References to astrology in Jewish sources PDF Print E-mail
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A selection of references to astrology in Jewish sources from the period of the Mishnah and Talmud (from the online Jewish encyclopedia)


Talmudists and Astrology.


To resist the influence of the "Wisdom of the Orient" was not an easy task. Nevertheless there was but one teacher of the Talmud, Samuel of Babylonia (about 250), who became an adept in Astrology, and even he, quoting the words (Deut. xxx. 12), "It [the Law] is not in the heavens," says, "Torah can not go together with the art that studies the heavens" (Deut. R. viii. 6). ...In accordance with Jer. x. 2 is another declaration by R. [Rabbi] Johanan...to the effect that "there are no planets for Israel, but only for the nations which recognize the validity of astrology." This opinion is shared by Rab (Abba Arika, Shab. 156a). These utterances, however, do not go undisputed; and it may be added that, more particularly during the fourth century, the belief in the influence of the constellations at conception and birth was general (ib.). Every person had a particular star as a guardian spirit, with which his fate was closely interwoven. The stars of the proselytes were already witnesses of the revelation on Sinai (Shab. 146a). Animals have no stars, and are therefore more liable to injury (Shab. 53b). On the other hand, every blade of grass has its own particular star which bids it grow (Gen. R. x. 6). Causeless fear in man is a sign that his star sees danger (Meg. 3a). ...Raba (lived 350) says, "Duration of life, progeny, and subsistence are dependent upon the constellations" (M.K. 28a). God tells Eleazar ben Pedat, an indigent teacher of the Talmud, that He would have to overturn the world, were He to release him from poverty, he having been born in an unlucky hour (Ta'an. 25a).


Selection of Days.


The most popular form of astrological superstition—and one which still survives among uncultured people—is the selection of propitious days. According to it, certain periods, years, months, days, and hours are regarded as lucky or unlucky. Akiba contends against the superstition that the year before the jubilee is exceptionally blessed. The belief is also condemned that no business should be begun on the new moon, on Friday, or on Sabbath evening (Sifre, Deut. 171; Sifra, Kedoshim, vi.; Sanh. 65). Despite these authoritative doctrines, however, an announcement is found to the effect that it is dangerous to drink water on Wednesday and Friday evenings (Pes. 112a). Samuel, teacher of the Law, physician, and astrologer, taught that it was dangerous to bleed a patient on Monday, Tuesday, or Thursday, because on the last-mentioned day Mars reigns at the even-numbered hours of the day, when demons have their play. It was considered equally dangerous to undergo this operation on a Wednesday falling on the fourth, the fourteenth, or the twenty-fourth of the month, or on a Wednesday occurring within less than four days of the new moon. The new moon was likewise regarded as an unfavorable season for bleeding, as were also the third of the month and the day preceding a festival (Shab. 129b).