Tablets of the Law

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TABLETS OF THE LAW, the stones on which the *Decalogue was inscribed. In Exodus 24:12 it is stated that Moses was commanded to ascend Mount Sinai in order to receive "the tablets of stone and the Torah and the commandments which I have written." On them were inscribed the Decalogue Ex. 32:15, 16; "on both their sides; on the one side and on the other… and the writing was the writing of God" (32:16). These first tablets of stone were smashed by Moses when he beheld the orgy of the worship of the *golden calf (32:19). Subsequently he was commanded to hew two tablets of stone and with them ascend the mountain a second time. On these previously prepared tablets God wrote the words which had been inscribed on the first tablets (34:1–4). The tablets are also called "the two tablets of testimony" (34:29). The two tablets were housed in the *Ark of the Covenant which Solomon brought into the Temple when it was built (i Kings 8:9).

In the Aggadah

The Tablets of the Law were among the things created on the eve of the Sabbath of creation (Av. 5:6). Both tablets were of identical dimensions (tj, Shek. 6:1, 49d). The rabbis differ as to the arrangement of the Decalogue on the tablets (ibid.). In the spaces between the Ten Commandments all the 613 *Commandments of the Torah were noted. Although they were fashioned out of the hardest stone, the sapphire taken from the throne of glory (see *Throne of God; Lekaḥ Tov, Ex. 31:18), the tablets could be rolled up like a scroll (Song R. 5:14). They weighed 40 se'ah, but as long as the writing was upon them they supported themselves, so that Moses could carry them. When, however, he saw the Children of Israel worshiping the golden calf, the letters vanished and the tablets dropped from his hands (tj, Ta'an. 4; 5, 68c). The second tablets differed from the first in that they were the work of man, Moses having engraved them, while the first were the work of God (Deut. R. 3: 17). Moreover, the second tablets included the *Oral Law (Ex. R. 46:1). Assuming that the text of the Decalogue in Exodus was that on the first tablets, while that in Deuteronomy 5 is the version on the second tablets, the rabbis point out the word ייטב ("that it may go well") occurs only in the second tablets, so that when the first tablets were broken "well-being" should not be lost to the world (bk 54b–55a). The broken tablets were kept in the Tabernacle and the Children of Israel carried them with them whenever they went to war (Tosef., Sot. 7:18). King Josiah, foreseeing the destruction of the Temple, hid the Holy Ark with the broken tablets in order to guard them against desecration at the hands of the enemy (Yoma 52b).

The two tablets have become a favorite Jewish symbol, which is usually placed over the ark in the synagogue, and is usually inscribed either with the first ten letters of the alphabet, or with the first words of the Ten Commandments.


aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, 1 (1909), 83; 3 (1911), 118–9, 139–41; 5 (1925), 109; 6 (1928), 49–50, 59–60.