Astrology, The Zodiac and Judaism. How are they connected?

Dear Rabbi Fried,

We recently saw some ancient Jewish art pieces which were adorned with the signs of the Zodiac. This was confusing to us. Do Jews believe in astrology? Do we believe the stars have an effect on our lives and on who we are? If they do, how does that affect our free choice? Sometimes we read the horoscopes in the newspaper and it doesn’t seem very Jewish.

Martin and Hazel

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Dear Martin and Hazel ,

There are numerous references to the influence of the stars in the Torah, Prophets and the Rabbinic writings. For example, Abraham was known to be an expert astrologist and read in the stars that he would never have a child, accounting for his barrenness until nearly 100 years old. God took him outside at night and said, “Gaze, now, toward the Heavens and count the stars if you are able to count them…so shall your offspring be!” The Talmud and commentaries explain the emphasis on God “taking him outside” to the stars, that He was telling him “go outside” of your astrology. True, the stars say you can’t have children, but I have the ability raise you “above the stars”. I will elevate you beyond their influence and you will indeed father a son and a nation. 

This is one of dozens of examples in the Scriptures that the stars do, indeed, have an influence on one’s destiny, in this case on his progeny. If not for God intervening directly Abraham would have lived out his life “by the stars”, without anyone to continue his lineage. There never would have been a Jewish people.

The belief that the stars have an influence on us is implicit in the traditional Jewish blessing of “mazal tov”. It means “you should have a good star”, mazal meaning star. 

Another meaning of the word mazal means “to drip” or to slowly flow. This teaches us a deeper meaning to the blessing of mazal tov. It taps into the idea that God, rather than pouring down His bounty directly, chooses to have it slowly drip or flow to us through a series of pipelines, namely the stars. 

The reason it is funneled to us through dripping and not a strong flow is similar to the renowned Israeli drip irrigation technology which has spread throughout the world. Rather than water being sprayed indescriminately throughout the field with much waste, every drop falls directly on the seed it was meant for; much less water is used with tremendously greater results. Through G-d’s pipeline He excercises His “royal drip technology”, endowing each person, each tree, each blade of grass with exactly what it needs to grow and flourish. 

We learn another lesson from the story of Abraham; although we believe the stars affect the world there is a level of connection to God which transcends the influence of the stars. This explains an apparent contradiction in Rabbinic writings: 

  • On one hand the Talmud says that nothing grows or moves in the world without “its star telling it to do so”. 
  • On the other hand the Rabbis state “Ain Mazal l’Yisrael”, which means that the stars don’t affect the Jewish people. 

Two answers are offered, both important concepts in Judaism: 

  • One states that although individual Jews could be affected by the stars, the Jewish nation, as a whole, remains above such influence and are subject only to God’s direct providence.
  • The second concept learned from Abraham’s exchange: Although an individual may be subject to what is destined for him or her as encoded in the stars, they can transcend that destiny through actions which elevate them above the influence of the stars. This is because these actions unite them directly with the Almighty. Like a king sometimes bypasses the hierarchy of servants and directly grants a wish or a pardon to one he loves or respects, it is God who endows influence to the stars; it is He Who can bypass them and directly influence the life of an individual. 

The question remains why would God choose to bestow His blessings to the world by way of the stars and not confir them upon us directly?

The answer is, an honorable king does not carry out all his decrees on his own, he has a hierarchy of advisors, ministers and multiple layers of underlings to execute his bidding. This hierarchy is befitting the honor of the king.

 God doesn’t exact His decrees or bestow His blessings directly, which would not befit the majesty of His reign. The stars and constellations, in addition to the 10 Sefiros or celestial worlds and their patron angels are the hierarchy of royal messengers which carry out God’s will in a way which is befitting His royalty. He revealed this to us to allow us to be proud subjects of His holy kingdom with all its royalty.

Our blessing of mazal tov, which means to “have a good star”, is our wish that the blessing one has received should continue to drip and flow into even more blessings and goodness in their life. Mazal Tov!

Sincerely,

Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried

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