Unit I. Through a Jewish Lens - Lesson 4: Tzelem / Tzilum


 50 minutes


Laptop and LCD Projector
Cameras (one for every pair of students)
Worksheet D: The Second Commandment (completed for homework)
Worksheet E: Tzelem / Tzilum


Make copies of Worksheet E for each pair of students. Make sure cameras are fully charged and available for each pair of students. Set up laptop and projector to display students’ work.


In this lesson, students consider the relationship between the Hebrew words tzelem (image, as in “the image of God”), tzilum (photography), and matzlema (camera). They then take pictures to reflect “the image of God.”

Big Idea:

A photographic image is not a perfect representation of the world, but it can get us to look at and think about our world in new ways.

Introduction / Homework Review (5 minutes):

  1.  Review Worksheet D, which students completed for homework. Discuss the significance of the Second Commandment for artists in general and for photographers in particular.
  2. Explain that while the Second Commandment talks about making a “sculpted image” (pesel) or “picture” (temunah), the word “image” (tzelem) appears in the Bible in a different context.


 Worksheet / Discussion (20 minutes):

We were created not as a physical copy of God but rather as a reflection or incarnation of certain of God’s attributes. Similarly, a photograph is not an actual copy of the world around us but a reflection of the world we see, filtered through the photographer’s eye and the camera’s lens and re-created in two dimensions. Nevertheless, like all good art, a photograph can cast an illustrative light on aspects of our reality.

  1.  Distribute Worksheet E and have students work in pairs to complete it.
  2. Discuss the questions on the worksheet and the students’ responses:
    • What do you think it means that we were created in the tzelem or “image” of God (especially since God is said to have no physical form)?
    • What are the implications of this for the way we act in the world?
    • Why do you think God uses two words—image (tzelem) and likeness (d’mut)? How are they different?
    • The modern Hebrew words for photography and camera—tzilum (צילום) and matzlema (מצלמה)—are closely related to tzelem (צלם). What does photography have to do with the “image of God”?


Take Photographs (20 minutes):

Ask each pair of students to take a photograph that can be titled B’tzelem Elohim – In the Image of God.


Wrap-Up (5 minutes):

If you don’t have a laptop, projector, or card-reader, or if your students used film cameras, you may need to split this lesson over two sessions. You will need to collect their film and get it developed for the next class (if they used film cameras) or have the students send you their digital images electronically to be shared next time.

  1.  Have one or two pairs present their photographs to the rest of the class.
  2. Discuss:
    • Is a photographic image a true representation of reality? Why or why not?
    • Can a photograph capture aspects of reality? Can it show us things we might not otherwise see or understand? How?