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Is Astrology Kosher?

Is Astrology Kosher?

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Predicting the future is big business. From newspaper astrologers to corporate consultants, there are many people out there ready to profit from our insatiable desire to know the unknown. Often, when contemplating major changes in my life, I am tempted to check my astrological reading. Is there anything wrong with this? Can an intelligent person believe in astrology without feeling ridiculous?

It is fascinating to note that the rabbis of the Talmud gave considerable credence to astrology. The Talmud states that “upon entry into the month of Adar one should become increasingly joyous. Rav Papa said: ‘Therefore a Jew should avoid litigation with gentiles in the month of Av, because his mazal is bad; and he should move the court case to the month of Adar, when his mazal is good.’”1 The Hebrew word which Talmud uses here, mazal, is usually translated “luck” but literally means “constellations.”

Astrology is not only a factor to be taken into account when planning future events—it also influences human nature. According to the Talmud, one born under the constellation of the sun will achieve eminence, and one born under Venus will become wealthy and immoral. One born under Mercury will be wise and have a retentive memory. One born under the Moon will suffer evil. One born under Saturn will suffer frustration, one born under Jupiter will be righteous, and one born under Mars will become either a surgeon or a slaughterer.2 A birthday is therefore viewed by the rabbis as a day on which personal astrological fortune is at its most potent.3

There is an uncomfortable contradiction inherent in all this. Although astrology is prominent in rabbinic thought, Jewish law cautions against seeking the advice of astrologers.4 But if astrology is a true science, why not consult it? The following Midrashic parable sheds light on this.

A king conquered a new province, the elite of which decided that they needed to forge connections with the new rulers. Some decided to become acquainted with the dukes, others with the knights and yet others with the ministers. The wisest amongst them declared, “I will forge a connection with the king himself.” He reasoned, “All the ministers, knights and dukes change; however, the king will always remain king.5

So, too, continues the Midrash, some people attribute power to the constellations and wish to serve them. Monotheistic believers, however, realize that G‑d is the supreme power, and that all other powers are no more than obedient servants who carry out His will.

Since everything in the universe is subject to the laws of cause and effect, according to nature the month of Adar is an astrologically lucky month, and a birthday has unique astrological potential for the celebrant. However, reliance on astrology could lead one to conclude that nature has a life of its own, and that the celestial spheres have powers independent of G‑d’s will. In fact, these are no more than a manifestation of the divine will. This is why prayer is so important. Mundane life seeks to convince us that life is dictated by the laws of nature. Prayer reminds us that nature is controlled by G‑d.

The message is clear: nature and its rules—including astrological truths—do exert an influence on our lives. It presents us with auspicious times and circumstances, and inauspicious ones; it imbues our character with certain traits and tendencies. However, one must recognize that ultimate power rests not with “nature” but with the Creator of heaven and earth.6

FOOTNOTES
1. Talmud, Taanit 29a–b.
2. Talmud, Shabbat 156a. Although rabbinic consensus holds that Jews are not affected by mazal, the great medieval Talmudist Ritva (Rabbi Yom Tov ibn Asevilli, circa 1300) suggests that in this context the word mazal is to be understood as a generic term for “decree” rather than constellations. He thus suggests that when the rabbis of the Talmud say that Jews are not affected by mazal, they mean that they can subvert divine decrees through the performance of good deeds (Taanit 29a).
3. See Jerusalem Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 3:8, regarding the Amalekites: in their war against the Israelites they used soldiers who were celebrating their birthday that day, so that they would have an astrological advantage over the enemy.
4. Talmud, Pesachim 113b.
5. Midrash Rabbah, Eichah 3.
6. It must be noted, however, that not all the rabbis believed in the truth of astrology. In fact Judaism’s great codifier and philosopher, Maimonides (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, 1135–1204), dismissed astrology as having no validity. See his Epistle to Yemen, Chapter 3, and his Commentary on the Mishnah, Avodah Zarah 4:7.
It should also be noted that none of this is intended as an endorsement of the modern-day “astrology” practiced by pop astrologers and published in Internet and newspaper “horoscopes,” which probably bear little or no relation to the ancient science of astrology mentioned in the Talmud.
Rabbi Levi I. Brackman is director of Judaism in the Foothills and the author of numerous articles on issues of the day.
About the artist: Sarah Kranz has been illustrating magazines, webzines and books (including five children’s books) since graduating from the Istituto Europeo di Design, Milan, in 1996. Her clients have included The New York Times and Money Marketing Magazine of London.
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Discussion (22)
March 18, 2012
Astrological influence
Ha-Shem created the stars and planets, and a system of governing influence on high through that celestial means, according to the RaMChaL in Derech Hashem. All the nations had a celestial "governor" above each nation in that system of things, Egypt having the most powerful governor according to tradition.

To worship their "governors", the ancient nations commited idolatry and blasphemy, and Israel was commanded to worship only Ha-Shem who created everything above and below including that celestial system of governance.

Israel was excluded from that system when they accepted to receive the Torah, and they can bypass that whole system through the Torah and G-d's names. As every Jew knows, Eretz Israel, the Torah, Ha-Shem and His people are one.
Eleazar Shlomo ben Yakov Goldman
Guanajuato, Mexico
July 1, 2011
Belief in Ourselves not our Stars
We make our own luck and it is wrong to try to get luck on our side by choosing the most opportune time or circumstances.

The belief in an external cause of luck is like taking away part of the Divine atributes and allowing them to go into material concepts where they do not belong. At this rate we will soon be saying our prayers to the sun amd moon!
David Chester
Petach Tikva, Israel
June 28, 2011
Astrology as psychological tool
I'm pleased to see this article. I've been reading responsa by the Rambam on this subject. Of course I have the highest respect for the Rambam AND the world was still 'flat' in those days. Then, just as now, there are charlatans who do a disservice to astrology and its use. My sense is that the Rabbis were more interested in protecting the community from those who would prey upon them when they dismissed astrology.

Using astrology for psychological insight, based on achetypes associated with planets, is invaluable. Most serious astrologers know that predictions are risky business. Understanding ones inner workings, in relationship to Hashem and other people, only serves to raise consciousness. A higher consciousness only increases the sense of awe. The planets aren't deities, they are another mysterious creation of the One G-d.

Hashen created the heavens and the earth.
Anonymous
Seattle, WA
chabadchampselysees.com
June 27, 2011
Astrology
If astrologers had any power of prediction, why don't they win lotteries?
Buddy Freed
Austin, TX
April 25, 2010
Differentiate
People need to understand the different practices of astrology.
There is Horoary, which attempts to determine future events. This is what Pharaoh used, and it is vague, and though effective, is the practice forbidden to Jews, and people are apt to fail like Pharaoh.
Natal astrology is the practice of determining one's personality and characteristics from the alignment of planets, and their placements in the signs at the moment one is born. This is perfectly permissible, and the Vilna Gaon says one must study the Mazal of one's children in order to know how to raise them properly in their way. One can learn volumes about oneself, and channel their energies in serving G-d, through ones knowledge of oneself, through ones personality that is determined by G-d through the stars and planets at one's birth.
Pinhas Erez HaGeir
Yavneel, Israel
April 12, 2010
signs of horoscope in temple
I want to know if the signs of the zodiac are meant to be good or bad?
They are drawn on the temple walls, right?
Why were they allowed?
Did the meaning change over the years?
Dr. Hedy Dembowski
October 28, 2009
Free will or fixed destiny?
We as with our ego, would think we have free will. Just like billiard balls on the table, we see other balls moving, but we cannot see the big picture. We think we have free will.

But Divine intelligence sees a macroscopic view, and knows where the balls are headed, but we do not. They know where our destiny lies.

But does that elude us from working and striving hard, absolutely not. We need to keep working hard and strive, as a ball can change its direction if we work hard enough. We would still need to work hard to progress and prosper, albeit not entirely knowing where our destiny lies.

Astrology is a natural physics of the universe. But Divine intelligence is free of all laws. It can superced it. We of course can pay attention when to sow, when to reap, but did not God allow Moses to defy natural laws and part the Reed sea?

Therefore pay attention to the natural laws, but work hard in your own field, and supplicate to Him.
W. Yang Lee
singapore, singapore
December 26, 2007
Ambiguity
Stargazers' predictions are very vague and indefinite.The statements thay make are so broad in their meaning that we can interpret them in hundreds of different ways.
Possibly it has some parallels with poetic verse - the feelings of one person can be similar, to a certain degree, to those of another one.
So I believe that horoscopes are not woth paying attention to, for the astrologers speculate on other peoples problems and difficulties.
Yaroslav
Lugansk, Ukraine
November 1, 2007
No External Fix
This midrash and the comment of 10-28 reminds me of finding my sobriety after years seeking external means of spiritual enlightenment. Twelve Step programs suggest willingness to "go to any lengths," knowing that when we turn our individual wills over to HaShem ( our Jewish Higher Power), the any length was within us all along. We learn to use spiritual tools, but the G-d is the Great Architect.
R. Wolfson
Portsmouth, OH
October 29, 2007
I have for many years considered an individual living entity (as in you, I or a rabbit that runs into a rock) as being "eddies in the electromagnetic field of the Earth" I will add that "living" entities do attain some form of volition or will and it is this consciousness of will that could be construed as the self deterministic ground of all being.

Being that the Earth is a self deterministic field within the quantum soup of the universe/multiverse and that quanta are an effect of this electromagnetic soup, what is to say that other "gross" fields of self deterministic quantum entities do not have some effect and relevence to and on conscious beings within these quantum fields?

Quantum dynamics has shown that each and every quantim field string packet brane knows where each and every other quantum field string packet brane in the entirety of " " is, where it is going, where it has been, how fast it is travelling and in which direction it is rotating in relationship to itself.
True Self
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