Later that evening,
when I knew I would never see her again and was no longer
frantically trying to figure out how I was going to get
her to spend the rest of her life with me, I realized her
question was extraordinary for two reasons.
First, because although we translate mazal
colloquially as "luck," its original meaning
was "sign" -- as in zodiac. So here was this
Israeli woman handing me, in the language of the
prophets, of Agnon, of Tschernikhovski, the ultimate
pick-up cliché. (For the record, my mazal is moznaim,
the scales, or Libra.)
|But it got me thinking.
(That was the second extraordinary thing.) I
wondered if there was anything uniquely Jewish
about Astrology beyond this Israeli woman's
adoption of shallow American bar chatter.
So I began my investigation. It turned out that
astrology, which originated in Babylon, was the
opiate of the Jewish masses, just as it was for
the rest of the Near Eastern and Western world.
Rabbinical leaders condemned the practice. The
Talmudic Rabbi Samuel ruled that "Torah
cannot go together with the art that studies the
heavens." Maimonides, the medieval
philosopher and ever the extreme rationalist,
dismissed astrology as superstition.
And the historian Josephus wrote that the Jews
pursued their disastrous wars against the Romans
in part because they relied on misinterpreted
But alongside these official denunciations comes
one of the most fanciful and lyrical midrashim
I've encountered. It seeks to place astrology in
context by describing nothing less than how the
Jews came to be.
strong point is describing an
individual's personality. Its weak point is its
ability to predict the future."
||Abraham, it seems, was the
foremost astrologer in all Babylon. A great
zodiac was tattooed on his chest, and every
morning kings came from East and West to seek
But when Abraham divined his own future, he
discovered a paradox. His calculations told him
he was to become the father of a nation. But
Abraham had no children.
It was only then that Abraham pierced the
firmament and for the first time perceived a God
who was the author of all creation. In this leap
of faith, Abraham came to believe in a world
where an old, childless man could become the
father of a great people. At that moment, Abraham
became the first Jew.
A few weeks after my encounter on Ben-Yehudah
Street, I was sitting, not half-a-mile away, in
the office of Ilan Pecker, a lawyer, religious
Jew and professional astrologer. He was telling
me that same story about Abraham.
"The stars are matter and we are
matter," he explained after finishing the
story. "In order to rise above the zodiac,
we must, like Abraham, become more
In my dim memory, I recall a book-lined room with
large horoscope charts spread across a table. Mr.
Pecker sat behind his desk as I tried to refute
the notion that astrology was anything more than
He told me that modern astrology is more akin to
psychology than to science. "Astrology says
there is a correlation between the movement of
the planets and the behavior of man. We just
don't know how the influence works," he
said. "Astrology's strong point is
describing an individual's personality. Its weak
point is its ability to predict the future."
|That means that newspaper
horoscopes are bunk, right? "You can't
divide the world's 5 billion people into 12
astrological groups and expect to learn
anything," he agreed.
Ilan Pecker wrote those newspaper horoscopes. He
nodded and sighed. Supply and demand.
When it comes to astrology's efficacy, I'm with
Maimonides. It's a diversion for people with
problems whose uncomfortable solutions may be
right in front of them.
On the other hand, the old rationalist was never
one to inspire emotional wonderment. At Kibbutz
Bet Alfa, in the Jezre'el Valley, they unearthed
a breathtaking mosaic floor from a 6th-century
synagogue. At its center is a giant wheel of the
zodiac, including a nude figure holding scales --
my sign, moznaim.
The mosaic is so vivid that you can almost
imagine the response of the artist's friends when
they first saw it. They probably pumped his hand
warmly and wished him a hearty mazal tov on his
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