Q. I'm including a picture of personalized silver and gold coins we are marketing. The images of Gedolei Israel, Holocaust survivors or benefactors to institutions etc. are engraved in the coins. Is there an halachic issue with this? Is there a problem engraving pesukim?
A. In Parshas Eikev, (Devorim 7: 25-26, See question 1172 and 1173 in this forum) the Torah commands: The graven images of their gods you will burn with fire; you shall not covet the silver or gold that is upon them and take it for yourself, - Nor should you bring an abomination into your house, lest you are to be destroyed like it, but you shall utterly detest it, and you shall utterly abhor it; for it is to be destroyed.
The command: Nor shall you bring an abomination into your house, bans bringing an idol into your home and also forbids benefiting from idolatry (Rambam, Hilchos Avodah Zarah 7:2).
However Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 141: 1) rules that the above applies only to statues that were made for the purpose of worshipping them and serving as an avoda zara (idolatrous service).
The Talmud (Avoda Zarah 40) teaches that there is a Biblical prohibition to create an image of a human being. By Rabbinical decree, there is an injunction to retain and keep an image of a person (“shehiya”), lest he may be suspected of having created the image himself or come to literally idolize and worship that image. However, Chochmas Odom (25: 6), Netziv (Hoemek Shaila 40: 3) and others maintain that in our days when it is not common to worship statues, sculptures or figures, there is no suspicion that one may be engaged in avoda zara, and it is permitted to keep them.
Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 141: 4,5) rules that the prohibition of creating an image of man is limited to protuberant three dimensional effigies. This effectively rules out photographs, paintings and drawings that are not protruding images and are therefore not included in this injunction. The same applies to engraved or concave images images in coins.
However, Sheilas Ya'avetz (1: 170) disagrees. He relates that when Rabbi Eliezer Rokeach zt'l became the Rov of Amsterdam, a community leader struck a coin in his honor with his image stamped upon it. Horav Emden zt”l who examined the coin felt they had transgressed this prohibition. Rabbi Nosson Gestetner zt”l (Lehoros Nossan - 3: 49) writes that he also saw the coin in question and it was only a profile of the head and upper body. In addition, a hat was covering the ear, ostensibly to address this very problem by removing an ear from the image. Still, Rabbi Yaakov Emden ruled that it was forbidden. Shevet Halevy (7: 134) writes that “all the Gedolim argue with him” and therefore rules leniently, at least regarding the rabbinical prohibition of shehiya.
Horav Shlomo Miller's Shlit'a position is similar and those coins may be created and maintained.
Rabbi A. Bartfeld as revised by Horav Shlomo Miller Shlit”a.