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What Did the Tablets Look Like?

What Did the Tablets Look Like?

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Question:

I read in the Torah that Moses came down from the mountain with two tablets of stone,1 but did not see anything about their size, shape, or what kind of stone they were made of. Can you shed some light?

Response:

The Dimensions:

Tradition tells us that they were thick square blocks of stone, six handbreadths tall, six handbreadths wide, and three handbreadths deep. In modern measurements, that is about 18″ × 18″ × 9″. The sages of the Talmud demonstrate how tablets of this size—along with a few other relics—fit neatly into the Ark of the Covenant that Moses made as described in Exodus.2

It is interesting to note that nowhere is there any mention of them having the rounded tops that are so common in the popular drawings of Moses and the tablets. This design appears to be the invention of non-Jewish artists.

The Material:

The tradition is that both sets of tablets were made of sapphire. After Moses broke the first set, G‑d revealed a large deposit of sapphire under Moses’ tent. Moses used some of the stone to carve the second tablets, and was permitted to keep the remainder.3

The Writing:

The most common understanding is that the first five commandments were written on one tablet, and the other five commandments were on the second.4

The Torah describes the writing as “inscribed from both their sides; on one side and on the other side they were inscribed.”5

This means that the inscription was engraved through and through. As such, the words were clearly legible on one side and written in mirror writing on the other. Now there are two Hebrew letters, the ם and the ס, that are closed from all sides. The centers of these letters, Rav Chisda concludes, must have been miraculously suspended in place.6

Others teach that the writing was miraculously legible on each side—in other words, although the letters were engraved all the way through, they could nevertheless be read from right to left on both sides. Rabbeinu Bechayei explains that this is because the Torah can be understood on two levels, one revealed and one hidden.

Footnotes
2.

Talmud, Bava Batra 14a.

3.

Rashi to Exodus 34:1.

4.

This is the tradition of Rabbi Chanina ben Gamliel, Jerusalem Talmud, Shekalim 6:1.

6.

Talmud, Shabbat 104a; Rashi ad loc.
Chizkuni explains that it was these holes that rendered the tablets so easily breakable.

Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org.
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Feigele Boca Raton FL May 29, 2016

No shapes, only G-d's writings! People forget that the tablets were created on a mount surrounded by the desert where I'm sure no other stones were to be found but only rocks, maybe some nicer than others...
How could it have been carved that fast as to give it shapes other than the writings! Reply

CTL UK. May 28, 2016

Tables of stone . Why are people splitting hairs ,By saying ( It did not say it had rounded tops ?) It most probably did not say it had a chip in the bottom of one but who is going to put that to the quize ?. All I know is that one cannot see all the commandments when they are laid flat . Reply

Hersh N. Goldman Swampscott, MA May 24, 2016

I have great respect for Rabbi Posner's scholarliness demonstrated by his ability to cite relevant classical religious sources to research. But modern sources are also helpful. Even Moses could not see Eretz Yisroel but ordinary people can see what Moses could not see even though he wanted to see Israel very badly. I think the Tablets had rounded tops even if some old time Old World rabbis were clueless. Google " Mesha Stele" and then Google "images of Mesha Stele" and see if you don't think that round topped stone tablets were probably the norm in biblical times. Reply

CTL UK May 22, 2016

I do not agree with the writings going right through the stone , if that was the case how could one read them from the other side ? Reply

Dennis Worthington Ruidoso, NM February 7, 2016

Two copies of the same "contract" Some years ago I read an article that suggested that in ancient times when two parties made a contract, their scribes would write in clay the "bullet points" of the contract, not every fine detail. The bullet points were sufficient to remind them of the details. Each party would have a copy of it upon completing negotiations. The Torah text suggests this is possible, since both sides of the tablets were written on, which could be duty to G-d on one side, and to man on the other. So neither side went all the way through as is commonly thought. In this scenario, G-d was so attached to Israel and trusting of Moses, He gave Moses both His copy and the one for Moses (representing Israel) to keep in the Ark of the Covenant. Of course the text is clear, they were of sapphire, as if cut from G-d's throne (see Ezekiel 1:26 & 10:1). If so, this is an amazing testimony to G-d's trust in Israel, His forgiveness of their failings, and His willingness to put His reputation on the line. Reply

Hersh Goldman Swampscott, MA 01907 June 1, 2014

I liked Rabbi Menachem Posner's scholaryly article because he identifies Torah and Talmud sources. G-d carved and wrote on the Tablets Himself so there was no need to give description just as there was no need for Hashem to give himself directions what to do. But the Ark containing the Commandments was made by people so those measurements are a good starting point for figuring out the specs. on the the tablets. We know the Tablets can't be bigger than the box they fit in. The Sages of the Talmud offer conflicting opinions of the tablets and I think they were trying to work out something they weren't really sure of. I think that Rabbi Posner shows himself as scholarly but totally lacking in imagination when he assumes that pictures of the ten commandments with rounded tops must be from non Jewish artists because there is no religious source for it. Messages written in stone are seldom flat on top. Notice at a cemetery how many stones are rounded and how many are perfectly flat Reply

Matthew Janzen Georgia September 1, 2013

Sapphire - Ribbon of Blue The Sapphire makes much better sense than just a rock or something. This would explain why the Most High commanded the thread of blue for the tzitzit. When Israel would look at the blue color of the thread, it really would remind them of the blue color of the tablets of stone which the mitzvot were upon. Reply

Dennis M Schuemaker El Cajon, CA February 16, 2012

Sapphire Tablets Sapphire is not a common stone like quartz-granite or shale or slate. Just the rareity of sapphire to be carved this huge approx 18x18x9 is massive and quite heavy to carry. The physical viewing of tablets this large with ambient light shining on them had to be quite majestic.

Also the tools needed to carve stone is one thing, however sapphire is in a unique class in and of itself, just ask your local gemologist. Along with the dialogue with Moses while on Sinai, it would take almost the span of 40 days to carve the second set of tablets. Reply

Anonymous Bradenton, FL January 2, 2012

Underground chamber beneath the Holy of Holies I have read that the Knights Templar excavated the Temple Mount extensively but found nothing or did they? Apparently they also had knowledge of an underground "safe place" for the Ark. So, about rebuilding the Temple I understand that Mount Moriah is the Temple Mount and that the Holy of Holies was positioned right under the Dome of the Rock. That is correct right? So, to rebuild the 3rd Temple we need the Dome removed, the Ark "brought up" and I understand that we have everything else in place. I heard that we have the Red Heifer breed and all the vessels for worship ready. When do the Arabs give up the Mount for us to rebuild? Reply

Rabbi Menachem Posner January 1, 2012

To Anonymous About where the ark is now, I suggest that you have a look at this wonderful <a href="/article.asp?aid=144580" target="_blank">article</a>. Reply

Anonymous , FL January 1, 2012

Sapphire like tablets I agree with this commentary, I have read this from a few other sources and they agree. Sapphire llke tablets in the dimension described, blue and written on both sides. Interesting how it is said that they read the same thing on both sides and that it was cut through and through, very interesting and I have no problem believing it. Written by the finger of G-d. No problem with that either. The whole experience of Sinai was other-worldly and mysteriously supernatural. Interesting also about how it was said that the stones fit into the Ark perfectly, hadn't thought that one through. So, what about the other elements inside the Ark? The Manna and the Staff? What purpose did they serve in the "properties" of the Ark? And, by-the-way, where is the Ark now and will it ever be found again. Will the new Temple be complete without it? Reply

alida tarlac, philippines August 3, 2011

the tablet I'm quite amazed that the tablets were made of sapphire and accurately cut. At first I thought the tablets were kept in broken pieces it's my first time to know this so thank you for sharing. Reply

sue Kanata, ON June 19, 2011

stencil You younger people imagining Moses hoisting large rocks up mountains- I advise you to study some items, before a lot of it is lost in yard sales and intellectual layering.
Look for:
images in glass, antique crstal, especially salter crystal.
images in gemstones and even the content of paste or Swarovski crystal rhinestones images from clay slicks on hand made ceramics Reply

Nicholas Cheshire , Handforth June 10, 2011

The Tablets The Tablets written on Sapphire(rather than just as MOST people have been led to believe "STONE" with a dome top)I believe also reveals the SUPREME ROYALTY & MAJESTY of "Ha Shem". Sapphire is such a beautiful & precious stone, when MOSHE was returning from the mountain top he must have been thinking "I have something here of SUPER extraordinary value & worth . . surely ISRAEL will be delighted with what G-d has done these tablets are a delight to behold . . . Beautiful,, Thank-you Menachem Posner for this posting Reply

sue Kanata, ON June 8, 2011

"The Torah describes the writing as "inscribed from both their sides; on one side and on the other side they were inscribed." "
Onest, I see a stencil as beign "inscribed from one side through tto the other. I note (Although I do not know Sumerian, Babylonian ,Egyptian or Hebrew well, that the Hebrew language has been described as descriptive with plasticity, rather than having many defining words for any instance .
Honest, I see a stencil used toward a type of natural rock material print arrangement. Reply

Sherri Schrier - Casa Grande, AZ June 8, 2011

Ancient Hebrew The Torah would have been written in ancient Hebrew which mean the tet would have looked like a zero with an x in it and the sameh would look like a old tv antena. G-d would have written in the same way they did. Not the NEW Hebrew so the letters would not have the centers suspened in air. Just a thought. Reply

Feigele Boca Raton, FL June 7, 2011

Only G-d Knows! What a philosophical remark! Never entered my mind that one day it would be brought up. All these years we took it for granted the way we grew up with the image that both sides together were almost shaped as the top of a heart—no argument there. It was suspected that our parents and their ancestors learn it from the torah. Did they ever discuss the shape of the tablets that Moise brought down from the Mt Sinai? I doubt otherwise they would have told us, their children. I guess they had enough stress keeping alive from all persecutions they went through for centuries.
If it is not in the Torah anywhere, then there is no comments or arguments as what shape it was. No one knows, only G-d. Reply

Nicholas Handforth , Cheshire June 7, 2011

Tae Vah (The Ark) I love this presentation of tablets being made of Sapphire,it fulfils SCIENTIFIC PROOF The Almighty had an unprecedented future for Israel.A relatively new science comparatively is of Dr Wilheim Reich on"ORGONE"energy where he makes a cheap replication of the Ark using different materials(as sapphire gold & acacia wood are a little past the budget of most)Reich argued his orgone energy could cure cancers,invoke rain fall & sunshine,cause fertility in men & women,crops,cattle & much more just as The L-rd did 1st years ago,If we see how the Ark was constructed,I personally see how Reich's subtle replication is so effective,his main components for conducting"ORGONE ENERGY"were non ferrous Highly conductive metals I.E copper,Aliuminium, brass,ect, quartz as other Crystal types,& any type of insulators plastics, wood,ect This matches perfectly with the construction materials of the Ark & how it was constructed I:E.Conductors/insulators/crystals/ Surely the L-rd knew all those years ago ! Reply

john smith fort lauderdale, fl June 5, 2011

arguing/debating arguing or debating over what size or how heavy stone tablets are/were is kind of like debating why water is wet.
if these things are of such importance than you have many other concerns to worry about. Reply

Eli Levy Johannesburg, RSA July 6, 2010

human invented bragging? To Erik from Treasure Island,Florida/USA I am disturbed with your statement "To speak of large sapphires may be human invented bragging? No need for that." Not that I made the comment on the large sapphires but on the other hand to say what you have stated is not correct in my opinion. Are you suggesting that The Bible, ha Tanach, our holy book, is a never ending list of miracles and nothing there is human? This is a ludicrous form of thought. To look for miracles every where in the Bible is ridiculous in my opinion. The biblical figures I believe were all human and had feelings, strength, blood and skin. The Bible was not written for heaven and there are no heavenly creatures everywhere. The Bible, as it is written, was written for this real World and the figures described in the Bible were real humans, otherwise the Bible has no effect on us the mortals of this World if every event in the Bible was a series of miracles that today are not happening. This is not human invented braggery Reply

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