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Jewish Astrology

JEWISH ASTROLOGY: A MAP OF YOUR SOUL'S JOURNEY IN THIS INCARNATION

The material world is a lens through which HaShem, Creator of the Universe, emanates specific energies. In our morning prayers leading up to Sh'ma Israel, we marvel at G*d's luminous creations, the Sun, Moon, and Stars:

"The Blessed G*d, Who is great in knowledge prepared and produced the rays of the sun, the Beneficent One that which He fashioned provides honor for His Name. Luminaries did He place all around His power! The leaders of His legions, holy ones who exalt the Almighty, constantly relate the honor of G*d and His sanctity. May You be blessed, HaShem our G*d, in the heavens above and on the earth below, for all the excellent work of your hands, and for the luminaries of light that You have formed, may they glorify You forever!"

Just as the prism refracts light into specific components of the spectrum, creating colors - so too does HaShem refract Divine Light into specific components of the energetic spectrum to be used as tools to accomplish specific tasks.

The model of the 12 Tribes around the Mishkan as described in BaMidbar (the Book of "Numbers"), Chapter 2, illustrates the energetic configuration that HaShem created as a model for our psyches and our souls. "As above, so below" - each person's individual Natal Chart is his/her unique "Blueprint" - a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional reality.

In this paradigm - YOU are the Mishkan. The array of Planets, Asteroids and theoretical mathematical symbols such as the Lunar Nodes as they appear around you, placed in the 12 Houses (each with their own modality/functionality) tells the story of the journey of your soul during this lifetime. Your challenges, your "Tikkunim" (attributes to "fix" during your lifetime) and the tools that you were imbued with at birth are all discovered, uncovered and illuminated during your personalized Natal Chart reading

Jewish astrology can help a person identify his/her own karmic trajectories, life path, road conditions, vehicle strengths and limitations, and learn to identify and use G*d-given tools (your own Planetary placements) to accomplish your life tasks with clarity, joy, and assurance that the path you are taking is the correct one.


JEWISH ASTROLOGY: YESH MAZAL L'YISRAEL?


     The abundant representation of astrological motifs in art, artifacts, household items, ritual objects and assorted ephemera from Talmudic times through the modern age suggest that astrology was a common component in the lives of Jewish communities. The stars as a subject matter ranging from their role in the Creation to their influence upon the inhabitants of the earth is present in Jewish text via the Hebrew Bible, rabbinic literature of the Talmudic era, the scientific writings of the medieval commentators, and within Judaism’s mystical texts from the Sefer Yetzirah to the Zohar and the works of the Hasidic masters such as the B’nai Yissachar in the 1840s.[1] 

     Both text and artifact show astrology as a culturally normative component in historical Jewish communities, despite the code of Jewish law, the Shulchan Aruch’s explicit ruling: “One must not inquire of the astrologers and not consult lots,”[2] How are we to reconcile the gap between lived realities and the Jewish legal text?

An examination of the astrologically-themed texts of the Hebrew Bible, Talmud, Jewish mystical literature and the writings of the medieval commentators reveal the dynamic tension between Judaism’s requirement to calculate sacred calendrical/liturgical time via the luminaries and the forbidden use of astrology for divinatory purposes. On the one hand, the rabbis are unambiguous about the importance of celestial bodies for the practical calendrical purposes of determining the proper and correct times of the new month, commanded feasts, and other religious obligations. On the other hand, the halachic (Jewish legal) rulings reflected an officially prohibitive attitude against astrology, with rulings such as found in the Shulchan Aruch as mentioned earlier, or the catch-all Talmudic phrase “Ein mazel l’Yisrael”[3] used by today’s Orthodox establishment to dismiss astrology as neither a “Jewish” subject, nor a subject fit for Jews.  Yet the sages and the rabbis themselves within their own corpus affirm both the power and efficacy of the celestial spheres. The rabbinic enterprise itself may have even acted as a kind of rival esoteric system to the supernatural traditions of the dominant cultures by creating its own differentiating innovations, producing its own magicians and scientists and magical texts, and substituting its own cultural/mythic archetypes for those of the prevailing Hellenistic astrological system.
Astrology could not be ignored; the Talmud declares knowledge of the luminaries to be Israel’s heritage and the means by which sacred time is calculated and kept.[4] Neither could cosmological knowledge be ceded to idolatrous nations, all of which incorporated star-worship into their forbidden pagan practices.
The Talmudic-era rabbis used their powerful corporate identity, personal piety, and superior knowledge exclusive to Torah scholars to triumph over the esoteric traditions of the dominant culture which threatened their authority. They institutionalized astrology in the Beit Midrash, which accomplished two things: first, it denuded foreign esoteric traditions of any legitimacy and condemned them along with their practitioners to the status of permanent outsider. Secondly: it allowed them to demonstrate the superiority of the Judaism’s own native esoteric traditions on their own terms. They did this by developing differentiating identity-building innovations in astrological knowledge, such as the doctrine of Jewish Planetary Days and Hours, the substitution of biblical symbols and archetypes for their pagan counterparts, and the creation of Jewish esoteric texts such as the Sefer Yetzirah. Their heirs, the rabbis of the medieval era, developed an astral-magical Jewish theology during the Middle Ages, a time which also saw astrology’s prominence in medicine, time-keeping, sacred poetry, and messianic speculation. The advent of modernity permanently severed the previously undifferentiated practices of astronomy and astrology. Astronomy became a scientific subject, and astrology was absorbed exclusively into Judaism’s mystical stream, eventually to be subsumed to the Sefirotic archetype first by the Zohar, then by Lurianic Kabbalah and finally by Hasidism.
Two thousand years of Talmudic Judaism and the evolution of halacha (Jewish law) has run concurrent with Judaism’s mystical stream. Astrology is the bridge that crosses that stream, and re-crosses, and crosses it again. From an ubiquitous component of every known religious system of the ancient world to a subject to be studied in the yeshivas of medieval Ashkenaz, from Joseph’s dream of the sun, moon and stars to the zodiac paintings on the walls of eighteenth century wooden synagogues of Eastern Europe, from the twelve tribes whose encampment around the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert below mirrored the order of the constellations above to the twelve tribes on the decorative clock on the walls of the newly remodeled Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem, the zodiac and its components are part of our story as a people.

Understanding astrology’s role in Jewish life throughout history is significant because it seeks to recover a rich and rewarding component of Jewish cultural heritage. Striving to resolve the dissonance between prohibitions against astrology in legal texts and the ubiquity of the artifactual evidence can reveal clues as to how community rabbis might have weighed the influence of folk life in regulating traditional communal norms. Balance and a healthier perspective is restored by correcting the “text-only” bias in how rabbinic astrologically-themed literature is read by post-modern traditionalists. 

If Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi at the end of Zakhor suggests the way to resolve the tension between history and memory might lie in recovering what has been lost and finding meaning in it, these ideas are a step in that direction.[5] Recovering Jewish astrology and finding meaning – Jewish meaning – in an aspect of our heritage which can and does provide insight into our own lives and therefore succor, is ultimately part of our personal and communal healing.


[1] I omit the astrological work of the American rabbi and Dean of the Kabbalah Center, Philip S. Berg (1927–2003), as his claim to direct transmission of Jewish astrological knowledge via Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag (the Baal ha-Sulam, 1886–1955) is vigorously disputed among scholars.
[2] Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah) 179:1: אין שואלים בחוזים בכוכבים ולא בגורלות
[3] BT Shabbat 156a. All Talmudic quotations are from The Babylonian Talmud (London, Soncino Press, 1938) unless otherwise noted.
[4] BT Shabbat 75a.
[5] Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory, The Samuel and Althea Stroum Lectures in Jewish Studies (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1982), 101.