The unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia
- Phrase search: "names of god"
- Exclude terms: "names of god" -zerah
- Volume/Page: v9 p419
- Diacritics optional: Ḥanukkah or hanukkah
- Search by Author: altruism author:Hirsch
search tips & recommendations


—Biblical. See Astronomy, Biblical.Terminology. —In the Apocrypha and in the Talmud:

Neither (Isa. xlvii. 13), which the Greek translation renders "astrologers," nor (Dan. ii. 27 et seq.), the technical designation for the Chaldean casters of horoscopes, nor (Dan. iii. 27), explained "astrologers" (Cant. R. to vii. 9), is found in ancient Jewish traditions. Even the Hebraic name , "star-gazer" (Isa. xlvii. 13), occurs only in the commentaries on the Talmud. The customary names are ("astrologer") in Palestinian and ("Chaldeans") in Babylonian sources—expressions originating in the Greco-Roman world, where Ξαλδαῖοι and "Chaldæi" are found as early as the beginning of the common era, exclusively applied to astrologers. Whether any etymological relation exists between and the appellation , or , a word used in connection with the Egyptian rulers (, Soṭah 12b) and identical in meaning, can not be definitely ascertained. The art itself goes by the name of (Astrologia).


These foreign terms suffice to show that the "Chaldean science" was not introduced into Judea directly, but through the medium of syncretic Hellenism, wherein, in the course of centuries, it met with an ever-widening acceptance. The Sibylline Books praise the Jewish nation because it "does not meditate on the prophecies of the fortune-tellers, magicians, and conjurers, nor practise Astrology, nor seek the oracles of the Chaldeans in the stars" (iii. 227); and Josephus censures the people for ignoring the visible signs and indications foreshadowing the destruction of the Temple ("B. J." vi. 5, § 3). There were actually no Jewish astrologers either in the Holy Land or in Babylonia; and the art, together with those who practised it, was condemned, although its reality was as little questioned then as it was by the rest of the world up to the seventeenth century. It was indeed considered of celestial origin, and as having been revealed to mankind by the rebellious angels. Baraḳel (Raḳiel: Greek text) taught star-gazing; Kokabel (the Star of God), Astrology; SheḦaḳeel, the science of the clouds; Arḳiel (the Earth of God), the signs of the earth; Samsiel (the Sun of God), the signs of the sun; and Scuriel, Sahriel (the Moon of God), the signs of the moon (Enoch viii. 3).

Chronology and Astrology.

The admiration for Astrology was due not so much to its importance for reckoning times and seasons—although as such held in high esteem—as to its supposed power of forecasting the future. Enoch ordained the jubilees, year-weeks ("Jahrwochen"), months, Sabbaths (weeks), and days, and "all that was, that is, and that will be he saw as in a vision, even the destiny of the children of man from generation to generation to the Judgment Day: everything he foresaw and apprehended, inscribing his testimony upon the earth for the benefit of mankind and all their posterity" (Jubilees iv. 19). According to the same book (viii. 3), such prediction is inscribed upon the rocks. The same view, with a Jewish monotheistic coloring, is expressed in the rabbinical legend, according to which God showed to Adam all the future generations, including their scribes, scholars, and leaders ('Ab. Zarah 5a). Abraham, the Chaldean, bore upon his breast a large astrological tablet on which the fate of every man might be read; for which reason—according to the haggadist—all the kings of the East and of the West congregated every morning before his door in order to seek advice. It is to this tablet that the words (Gen. xxiv. 1), "the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things," are said to allude (Tosef., Ḳid. v. 17; B. B. 16b). Abraham himself saw in it that he would have no second son, but God said unto him, "Away with your astrology; for Israel there is no planet!" (Shab. 156a). Elsewhere it is declared that Abraham was not an astrologer at all, but a prophet, inasmuch as only those beneath the stars could be subject to their influence; but that Abraham was above them (Gen. R. xliv. 12). It is also stated that Joab refused to join the conspiracy of Absalom, because he had seen David's favorable nativity (Sanh. 49a and elsewhere).

Astrology in the Roman Empire.

Like the Assyrio-Babylonian monarchs, who received from their astrologers a monthly forecast of coming events (Isa. xlvii. 13 and cuneiform inscriptions; e.g., Rawlinson, "Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia," iii. 51), the Roman emperors believed in the all-powerful influence of the stars upon the destinies of man and nature. Tiberius was a master in the art of casting a horoscope, and regulated all his actions in accordance with his astrological deductions (Josephus, "Ant." xviii. 6, § 9). The Roman empire boasted a complete system of Chaldeo-Greek literature, which was zealously cultivated by the members of theastrological schools; all public and private life being under the influence of these pseudo-prophets, who received substantial rewards in gold.

These conditions are reflected in the parables of the Talmud, which vividly illuminate the astrological belief from every point of view. Jethro advises Moses (Mek., Yitro, 'Amalek, 2) to select the men whom he wishes to cooperate with him by means of the mirror into which the kings are accustomed to gaze.

(Gen. R. i. 4).

"A king who had no son said to his attendants, 'Buy pen and ink for my son': and the people took the king to be a great astrologer; for how could he have ordered pen and ink for his son, had he not beheld beforehand that he was to have one? The same applies to God, who foresaw that He would, at some future time, give Israel the Torah"

(Pirḳe R. El. xli.).

"The question is asked, 'Why did God proclaim His law amid fire and darkness (Deut. v. 20), and not by the light of day'? And the answer is given in the form of a parable: 'A king, who was a great astrologer, gave his son in marriage, and hung black curtains before the bridal chamber, saying, "I know that my son will not abide by his nuptial promises longer than forty days; let not the people, in days to come, say that an astrologer such as I did not know what was to happen to his son."' The astrologer is God, his son is Israel; and the bride is the Torah, by which Israel abode no longer than forty days (from the revelation to the making of the golden calf)"

(Lev. R. xxxvi. 4).

"A ruler sentenced a man to death by fire; but when he perceived by means of astrology that the condemned would beget a daughter destined to become the king's wife, he said, 'This man must be saved for his daughter's sake.' Thus did God save Abraham from the fiery furnace, because of Jacob"

(Deut. R. iv 5, referring to Gen. xxi. 10-12).

"A man to whom a son was born was met by an astrologer who, on seeing the child, declared that he was destined to become a bandit-chief (ἀρχιληστής) and must be put out in the desert. The father of the child refused until the astrologer's father told him to do just as his son had ordered. The father of the astrologer is God; the astrologer is Sarah; the child is Ishmael; and the father of the child is Abraham"

Court Astrologers.

When Pharaoh made Joseph vice-regent, his astrologers asked, "Would you elevate this slave, purchased for twenty pieces of silver, to be ruler over us?" and Pharaoh answered, "I see the colors of rulership in him" (Soṭah 36b). Here, as elsewhere, colors play an important part in Astrology.

In reference to a request of King Solomon for laborers on the Temple, Pharaoh directed his astrologers to select workmen who were to die within the year, and send them to the Jewish monarch, who, however, seeing the ruse through the medium of the Holy Spirit, sent them back again clad in shrouds (Pesiḳ. iv. 34a).

Mesha, king of Moab, asked his astrologers, "Why am I unable to vanquish the Jews?" and they answered, "Because of the merit of Abraham, who was ready to sacrifice his own son"; whereupon the king did likewise (ib. ii. 13a).

Astrological Errors.

When a pagan wanted to buy a slave, he first consulted an astrologer. It was through this art that the wife of Potiphar learned that she was to have a son by Joseph; and it was for this reason that she regarded him with favor. It was an error, however; for the prognostication referred to her daughter, who subsequently became Joseph's wife (Gen. R. lxxxv. 2, lxxxvii. 4).

Pharaoh's astrologers perceived that the mother of the future redeemer of Israel was with child, and that this redeemer was destined to suffer punishment through water. Not knowing whether the redeemer was to be an Israelite or an Egyptian, and being desirous to prevent the redemption of Israel, Pharaoh ordered that all children born henceforth should be drowned; but when the Egyptians remonstrated against this edict, he restricted it to Israelitish infants. But the astrologers erred in their deductions; for the reference was to the waters of Meribah (Num. xx. 13), and not to the Nile (Ex. R. i. 18; Sanh. 101b; compare also Ber. 4a).

The conviction that the astrologers could control the planets prevailed everywhere among the nations of antiquity. Thus Haman regulated the time for the extinction of the Jews by means of astrological calculations (Pirḳe R. El. l.). A barber, who was also an astrologer, perceived that the Jews would shed his blood; consequently he murdered 80 or, according to some, 300 of those who visited him professionally. But he erred; for the reference was to the blood which he was to lose at circumcision on his conversion to Judaism (Yer. 'Ab. Zarah ii. 41a).

Special Features.

The astrologers were wont to sit at the entrance to the harbors and predict how every parcel of merchandise would be disposed of (Eccl. R. i. 14; Midr. Panim AḦerim. to Esth. iii. 7, ed. Buber, p. 46). They could determine by lot under what planet and in what month and on what day a people was to be attacked (Sanh. 95a). On one occasion they prophesied to a non-Hebrew that his fortune would fall into the hand of a pious Jewish Sabbath observer. The fortune was thereupon invested in a diamond and worn by the possessor; but it fell into the water and was later found by a Jew in the stomach of a fish that he had bought for the Sabbath meal (Shab. 119a). An astrologer predicted of a new-born male infant that he was destined to become a thief; for which reason the mother always kept the head of the child covered in order that "the fear of the heaven be upon him," and admonished him constantly to pray for divine grace. In spite of all, the covering fell from his head upon one occasion, after he had grown to manhood and had attained to the dignity of a teacher of the Law, and he fulfilled the sinister prediction by plucking and devouring the fruit of a tree which did not belong to him (Shab. 156b). Another teacher of the Law declined the proffered position of head of the school because a Chaldean had predicted that he should occupy the chair for only two years; and this proved true, when he finally accepted the position twenty-two years later (Ber. 64a). Two students of the Talmud went out to fell timber, and an astrologer declared that they would never return; but they were saved because of a benevolent action which they performed (Yer. Shab. vi. 8d). An astrologer became a proselyte and consequently abandoned his art; but he relied on God, and in a critical moment he was saved (ib.).

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 withthe art that studies the heavens" (Deut. R. viii. 6). A similar remark is made by the Babylonian Jose of Huẓal: "We are not permitted to appeal to the Chaldeans, for it is written (Deut. xviii. 13), 'Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God'" (Pes. 113b). In accordance with Jer. x. 2 is another declaration by R. Johanan, the Palestinian amora, 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). The first day of illness is concealed from mankind in order that the influence of one's star may not be weakened; and the setting of one's star betokens that one's death is near (Ber. 55b). Raba (lived 350) says, "Duration of life, progeny, and subsistence are dependent upon the constellations" (M. Ḳ. 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, Ḳedoshim, 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).

Two Horoscopes.

In consequence of religious anti-Biblical influences, some of these pagan views gradually acquired a Hebraic tinge. Of two horoscopes which have been preserved, however, only the earlier bears a Jewish stamp. On Joshua b. Levi's "tablets" (third century) it is stated that men born on Sunday will be distinguished, on Monday wrathful, on Tuesday wealthy and sensual, on Wednesday intelligent and enlightened, on Thursday benevolent, and on Friday pious; while those born on Saturday are destined to die on that day. Only four of these predictions are based upon the days of Creation; from which it would appear that the conclusions here are not those of Joshua b. Levi, but originated rather with Amoraim, who add other remarks. Rabbi Ḥanina said to his pupils: "Go to the son of Levi, and tell him that the fate of a person is not decided by the constellations of the day, but by those of the hour"—in other words, it is not the birthday, but the natal hour, that decides. Those born while the sun rules in the heavens have a brilliant career before them, and they will eat and drink of their own substance; but their secrets will be divulged, and they will never prosper by theft. Those born under the dominion of Venus are destined to wealth and sensual enjoyment, because fire is suspended on this star; while birth under the planet Mercury foretokens intelligence and enlightenment, Mercury being the scribe of the sun. The hapless born under the reign of the moon, however, will suffer much sorrow; they will build and demolish, demolish and build, and they will eat and drink not of their own substance; but their secrets will be safe, and should they steal, they will escape detection. The plans of those born under the reign of Saturn will be destroyed; while the righteous or the charitable ("ẓaddiḳim") are born under the reign of Jupiter ("Ẓedeḳ"), and the shedder of blood under Mars; but this prognosticon, says Ashi, may also refer to surgeons and butchers (Shab. 156a).

When the vernal equinox occurs during the hour of Jupiter, the power of the fruit-trees is broken; and when the winter solstice falls within this hour, the seeds of the field dry up. In this case, however, it is necessary also that the new moon should appear during the moon or Jupiter hour ('Er. 56a). An eclipse of the sun is an evil omen for the nations, while an eclipse of the moon is a particular fatality for Israel, Jewish reckoning of time being based upon the phases of this planet (Mek., Bo, i.; Suk. 29a; G. Brecher, "Das Transcendentale, Magie und Magische Heilarten im Talmud," p. 157, Vienna, 1850).

  • G. Brecher, as above;
  • L. Löw, Die Astrologie bei den Juden, in Ben Chananja, 1863, vi. 401-408, 431-435;
  • idem, Gesammelte Schriften, ed. T. Löw, ii. 115-131, Szegedin, 1890.
J. Sr. L. B.—In Medieval Times:

Astrology, called "Ḧokmat ha-nissayon" (wisdom of prognostication), in distinction from "Ḧokmat ha-Ḧizzayon" (wisdom of star-seeing, or astronomy), was practised by Jews throughout the Middle Ages, both as a professional art and as a science. Coming from the East, they were looked upon as heirs and successors of the Chaldeans, and, probably for this reason, were regarded by the Occidental world as skilful masters of the art of Astrology; their supposed power over destiny filling the multitudes with awe and fear (Bédarride, "Les Juifs en France," pp. 49, 454, note 21; Basnage, "Histoire des Juifs," iv. 1212; P. Cassel, "Juden," in Ersch and Gruber's "Encyc."pp. 16, 17; 52, note 78; 67, notes 50 and 51; 115, 171, 224).

Masters in Astrology.

Jewish cosmology in the Middle Ages, therefore, accords to Astrology a, distinct place, as may be learned from the "Sefer Yeẓirah," v. 4, vi. 2-4, where the zodiac and the dragon as "the king" are represented as cosmic factors; and from the astrological Baraita of Samuel, belonging to the beginning of the ninth century (Zunz, in Steinschneider, "Hebr. Bibl." 1862, pp. 15 et seq.). Afterward, the Cabala, in the Zohar and in the Book of Raziel, exhibits a thorough knowledge of Astrology; and liturgical poetry, through Kalir and Ibn Gabirol ("Keter Malkut"), gives it recognition (S. Sachs, "Ha-Yonah," i. 59-93; M. Sachs, "Die Religiöse Poesie," 1845, p. 250). Indeed, in the eighth and ninth centuries, Jews were the foremost masters in Astrology. Jacob ibn Tarik, called by Ibn Ezra an astrological authority, is recorded by the same writer as having imported the astronomical tables of the Hindus to Bagdad under Almanṣur in 777 ("Z. D. M. G." xxiv. 332-354). His contemporary was Mashallah, the famous court astrologer of Almanṣur and Mamun (about 800), some of whose works Ibn Ezra translated from the Arabic into Hebrew (Steinschneider, "Hebr. Uebers." pp. 599-603). Another Jewish astrologer of note was Sahl b. Bishr al-Israeli in 820, called also Rabban al-Ṭabari, "rabbi of Tabaristan," whose astrological works still exist partly in the original, and were translated into Hebrew and Latin (ib. pp. 603-607; idem, in "Jew. Quart. Rev." xiii. 108-109). Ibn Ezra mentions also as the greatest Jewish astrologer Andruzagar ben Zadi Faruk, probably a Persian (Steinschneider, in "Monatsschrift." 1884, p. 479; idem, "Hebr. Uebers." p. 854, note 54b). As a matter of fact, most of the works on Astrology composed by Mohammedan scholars—those ascribed to Ptolemy, and those of Abu Maashar, Al-Kabiṣi, and Abu al-Rijal—were translated by Jews into Hebrew and partly into Spanish (Steinschneider, "Hebr. Uebers." pp. 525-578), or they composed compendiums of such, writing under their own names as "Astrologers."

Thus, Shabbethai Donolo, 913-970, acquired fame both as physician and astrologer; and his commentary on the "Sefer Yeẓirah" is declared by him to be the result of extensive astrological studies (Grätz, "Gesch. der Juden," iii. 292 et seq.). Abraham b. Ḥiyya, the great mathematician and astronomer of Barcelona, of the twelfth century, was also a believer in Astrology, and intended to write a work on it; though, on account of its hypothetical character, he would not accord it the rank of a science (see his "Ẓurat ha-Areẓ," Introduction, and Freimann's Introduction to "Hegyon ha-Nefesh").

An Astrolabe.(From "Ma'ase Tobia," 1707.)The Basis of Messianic Calculations.

Abraham ibn Ezra was the most enthusiastic follower and propagandist of Astrology, which he calls "a sublime science." Besides translating Mashallah's "Questions" and another work of this author on the eclipse of the moon from the Arabic into Hebrew, he wrote "Nativity," "Elections," "Sentences of the Constellations," "Reshit ḤokmaḦ" (Beginning of Wisdom), "Book of the World," a treatise on the "Planets," a treatise on the "Luminaries," one on the "Causes" ('Ha-Ṭe'amim'), and finally a horoscope, see Steinschneider, "Berlin Cat. Hebr. MSS." pp. 136-150; "Hebr. Uebers." pp. 600 et seq.; Rosin, in "Monatsschrift," 1898, p. 250). He often refers to Astrology in his Bible commentaries. To him heaven with its constellations is "the book of life," in which man's destiny is written, and against which there is recourse to God as "the Almighty," who overrules all these influences (commentary to Ps. lxix. 29; Gen. xvii. 9; Ex. vi. 3, xxxiii. 21; Rosin, l.c. p. 251; Zunz, "G. S." iii. 93). Abraham ben David of Posquières, in his critical notes to Maimonides' "Yad," Teshubah, v. 5, also asserts the influence of the stars upon destiny, while contending that by faith in God man may overcome this influence. Judah ha-Levi ("Cuzari," iv. 9), Abraham ibn Daud ("Emunah Ramah," p. 86; see Kaufmann, "Geschichte der Attributenlehre in der Jüdischen Religionsphilosophie des Mittelalters," p. 247), and Albo ("Iḳḳarim,"iv. 4) could not free themselves altogether from the belief in the "decrees of the stars"; nor could NaḦmanides (commentary to Gen. i. 16; Lev. xxiii. 24, and elsewhere), Isaac Arama ("Aḳedat YiẓḦaḳ," xxxiv., Introduction to Ex.), Solomon b. Adret (Responsa, No. 652), and others. Astrology was made the basis of Messianic calculations in almost every century (see Ibn Ezra to Dan. xi. 29; Abravanel, "Mashmia' Yeshu'ah"; Azariah dei Rossi, "Meor Enayim," ch. xliii.; Zunz, l.c.; Steinschneider, "Jüdische Literatur," in Ersch and Gruber's "Encyc." p. 441, notes 80, 81).

Opposed by Maimonides.

Maimonides was the only authority that opposed Astrology energetically. He found it forbidden by the Law in the verse, "Ye shall not observe times" ("lo te'onenu") Lev. xix. 26, in accordance with R. Akiba, Sanh. 68b ("Yad," 'Akkum, xi. 8), and declared it, Talmudical utterances notwithstanding, to be bordering on idolatry, "a disease, not a science, a tree under the shadow of which all sorts of superstitions thrive, and which must be uprooted in order to give way to the tree of knowledge and the tree of life" ("Letter to the Men of Marseilles"; Steinschneider, "Cat. Bodl." col. 1903; idem, "Hebr. Uebers." p. 931). However, the belief was too deeply rooted to be abandoned by the great majority of thinkers (see Löw, in "Ben Chananja," 1863, pp. 430-434). As the last important prominent follower of Astrology may be mentioned David Gans, the astronomer and historian, and friend of Tycho de Brahe, the contemporary of Wallenstein, whose historical work, "ẒemaḦ David" (see introduction to vol. ii.), lays great stress upon the influence of the constellations upon history.

Modern science has abolished Astrology. Only the formula of congratulations, "Mazzal ṭob" (Good luck), is a survival of the old belief, as is the rejection of certain days in the week or the month for weddings or new ventures (see ShulḦan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 179, 2).

  • Steinschneider, Jüdische Literatur, in Ersch und Gruber's Encyc. pp. 441-442;
  • idem, Die Hebräischen Uebersetzungen des Mittelalters, pp. 186, 501-649, 666, 846, 856-858, 931;
  • idem, in Jew. Quart. Rev. xiii. 107-109;
  • Zunz, G. S. iii. 93-95;
  • Schmiedl, Studien über Jüdische Religionsphilosophie, pp. 299-316, Vienna, 1869;
  • L. Löw, Die Astrologie in der Biblischen, Talmudischen und Nachtalmudischen Zeit, in Ben Chananja, 1863, pp. 401, 431 et seq.;
  • idem, Gesammelte Schriften, ii.;
  • Rosin, Die Ethik des Maimonides, 1876, pp. 65 et seq.;
  • idem, in Monatsschrift, 1898, pp. 447 et seq.;
  • Senior Sachs, Ha-Yonah, i. 59-93, Berlin, 1851.
Images of pages