QUESTION: RASHI (DH Asur l'Kroso b'Shabbos) writes that on Shabbos a person may not read the caption below a picture drawn on the wall. Reading the caption of a picture is prohibited because of a rabbinical decree, lest one read contracts (Shetarei Hedyotos) on Shabbos.
Why should reading captions under pictures be prohibited because of Shetarei Hedyotos? The Gemara earlier says that one will not confuse reading something that is written on the wall with reading Shetarei Hedyotos!
(a) RAV SIMCHAH MI'DESVI (in his comments printed in the back of the Vilna Shas) suggests that since such a picture may not viewed altogether during the week, the Rabanan prohibited reading the caption under such a picture on Shabbos.
(b) The ME'IRI implies that reading the caption is not prohibited because one might come to read Shetarei Hedyotos, but because the caption itself is Shetarei Hedyotos. Contracts may not be read because they have nothing to do with Shabbos (SHITAH L'RAN), and this caption, too, may not be read because it has nothing to do with Shabbos.
OPINIONS: The Gemara says that one may not look at drawings during the week. To what type of drawing does this prohibition apply, and why is one prohibited from looking at it?
(a) RASHI (DH El mi'Da'atchem) and TOSFOS in Avodah Zarah (50a) explain that looking at pictures is forbidden because one who gazes at such drawings wastes time with an invented, imaginary reality.
There are several ways to understand Rashi's words.
1. The ME'IRI explains that a person who looks at such drawings wastes time and draws himself away from serving Hash-m.
2. The RITVA adds that a person should give his attention only to Hash-m's creations in order to be awed by Hash-m's wonders, rather than to manmade creations.
3. Rashi mentions that a person should not look at drawings of "strange creatures or pictures of events of the past." RAV YAAKOV D. HOMNICK (MARBEH SHALOM #22) points out that Rashi's words imply that one is prohibited from looking only at the type of picture that is based on human imagination -- pictures that depict objects or events of fantasy which a person otherwise would not conceive. In contrast, pictures of real objects, natural scenery, and multicolored frescos, are permissible to draw and to view (as is clear from the Gemara in Bava Metzia 115a), because a person either knows what these things look like without using his imagination, or because they do not represent any particular object at all. (See Marbeh Shalom there for a deeper explanation for why pictures based on human imagination are prohibited.)
(b) TOSFOS and the ROSH explain that looking at drawings is forbidden only when the drawing was made specifically for Avodah Zarah (even if it was not actually worshipped as such). Since it was made for the purpose of Avodah Zarah, one may not look at it.
HALACHAH: The MAGEN AVRAHAM (OC 307:23, cited by the Bi'ur Halachah) writes that the custom is to be lenient and allow the viewing of drawings, unless they were made for Avodah Zarah. He adds that it one certainly is permitted to look at them casually, without gazing intently at them.