Astrology in Jewish antiquity (Hebrew: מזלות = mazzalot) is the belief that celestial bodies can influence the affairs of individuals and of entire nations upon the earth. This involves the study of the celestial bodies' respective energies based on recurring patterns that change by the hour, by the week, month, year or by several years (time categories). In each of these time categories one of the seven planetary spheres, or what are known as the seven classical planets: the Sun, Venus, Mercury, the Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, or Mars, along with the month's current Zodiac constellation, come into play and influence the sublunary world. At times, it involves a complex combination of several of these factors working together. In Judaism this belief is expressed by the biblical affirmation: "Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? Canst thou set the dominion thereof in earth? (Job 38:33)," from which statement the Sages of Israel have inferred, "There is no single herb below without its corresponding star above, that beats upon it and commands it to grow."
Complementary to the records of past civilisations, the corpus of Jewish literature has preserved many of the details instructive of the determining factors involved in rendering any astrological forecast, although astrology in terms of modern science is understood to be a pseudoscience.
A famous meme that underscores the importance with which Judaism views the influences of the horoscope is found in "Idra Rabba" of the Zohar:
Everything is dependent upon mazzal (= astral influences), even the Torah scroll in the Heikhal (הכל תלוי במזל ואפילו ספר תורה שבהיכל)
In the Babylonian Talmud a controversy is presented among the sages of Israel as to whether the zodiac signs affect a person's destiny. The supportive opinions are of Joshua ben Levi, who lists the types of people according to the various zodiac signs, and of Rabbi Hanina, who believes that the astrological constellations (mazzal) can make a person wise and can even make a person wealthy. Conversely, Johanan bar Nappaha held the view that "Israel is not bound by the effects of the changing horoscopes." He assayed to bring proof from a verse taken from the prophet Jeremiah: "Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them."
The opinions of Abba Arikha, of Samuel of Nehardea and of Rabbi Akiva, however, seem to be supportive of applied astrology, even though the people of Israel are not bound by the influences of the constellations. Other rabbis have vaunted their knowledge of applied astrology. Said Samuel of Nehardea, "I know the pathways of heaven as I do the pathways of Nehardea, excepting the comet, about which I know nothing."
Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi reported that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said in the name of Bar Kappara: Anyone who knows how to calculate astronomical seasons and the movement of constellations and does not do so, the verse says about him: “They do not take notice of the work of God, and they do not see His handiwork” (Isaiah 5:12).
In several places in the Talmud it is stated that every man has a celestial body (mazzal), i.e. a particular star which is his patron from conception and birth (Shabbat 53b; Baba Kama 2b) and which perceives things unknown to the man himself (Megillah 3a; Sanhedrin 94a). Two people born under the same star are also said to have a bodily and spiritual kinship (Nedarim 39b; Baba Metzia 30b).
Rava says, "Duration of life, progeny, and subsistence are dependent upon the constellations."
The great men of Israel in the Middle Ages, viz., Saadia Gaon, in his commentary on the Sefer Yetzirah; Solomon ibn Gabirol in his Keter Malkhut, and Abraham bar Hiyya, ha-Nasi and Abraham ibn Ezra considered astrology to be true wisdom and even expressed this belief in their works. Judah Halevi also acknowledges in his magnum opus, the Kuzari, that the celestial bodies have an influence on earthly affairs, but does not admit that the astrologers have the ability to determine the mode of operation of the star systems on human beings and other living creatures in the terrestrial world.
Maimonides, who lived in the late twelfth century, took a more critical approach to the topic of astrology, ruling that man was entirely incapable of foretelling futurities by observing the celestial bodies, especially if those same astrological formulae were faulty.[a] He, therefore, cancelled its practice altogether. Among the early rabbis, Maimonides was the sole rabbinic antagonist of such practices. One of his contemporaries and disputants, Abraham ben David of Posquières, in his glosses to Maimonides' Mishne Torah (Hil. Teshuvah 5:5), asserts the influence of the stars upon destiny, while contending that by faith in God man may overcome this influence.
Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, during the Age of Enlightenment and although never actually having used his knowledge of the occult to foretell futurities, speaks about the influences of the stars in his book, Derekh Hashem (II, chapter 7 – The Influence of Stars).[b]
The rabbis have distinguished between gaining an occult knowledge of the stars' influences on human beings (which is permitted) and the actual worshipping of the stars (which is prohibited), a view that is also met with the Scripture; cf. [the stars and all the host of heaven] "which the Lord thy God hath divided unto all nations" (Deut. 4:19), that is to say, the stars, which God appointed to be the means of governing His creatures, and not the objects of man's worship.
The Midrash HaGadol (on Deuteronomy 4:19) clarifies what is meant by, "[And beware] lest you raise your eyes to heaven, etc." It is hereby inferred that you are not to say, 'since these stars and constellations govern the world, and they provide light unto the entire universe, and they serve before their Creator on High, it is fitting that we serve them and bow down unto them, just as the king would want [all] human beings to behave with respect towards his servants and ministers.' For this reason it says, lest you raise your eyes to heaven, beware that you do not err in this manner, on account of what [is written], which the Lord thy God hath divided unto all nations. They (i.e. the astrological horoscopes) have been delivered into the hands of the nations, so that they may live [thereby] and their beings be sustained [thereby], [without] suffering loss, as is the custom of the world. But you (i.e. the nation of Israel) have been given over to me, and I do not behave towards you as is customarily practised with all the world, as it says, But the Lord has taken you (Deut. 4:20), etc. Likewise he says, Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens; for the gentiles are dismayed at them (Jer. 10:2). The nations of the world are alarmed by them, but Israel is not alarmed by them."
A similar theme is found in other rabbinic literature concerning Abraham the patriarch, who, although wise in the astrological sciences, and who saw thereby that he would not beget any children, was reprimanded by God who said to him: "Break away from your astrological speculations, for [the people of] Israel are not bound by the influences of the horoscope." By this Rashi learnt that through prayers, repentance and meritorious deeds (sometimes also through a change of name), they are able to alter what has been determined for them.
The people of Israel are prohibited by Jewish law to consult the astrologers and star-gazers for guidance, but are commanded to be perfect in their awe of God and to consult him for guidance, even when they are told by astrologers what might happen.
The day is divided into 12 equal hours. The night, likewise, is divided into 12 equal hours. In both cases, the method of configuration used in measuring the hour is known as the Relative hour. To determine the length of each relative hour, one needs but simply know two variables: (a) the precise time of sunrise, and (b) the precise time of sunset. Although in Talmudic literature one begins to reckon the beginning of a day some 72 minutes before sunrise and where each day ends 13½ minutes after the sun has already set, here, in the case of astrological computations, it was only necessary to reckon the day from the moment of sunrise. Rashi, however, alludes to the day beginning at dawn (עמוד השחר). By collecting the total number of minutes in any given day (from daylight hours) and dividing the total number of minutes by 12, the quotient that one is left with is the number of minutes to each hour. In summer months, when the days are long, the length of each hour during daytime can be as much as 77 minutes or more, whereas the length of each hour during nighttime can be less than 42 minutes.
To each hour of the day and night is assigned one of the seven planets or spheres, which same planet governs the world during that hour. The names of these planets are: Saturn (shabtai), Venus (nogah), Jupiter (tzedek), Mercury (kokhav), Mars (ma'adim), Moon (levanah) and the Sun (ḥamah). [Note: The ancients conceived that there were only seven primary planets. The moon, although a satellite rather than a planet, was also numbered among them; the sun, which is a star rather than a planet, was also numbered among them. The earth was not numbered among them since it was central to the rest. Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, as well as the other recently discovered planets and satellites, were not known to the ancients, and therefore are considered trivial to the rest]. The star or planet that begins the first diurnal hour of a particular weekday, or the first nocturnal hour of a particular weeknight, it is the same star or planet that broadly governs that entire day or night.
|Number||Lunar month||Zodiac (Hebrew)||Zodiac (Latin)||No. of days||Composition|
|1||Nisan||טלה, (ṭaleh)||Aries||30 days||represented by 13 stars|
|2||Iyar||שור, (shor)||Taurus||29 days||represented by 33 stars|
|3||Sivan||תאומים, (te’umim)||Gemini||30 days||represented by 18 stars|
|4||Tammuz||סרטן, (sarṭan)||Cancer||29 days||represented by 9 stars|
|5||Av||אריה, (arieh)||Leo||30 days||represented by 60 stars|
|6||Elul||בתולה, (betulah)||Virgo||29 days||represented by 25 stars|
|7||Tishri||מאזנים, (moznayim)||Libra||30 days||represented by 8 stars|
|8||Cheshvan||עקרב, (ʻaḳrab)||Scorpio||29 days[c]||represented by 21 stars|
|9||Kislev||קשת, (ḳeshet)||Sagittarius||30 days[d]||represented by 31 stars|
|10||Tevet||גדי, (ğedi)||Capricorn||29 days||represented by 28 stars|
|11||Shevat||דלי, (deli)||Aquarius||30 days||represented by 42 stars|
|12||Adar||דגים, (dagim)||Pisces||29 days[e]||represented by 34 stars|
The observance and reckoning of the movements of the 12 constellations are believed by some scholars to have been learnt from Hellenistic culture, after first being divested of influences that were deemed idolatrous.
Accordingly, it was believed that God determined that each of the seven planets be subordinate to the twelve constellations of the Zodiac, and work in conjunction with them. For example, the Sun is directly subservient to the influences emanating from the constellation known as Leo, while the Moon is subservient to the influences emanating from the constellation known as Cancer. Mars is subservient to the influences emanating from two constellations, namely, Aries and Scorpio. The planet Venus is also subservient to the influences emanating from two constellations, namely, Taurus and Libra. The planet Mercury is, likewise, subservient to two constellations, drawing its influences from them, namely, that of Gemini and Virgo. The planet Saturn is subservient to two constellations, those being Capricorn and Aquarius, whence it draws its influences. Finally, the planet Jupiter is directly subordinate to the influences emanating from Sagittarius and Pisces.
Weekly duties (by night): Each of the seven planets takes turn governing one day of the week, with the active involvement of all the planets on that same day working in concert, hour after hour, day by day, night by night, such that on the evening that commences Sunday (i.e. Saturday night), the night is governed by Mercury (kokhav), which begins its turn of duty in the first hour of the night, followed by all the other planets one after the other. On the evening that commences Monday (i.e. Sunday night), the night is governed by Jupiter (tzedek), which begins its turn of duty in the first hour of the night, followed by all the other planets one after the other. And so it is in this manner all throughout the week, the evening that commences Tuesday (i.e. Monday night) is governed by Venus (nogah); the evening that commences Wednesday (i.e. Tuesday night) is governed by Saturn (shabtai); the evening that commences Thursday (i.e. Wednesday night) is governed by the Sun (ḥamah); the evening that commences Friday (i.e. Thursday night) is governed by the Moon (levanah); the evening that commences Saturday (i.e. Friday night) is governed by Mars (ma'adim). The mnemonic used to denote this order is כצנ"ש חל"ם.
Hourly duties: Since each planet takes its turn of duty in the 12-hour night, the order taken in their hourly rotation is as follows: When Mercury (kokhav) finishes the 1st hour of the night, it is joined by the Moon (levanah) who takes up the 2nd hour of the night, followed by Saturn (shabtai) who takes up the 3rd hour of the night, followed by Jupiter (tzedek) who takes up the 4th hour of the night, followed by Mars (ma'adim) who takes up the 5th hour of the night, followed by the Sun (ḥamah) whose influence takes up the 6th hour of the night, followed by Venus (nogah) who takes up the 7th hour of the night, and in this order it is repeated until the 12-hour night has concluded for each of the seven nights. This hourly rotation is denoted by the mnemonic כל"ש צמח"ן. Fixing their rotation in such a way, hour by hour, was seen as vital in order to determine the character of the child who is born at any given hour of the night, based on the hour's acting "mazal" (astrological influence), in accordance with the principle laid out by Rabbi Hanina: "Not the constellation of the day but that of the hour is the determining influence."
Weekly duties (by day): As in the night, so, too, each of the 12-hour weekdays has a set order pre-determined for it, while each of the seven planets rotating and serving in its respective hour. However, the planet that began to serve in the first hour of the night is not the same planet that begins in the first hour of the day. During the weekdays, the first hour of the first day of the week (Sunday), starts with the influences of the Sun (hence: Sunday); the first hour of the second day of the week (Monday) starts with the influences of the Moon (hence: Monday); the first hour of the third day of the week (Tuesday) with Mars, and the first hour of the fourth day of the week (Wednesday) with Mercury, while the first hour of the fifth day of the week (Thursday) with Jupiter, and the first hour of the sixth day of the week (Friday) with Venus, and lastly, the first hour of the seventh day of the week (Saturday) with Saturn. The mnemonic used to denote this order is חל"ם כצנ"ש.
Hourly duties: When the Sun finishes the 1st hour of the day on Sunday, it is joined by Venus who takes up the 2nd hour of the day on Sunday, followed by Mercury who takes up the 3rd hour of the day on Sunday, followed by the Moon whose influence takes up the 4th hour of the day on Sunday, followed by Saturn who takes up the 5th hour of the day on Sunday, followed by Jupiter who takes up the 6th hour of the day on Sunday, followed by Mars who takes up the 7th hour of the day on Sunday, and in this order it is repeated until the 12-hour day has concluded. Again, fixing their rotation in such a way, hour by hour, was seen as vital in order to determine the character of the child who is born at any given hour of the day. The mnemonic used by the Sages of Israel to remember their order of rotation is שצ"ם חנכ"ל = ShaTzaM ḤaNKaL (shabtai [= Saturn] → tzedek [= Jupiter] → ma'adim [= Mars] → ḥamah [= Sun] → nogah [= Venus] → kokhav [= Mercury] → levanah [= Moon]).
Although each of the seven planets will rotate one after the other on an hourly basis, whether by day or whether by night, it is only the planet or orb that began to serve in the first hour, whether by day or whether by night, that is considered the principal planet and master of that entire day (if it began its turn of duty in the first hour of the day), or the principal planet and master of that entire night (if it began its turn of duty in the first hour of the night). The participation of all the other planets on that same day or that same night is inconsequential to the fact that the mazzal (= astral influences) for that day, or what is called mazzal yom, belongs to the planet that began serving in the first hour of the day, or in the first hour of the night, while the other planets are only concerned with their specific hour, or what is called mazzal sha'ah.
Since the Moon begins its turn of duty in the first hour of every Monday morning, and Jupiter begins its turn of duty in the first hour of every Thursday morning, and since both these planets are considered planets possessing good influences, it follows that Mondays and Thursdays are considered auspicious days in the Jewish calendar.
|Number||Classical planet||Hebrew name||Clime (chief sphere of influence)||Birth qualities (for those born under its star)||Worldwide influences|
|1||Moon||לבנה, (levanah)||7th clime||Dull; lacking understanding. Inclined to find favor and love in the eyes of others, or else show the same to others. Able to bear patiently illnesses; builds and tears down and vice-versa||Cold and humidity are under its influences. Its virtue is to act with its light on the trees and plants; tidal waves of the sea controlled by moon's waning and waxing; preserves moisture in plants and animals towards the end of its lunation, during which time women are best able to conceive|
|2||Mercury||כוכב, (kokhav)||6th clime||Those born under this star will have teaching abilities, and an analytical mind, such as needed to perform special skills and artistic talents. Having a strong inclination towards wisdom, prudence and good understanding.||Awakens in the world strife and contentions and enmities, as well as gossip, but also gives strength to do virtuously and to heap up wealth and riches, as well as provisions. Its influences work both good and bad.|
|3||Venus||נוגה, (nogah)||5th clime||Those persons born under this star will be of a beautiful countenance and will find favor among others, and will have a comely manner of speech. They are strongly motivated by desire, happiness and joy.||Cold is under its influences. Awakens in the world tranquility and calm, happiness and rejoicing, carols and joyful songs, the merriment associated with weddings, while binding together all fruitful produce and other flora, its influences being utterly good.|
|4||Sun||חמה, (ḥamah)||4th clime||Those persons born under this star will attain to a higher level of virtue than their ancestors. Those born under its influences have a propensity for greatness, personal elevation and prideful arrogance.||Renews wonders in the world, whether for abundance or for privation; whether for peace or for war; occasionally working to bring down and to depose of kingdoms, while at other times working to establish and to raise up [others].|
|5||Mars||מאדים, (ma’adim)||3rd clime||Those person's born under this star will be courageous. Thefts, envy and hatred are the traits found in those born under its influences.||Heat and dryness are under its influences. Awakens in the world wars and killings and desolation, as well as a multitude of other troubles; the burning of cities and bloodshed. Its influences are bad and harmful, as if to rid the [unwanted] thorns from the vineyards.|
|6||Jupiter||צדק, (tzedek)||2nd clime||Those born under its influences are associated with fruitfulness (procreation), goodness, equity, and calms what is inevitable, and enhances justice. Those persons born under this star will become both prudent and wise.||Awakens in the world heat and humidity. Awakens probity and repentance and good-will and love, as well as every good virtue, while bringing an end to wars and hostility and conflict, and allowing for the increase of the earth's fruits. Its influences are utterly good.|
|7||Saturn||שבתי, (shabtai)||1st clime||Unsuccessful; associated with failure. Those born under its influences are inclined to do evil, whether suicidal death or murder, and to spread enmity and hatred.||Coldness and dryness are under its influences. Awakens wars and captivity, plundering and famine, while also destroying countries and quickly uprooting kingdoms, insofar that its influences are bad and bring harm, as if it were to bring an end to the wicked of the earth.|
To accurately determine the time in which each of the Seven Planets are in their respective line of duty, per hour, one must either have access to a printed lunar calendar showing the Jewish months, and know the precise starting point for each day and night, or else be familiar with the ever-changing aspects of the Jewish months, as the planetary influences will change with the conjunction of the moon with the sun, also known as the New Moon (occurring every 29 days, 12 hours and 793 parts of an hour), as also with the intercalation of the lunar month during a Jewish Leap Year (occurring seven times in a 19-year period), when the lunar month Nisan and its influences will be delayed by one month on account of an additional lunar month Adar. Several online websites provide conversion tables for converting a known date in the Gregorian calendar with the corresponding weekday, day and month in the Hebrew calendar.
|Tables showing planetary influences per hour (click to open)|
The Kabbalist and Rabbi, Hayyim Vital, has explained the Seven Classical planets in a more conceptual and esoteric sense. While ranking ten spheres (realms) (Hebrew: גלגלים) from the highest to the lowest, he describes the Ninth Sphere as having nothing in it, and which rejects the presence of any star. As for the Eighth Sphere (Hebrew: גלגל השמיני), he states that all the stars of the universe, with the 12 constellations of the Zodiac, are contained therein, being below the Ninth Sphere, while each of the Seven classical planets occupies a space or realm below them: In the Seventh Sphere there is only one planet, Saturn (shabtai); in the Sixth Sphere there is only one planet, Jupiter (tzedek); in the Fifth Sphere there is only one planet, Mars (ma'adim); in the Fourth Sphere there is only one star, the Sun (ḥamah); in the Third Sphere there is only one planet, Venus (nogah); in the Second Sphere there is only one planet, Mercury; and in the First Sphere there is only the Moon (levanah). Hayyim Vital does not speak about their physical distance in relation to the earth, seeing that, besides the Moon (a satellite), the planet Venus is the closest planet, physically, to the earth. Rather, everything is expressed in relative spiritual distances, by virtue of their rank.
Hayyim Vital, when speaking of their relative influences, wrote: "It has already been explained in the books on the science of astrology that all the changing occurrences which take place and which appear anew in the world, they are in accordance with the encounter of one of the Seven Planets standing in proximity to a certain star (Hebrew: מזל) of the twelve astrological constellations (Hebrew: מזלות) located in the Eighth Sphere, or else in accordance with the encounter of some of those planets which belong to the Seven, when they are found together in one place. Moreover, any encounter of the Seven Planets with the other [celestial] forms found in the [vast] open space of the Eighth Sphere[h] will cause a little of the instructions [relegated unto it] to surge, although not with the same vigor as in the place of those twelve astrological constellations that are synchronous with the Eighth Sphere."
One of the more arcane and mystical writings on the subject, Sefer Yetzirah ("Book of Creation"), a book that endeavors to show the interconnection between all things, says that God created the Seven Planets by means of seven Hebrew letters, which are בג"ד כפר"ת (being the sole double-sounding consonants in the Hebrew alphabet), and that the 12 constellations of the Zodiac were also created by means of 12 ordinary Hebrew letters. The author of this work, without divulging the influences of the horoscopes, names simply those things created by means of the letters, naming also the weekdays, seven groupings of words and their opposites (life and death; peace and evil disturbances; wisdom and foolishness; wealth and poverty; fertility and desolation; beauty and ugliness; governance and servitude), among other things. According to Judah Halevi, the seven planets and the 12 constellations, and the various other examples mentioned in the book, are the means by which man is capable of understanding the unity and omnipotence of God, which are multiform on one side and, yet, uniform on the other.
While astrology in Jewish thought is generally acknowledged to mean that "every happening related to man, whether small or great, has been delivered into the power of the stars by the blessed Creator," it still allows for self-determination and free will of the individual in what concerns his choice of right and wrong actions, in spite of fate governing other aspects of man's life. This is expressed by the rabbinic dictum: "Everything is determined by heaven, except one's fear of heaven," meaning, everything in a person's life is predetermined by God —except that person's choice to be either good or bad; righteous or wicked, which is left up entirely to his own free will. Under this principle, as articulated by 13th-century rabbinic scholar, Menachem Meiri, a man that is born under the influences of Mars will have a natural inclination to shed blood, and if he were the son of a king born under the same Martian influence, he will grow-up to wage wars on other countries, and when victorious, he will sentence the defeated enemy to be executed. Even so, an ordinary man that is born under such influences should be instructed to take-up the profession of ritual slaughter, or livestock butcher, or similar skill crafts (e.g. mohel). So, too, with all the other signs of the Zodiac which incline to a certain unwanted trait, man is able to choose between right and wrong, and between good and bad.
In some instances, a person can alter what has been seen by an astrologer concerning his fate, simply by performing a charitable deed. The Jerusalem Talmud relates a story where two men were saved by giving a portion of their bread to a hungry man.
The students of Rabbi Haninah were going out to cut wood. A certain astrologer saw them. He said, 'These two [men], when they go out, shall not return again'. When they eventually went out, a certain elderly man met up with them. He said to them, 'Give to me a charitable hand-out, for there have been three days since I have eaten anything'. They had with them one loaf of bread. They broke half and gave it to him. He then ate and he prayed for them. He said to them, 'May your souls be preserved this day, just as you have preserved for me my own soul this day'. They went out safely (in peace), and returned safely (in peace). There happened to be there people who had heard his proclamation, and they said to him (to the astrologer): 'Did you not say that these two men, when they go out, shall not return? If so, the man is a liar, for his astrological forecasts are erroneous'. Even so, they went and diligently searched the matter and they found a [venomous] snake that was cut in half, the one half on one side of the wood load, and the other half on the other side of the wood load. They then enquired of the two men, saying, 'What was the manner of your work this day?' They rehearsed to him what had happened. He then said, 'What then is this man (i.e. astrologer) able to do, seeing that the God of the Jews is appeased by a half loaf of bread.
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