The 2nd of the 10 Commandments has to do with creating artwork, idols, or icons that represent living beings or celestial objects. The Pasuk says: You shall have no other gods beside Me. 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 in the waters under the earth.
This has been interpreted in a variety of ways. The most common prohibition is against creating sculptures of people, animals, or planets for the purpose of worshipping them. The Talmud (Avoda Zara 43) takes a very strict stance against producing images of faces, but sanctions owning images of faces created by non-Jews. The prohibition comes from a concern that even
two-dimensional images could be worshipped, or could represent idols. In some Jewish communities in the Middle Ages artists got around this prohibition by drawing human bodies topped with heads of other animals, including birds (such as the famous 12th century “bird-head Hagada.”)
In the 16th century, the Shulchan Aruch expanded the ban on creating sculptures, adding prohibitions against forming any
three-dimensional image that could be worshipped, including images that stand out in bas-relief (such as friezes). However, the Shulchan Aruch differs from the Talmud in that it allows one to create two-dimensional paintings and images of the human body, as long as the entire body is not shown; Rav Moses Isserles (Rema), says even a statue of man is permitted as long as it is not complete. Today most rabbinic authorities allow depictions of the human body that are incomplete, such as a sculpted bust or the Greek armless Venus de Milo. But the full depiction of a human being is undisputedly forbidden.
Written by Rabbi Weiss