued words of Torah on the Daf. This was taken from their kuntrus on Bava Kamma 5762. It can be found here.)

The Gemora in Bava Kamma describes how already in ancient times it was the custom to honor great people by engraving their likeness on coins. So it was with Dovid and Shlomo, and before them with Avrohom and Yitzchok. Tosfos (S.V. Matbeya Shel Avrohom) contends that it was not their image on the coins, as it is forbidden to forge a human image; rather it was their names that were inscribed.

The source of the prohibition to create a human likeness even for decoration is found in the posuk (Shemos 20:20), “Do not make with me gods of silver and gods of gold” (Rosh Hashana 24b, Rambam Hilchos Acum 3:10, Chinuch Mitzva 39). The Rambam explains the reason for this prohibition is so that a casual observer should not mistakenly reach the conclusion that these images were meant to be avoda zora.

There is a debate amongst the Rishonim as to what comes under the prohibition. According to the Ravad (ibid) and the Ramban (see Tur Y.D.141) included are engraving, embossing, or painting of a human image. However, they do express a lenient ruling as to the ownership of engraved or painted images if they are found; but not an embossed (protruding) image. The Rambam differs and maintains that there is no prohibition to make an image by engraving or painting; the Torah forbade exclusively embossing. Though the Shulchan Oruch (141:4) rules in favor of the Rambam, the Taz insists that in the matter of making human images one should not adopt any leniencies.

When the Gaon R’ Eliezer of Brod was installed as Chief Rabbi of Amsterdam, one of the local Jews decided to mark the festive occasion in a unique manner. He issued a commemorative medallion which bore the likeness of the new Rav. The Yavetz writes (responsa Sheilos Yavetz, I:170) that upon seeing this he was shocked to his very core. Though the Shulchan Oruch (ibid 7) forbids only an image of a full human, whereas the image of just a face is permitted, the Yavetz takes the more stringent view of the Smag, the Taz (ibid S.K. 15) and some Rishonim who forbid this as well. The Yavetz further points out that even according to the more lenient poskim it is only a featureless face that is allowed. (See the responsa for how the Yavetz derives this from the Tosafos in our sugya.) In the end, declares the Yavetz triumphantly, the medallion was banned by the Dutch king who viewed the matter as an impingement of his royal status.

The Painting of the Chacham Tzvi: The Yavetz’s father, the Chacham Tzvi, was extremely strict for himself and would not even allow his face to be drawn. We know this from his son who describes with great emotion how, “The true saint, my father and Rebbe, our great master, may Hashem be with him forever… went to visit the Sephardic Kehilla in London. He was greeted with great respect the like of which is unheard of. He was escorted into town in a royal floatilla amidst great jubilation.” The kehilla, relying on the majority of poskim had commissioned an artist to draw his countenance. The Chacham Tzvi due to his “great saintliness and holiness” refused to permit this. The hosts were unable to restrain themselves and the artist managed with great speed and unusual talent to paint an extraordinary painting. So true was his rendition that the Yavet”z declares, “All that is missing is the breath of life.”

What is the halacha regarding taking a snapshot? The Taz’s opinion that even a flat image is forbidden has led Poskim to question the legitimacy of photographing people. A reason to be lenient is explained by R’ Moshe Sternbuch, Shlit”a (Teshuvos V’Hanhagos Vol. III, 263). The prohibition includes only image making formed by direct action. The process of photography and film development does not fit into this category, since the reactions of chemical to light rays cause the picture to appear. He concludes that customarily photography is permitted.

It is interesting to note that many Gedolim for Kabbalistic reasons insisted not to be photographed.Someone drew a picture of the Steipler Gaon,zt’l, during his army service in Russia. The Steipler paid an entire day’s ration for the picture and immediately destroyed it (Toldos Yaakov, p. 30).