The two tablets are popularly depicted with rounded tops. Jewish organizations, which often use the tablets as their symbol, should follow the Talmud which states they were perfectly square.

The length of [each of] the tablets was six [tefochim]; width, six [tefochim]; breadth, three [tefochim] (Baba Basra 14a)

Between each word (of the Ten Commandments] are the particulars and letters (of the entire Torah] (Yerushalmi, Shekalim 6:1)

Perhaps one of the best known symbols of Judaism is the luchos, the two tablets. Given by G‑d to Moshe Rabbeinu, with the Ten Commandments engraved upon them, they have become a universally recognized symbol of all things Jewish. Pictorial representations of the tablets are found on the covers of Jewish books, including the Chumash and the Siddur, on the curtain in front of the Aron Hakodesh in the synagogue, and in innumerable other places. Organizations, wishing to display their Jewish identity, have chosen the tablets as their logo, printing it on their stationery, letterheads etc. It is a logical choice. The Ten Commandments are the basis of the entire Torah, and their pictorial representation emphasizes the Jewish identity of the organization which employs it.

Shape of the Tablets

The generally accepted illustration of the tablets is square on the bottom with rounded, semi-circular tops. While the Written Torah, the five Books of Moshe, does not give any information regarding the shape of the tablets, the Oral Torah, which clarifies and elucidates the words of the Written Torah does give such information. And there is no indication in the Oral Torah that the tops of the tablets were rounded. Indeed, we are specifically told otherwise.

The Talmud (Baba Basra 14a) gives us the dimensions of the tablets: the length of each was six tefochim (handbreadths); width, six tefochim; breadth, three tefochim. From this alone, we see that the tablets were square at both ends (6 x 6 tefochim) and not rounded at one end. Furthermore, the Talmud continues to inform us that the tablets “consumed” (occupied) 12 handbreadths (6+ 6) of space along the length of the ark in which they were kept. From this we infer that the tablets took up all the space in the ark which they occupied. There were no spaces unaccounted for — as there would be if they were rounded at one end.

Indeed, logic dictates that this must be so. The purpose of the ark was only to contain the tablets. G‑d, our Sages tell us, created everything for a purpose. If there was space left in the ark due to the curvature of the top of the tablets, it would constitute a violation of the above principle. There would be unutilized space, a void, useless and unnecessary.

There is absolutely no indication in any Jewish sources whatsoever to suggest that the tablets were rounded at one end. Yet, practically all Jewish organizations depict just such a representation of the tablets. The reason for this is simple: it is a carry-over from unavoidable non-Jewish influence in previous times

Influence of Non-Jewish Concepts

Historically, the vast majority of printers who printed Jewish books were non-Jewish. In addition, by government decree, all Jewish books had to pass through a censor — also a non-Jew. These people, when printing (or censoring) Jewish books, would place in the title page a picture of the tablets as they knew it — rounded at the top.

When Jews would receive the books, they did not pay too much attention to this; they were too busy learning what was inside the book. The picture stayed as it was, habit hardened into custom, and through the generations, it became accepted that Jewish books carry a depiction of the tablets with rounded tops.

Old habits die hard, and the same mistake is repeated time and again, even today. It is not just a trivial matter, but can have far-reaching consequences. A small example: Schools are among the many institutions which employ the tablets as a symbol of their Jewish affiliation. Very often children receive reports, certificates, merit awards, etc., with the tablets prominently displayed on the cover. A child naturally assumes that if the school prints the tablet with a rounded top, then certainly it must be so. Can you imagine that child’s disappointment and disillusionment when he eventually finds out the truth? All trust in teacher and school may be forfeit, and belief in other things he has learned may be weakened.

Worse yet, the representation of the tablets with a semicircular top is taken from non-Jewish sources. It is directly contrary to the Talmud. When a Jewish organization uses as their symbol the tablets depicted in this way, they are choosing the non-Jewish concept of the tablets over the Talmud’s. The Talmud has been made subordinate to non-Jewish interpretations.

The two tablets, which contain the Ten Commandments, are the basis of the Torah. Our Sages tell us that the entire Torah is contained within the Ten Commandments It is surely time that the tablets are depicted according to the true traditions and teachings of our people.

Adapted from an address
given on Shabbos Parshas Ki Sissa, 5741;
Simchas Torah, 5742

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In the light of Halachic considerations, medical procedures should not be scheduled before Shabbos.

It is Shabbos when it is forbidden to plead; healing will come soon (Shabbos 12a)

All the diseases ... I will not put upon you, for I, the L‑rd, am your healer (Shemos 15:26)

There are many medical procedures, particularly surgical operations, which, because of post-procedural recuperation and tests, require that a patient stay in the hospital after the actual procedure is completed. It is customary in many countries, especially in the U.S.A., to schedule such operations for Friday; and consequently, the recuperative period extends into Shabbos.

There are, however, several Halachic considerations which cast serious doubt on the permissibility of such a procedure. We are not referring to emergency operations, for in cases of pikuach nefesh, when one’s life is in danger, Shabbos assumes secondary status. We refer to those operations and procedures which are scheduled well in advance. The following are some of the reasons why operations, or other procedures warranting a stay in hospital, should not be scheduled for the second half of the week.

Disturbance of Shabbos Prohibited

The Shulchan Aruch, the Jewish Code of Law, states (Hilchos Shabbos 248:1): “One should not [set] sail on a ship within three full days preceding Shabbos; that is, from Wednesday on, inclusive of Wednesday itself .. for on the first three days (of travel on the oceans) people are afflicted with pain and disturbances... and they do not return to their original state until after three full days. Hence, if a person sails within three days preceding Shabbos, he will not enjoy Shabbos.”

From this law it is clear that anything which creates disturbance and pain, or can mar one’s enjoyment of Shabbos in general, must be avoided during the three days preceding Shabbos. The disturbances one feels when entering a hospital, with its attendant changes in routine (in eating, sleeping, waking hours, even special clothes), and especially the pain and trauma that follows an operation, are much greater than those caused by sailing on a ship. Moreover, unlike a sea voyage, the havoc wreaked on the enjoyment of Shabbos caused by a hospital stay affects one’s family as well. Thus one should not enter a hospital from Wednesday on.

A further problem is that many of the post-operative procedures involve work which is forbidden on Shabbos. Although some of them may fall within the category of “pikuach nefesh,” necessary for the patient’s essential welfare, one should not deliberately place himself in the position of having to desecrate the Shabbos. In other words, one should not enter a hospital within three days of Shabbos knowing it will entail desecration of Shabbos.

This principle applies even if the forbidden tasks are performed by a non-Jew. The gravity of this situation is further compounded in cities where many of hospital personnel may be Jewish (e.g. New York, Boston, etc.); and when the tests need the assistance of the patient.

Furthermore, even in many post-operative cases, the tests are not in the category of “pikuach nefesh,” and must be deferred until after Shabbos. A Jewish patient must then insist on having such tests after Shabbos; but immediately following an operation, a patient does not usually have the requisite strength to refuse his doctors and insist on deferring the tests. Moreover, many of these procedures are mandatory, not easily refused. And if one’s attending physician is Jewish, the patient who enters the hospital on Friday is causing another Jew, the doctor, to desecrate the Shabbos.

All these factors lead to the conclusion that it is completely prohibited to arrange for a hospital procedure on Friday, or even Thursday or Wednesday. It is possible, and has so been demonstrated in the past, for one to arrange to enter a hospital at the beginning of the week.

A further point: Hospital shifts are so arranged that over the weekend (Saturday and Sunday), hospitals are staffed mainly by interns, and not the more experienced physicians. Should some emergency arise it is the more inexperienced doctor who will attend to it. Then, even from the purely medical view, it would be wise not to schedule surgery for Friday.

Health from G‑d

One more important point. If a person becomes sick G‑d forbid, Torah instructs us to seek the best medical assistance possible. Simultaneously however, a man must know that he is constantly being weighed in the Divine scale of good and bad. An ill person would do well to consider that when his life or health is in danger it is time to improve his conduct. His deeds must be beyond reproach, particularly in the very area of healing. In other words, the steps taken to become well (surgery, etc.), should be according to G‑d’s directives given to us in the Torah; then we may be sure that it will be successful. Then, G‑d, Who is the “L‑rd who heals all flesh and performs wonders,” will bless each and every Jew with complete physical and spiritual health.

Adapted from an address given on
2nd Day of Shavuos, 5738