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Parsha Mitzvot: Tetzaveh: Portraits

Men play an important role in the Tabernacle. Just consider the role of the Kohen, the priest. An artist asked Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935) is there any objection in Jewish law to an artist painting the portrait of a God-fearing man?

Rabbi Kook replied, “I have the honor of informing you that there are pious folk who refuse to have their portrait painted or to be photographed. There is some support for their attitude in the codes, and it goes without saying that there is something in it as an attitude of special piety.

“Nevertheless, according to the plain law, as it has been accepted by the Jewish people, it is permitted. This practice has, in fact, spread even among the God-fearing when there is some need for it. For example, in order to make the Torah and Judaism attractive, or for some other reason.

“Yet it is proper that the portrait should not be of the whole body, but only the upper part of the pot body. Here is contained man’s chief dignity in the heart in which his spiritual nature is given expression. And, after all, it is this aspect that is the true aim of all good artists and craftsmen.” (Da’at Kohen, #66)

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