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Can you give me all the necessary basic information about the Tablets?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg


Library » Mitzvot » 10 Commandments | Subscribe | What is RSS?


1. The Tablets were made of sapphire. Apparently the producers of the Ten Commandments film employed trick cinematography, because the real tablets were square, not rounded at the tops. The widespread portrayal of the tablets with arched tops is apparently a result of Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of Moses descending the mountain. The tablets were not that large; each of them was 19 in. x 9 in. x 9.5 in. Despite their relatively small size they were quite heavy (try lifting two boulders of that size…). The Midrash says that the tablets carried their own weight, enabling Moses to carry them down the mountain.

2. Whereas the first tablets were formed by G-d, the second tablets were carved from sapphire by Moses. G-d revealed to Moses a sapphire quarry beneath his tent, (and from the sapphire remnants Moses became very wealthy). Moses carried the blank tablets up the mountain and G-d etched the Ten Commandments on them.

The Ten Commandments were engraved in the tablets, and the letters cut through the stone all the way to the other side. Despite the Hebrew letters “samech” and “final mem” being engraved, the middles remained supsended in middair (to illustrate this, try cutting the letter ‘O’ into a paper).

The Tablets were kept in the Ark which was situated in the Holy of Holies, first in the Tabernacle and eventually in the Holy Temple. Several decades before the destruction of the first temple, King Josiah commanded that the ark be hidden in a tunnel beneath the Temple Mount, and there it remains until it will resurface in the Third Temple which will soon be constructed by the Moshiach.

The words of G-d were engraved in the stone. Ink can be erased for it never becomes one with the paper; but words which are etched are not a separate entity—they are part of the stone. The lesson is that the words of Torah must be etched in our hearts and minds. We must be living Torahs.


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Arched Topped Luchot

Posted by: Scott E. Meyer, Skokie, IL on Apr 18, 2006

Rabbi Silberberg suggests: "The widespread portrayal of the tablets with arched tops is apparently a result of Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of Moses descending the mountain." However, Michelangelo's famous sculpture is not of Moses descending the mountain (Moses is actually seated), and the tablets he sculpted have flat, not round tops.

Christian illustrations and sculptures of round topped luchot go back at least hundreds of years before Michelangelo was born, and were rooted in a common tradition throughout the Ancient Near East, that held that tablets which documented the words of the ruler (or god) had arched tops. Though some have questioned the legitimacy of the "Jahoash tablet,” which has appeared in the news several times over the last few years, none have questioned the authenticity of its shape-- an arched tablet. So, even though the luchot may not have had arched tops, it could be misleading to refer to the common arched topped shape as “Christian.”

Editor's Comment

Rabbi Silberberg responds: I stand corrected. I meant to refer to Rembrandt's painting which depicts the breaking of the Tablets.


Torah » 10 Commandments
Holidays » Shavuot » 10 Commandments

Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
The Messiah. Moshiach is the person who will usher in an era of peace and tranquility for all of humanity when there will be no jealousy or hate, wars or famine. This is a fundamental Jewish belief.
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
Mobile sanctuary which traveled with the Jews in the desert, containing the Ark with the Tablets, and the sacrificial altars. When the Jews entered Israel, it was erected in the city of Shiloh where it remained for more than 300 years. It was buried when the permanent Holy Temple was erected in Jerusalem.
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.