Volume 13 Number 60
                       Produced: Wed Jun 15 17:31:20 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Astrology (2)
         [Mechy Frankel, Barry Freundel]
What year is it?
         [David Curwin]


From: Mechy Frankel <frankel@...>
Date: Mon, 6 Jun 1994 18:17:24 -0400
Subject: Astrology

Joey Mosseri in Vol 37 #13 inquires whether astrology may be considered
avodas cochavim (vaiz and suf my own, he should not be nechshad of
perpetrating an ashkenazic transliteration) and further solicits
reaction to Rava's well known comment in Moeid Katan 28a to the effect
that life, progeny and material sustenance depend on the stars (chayai
banei umezonai lav bemilsa talia, elah bemazla talia.)  I wanted to
share a rather novel and interesting interpretation of just that gemara
which I came across some time ago, and offer as well some general
perspective on what we should consider the real "problem" of a jewish

1. First, avodas cochavim has indeed been understood to be equivalent in
some sense to astrology.  In Sanhedrin 65b there is a dispute concerning
the proper definition of a "meonain" but R. Akiva identifies it as one
who calculates "eatim veshaos" (times? and hours). Rambam in Hilchos
Avodas Cochavim, Ch 11, Hal. 9 clearly identifies approaching
itztagninos (astrologers) as part of the lav of lo seonan. A
representative "solution" to explain the continual involvement of
chachemai yisrael with astrology despite this lav was articulated in
medieval times by R. Avraham Bar Hiya. who claimed that only the
admixture of astrology with avodah zara was proscibed, not the pure
"science" of astrology itself.

2. Secondly, some historical perspective. It is undeniably true that
Chazal, as well as most of the Geonim and Rishonim aknowledged the
truth, or efficacy, of astrology as a real "science".  The tanachic and
amoraic literature are replete with references which more or less take
this for granted. e.g. besides the M.K.  28a citation offered by Joey,
we may consider Shabbas 156a,b where R. Yochanan et al argue with R.
Chanina concerning the power of the stars to affect jews (ain mazal
leyisrael)- the dominion of the stars over non-jews is taken for
granted, we also learn that those born under Venus will be rich etc,
Bereishis Raba 44/12 where Avraham is freed from the star's predestiny
through a name change, Berachos 64a where R. Yosef put off acceptance of
the job of Rosh Yeshiva because he believed astrologers who told him
that he would only have it for a fixed period (afterwhich he would
presumably have died) and he didn't want to start the clock ticking ("lo
kebail alav R. Yosef deamar leih caldaei...), Bava Basra 16b where R.
Eleazer haModai accounts the Itztagninos (astrological mastery) as part
of the blessing which Avraham received (the beracha of "bacole"), etc.
etc. (My Otzar HaAgadah (Gross)) has 128 citations under this heading.)

3. The involvement and belief in astrology lasted well through the
middle ages.  The Iban Ezra was famous for his mastery of astrology.
(see e.g.  the I.E. on Shemos 28/13 - though you'll have to look in the
long version not available in our regular Mikraos Gedalos. I found it in
the Toras Chayim Tanach edition by R. Breuer/Mosad Harav Kook). So too
Ramban, Rashba, Abarbanel, Maharal, etc.  The major, and possibly
unique, exception was the Rambam. The Rambam was the only one to say
that consulting astrologers was not only impermissable by Torah law, it
was also "irrational superstitions devoid of any scientific basis"
(Letter to the Jews of Marseilles, from Stitskin's collection of Letters
of the Rambam). He blamed it on the foolish Chaldeans, whom Avraham had
the good sense to take his departure of. (See Rambam Hilchos Avodas
Cochavim 11/16, Perush Hamishnayos Avoda Zara 4/6) while the wise Greeks
of antiquity ignored it (so he claims). In this letter Rambam also
suggests that "evidence" to the contrary in the form of talmudic dicta
seeming to validate the astrological science are not enough reason to
abandon rational thought since a) they might be meant allegorically, b)
as a temporary (horaas shaah) expedient, or even c) that the individual
tana/amora may have simply been mistaken. But his was a lonely voice.
(Incidentally the extreme contempt for astrology expressed by Rambam
should be enough evidence to conclude that another letter in Stitskin's
volume, ostensibly by Rambam to his son R. Avraham, is a forgery).

4. Now for the real problem. While belief or disbelief in the reality of
astrology might at first seem a matter of (eccentric?) taste it actually
strikes at more fundamental religious and philosophical turf, and that
is the doctrines of bechira chofshis and toras hagemul (free will and
consequent reward and punishment). If the stars determine both people's
behavior and consequent life circumstance how can we reconcile this with
the doctrine that man has free will, that prayers may be adressed to God
and then answered and basic stuff like that? Nor is this problem solved
by the handy maskana of the gemara that "ain mazal liyisrael" (the stars
have no dominion over jews) since all parties to that dispute agreed
yesh mazal for the goyim and the goyim are also endowed with free will,
religious obligations (seven mitzvos of benei Noach), and ultimate
reward and punishment for their freely chosen deeds.  Indeed,
reconciliation of traditional jewish perspective of goyish free will
with belief in astrology is precisely the subject of a 10th century
theoretical question posed to R. Hai Gaon by the benei Kabas.

5. Needless to say this problem has been remarked before. Auerbach
(Chazal, Emunos Vedayoas, pp. 246-252) after a lengthy discussion
concludes, somewhat imprecisely, that Chazal simultaneously held both
beliefs, in the predestination of the stars (mazal) but in the ability
of individuals through their actions and because of the zechus of Torah,
to limit the power of mazal.  The status of goyim, who presumably don't
have the zechus torah, is a bit unclear.

6. Other solutions to these problems have been offered as follows: a)
Tosephos (Shabbas 156a) - Mazal is real but "al yidei zechus gadol
mishtaneh" i.e. for tsadikim or those with some other great zechus, the
mechanistic decree of the mazal may be averted. The unsatisfactory
nature of this response to the modern (and probably medieval) reader
hardly needs to be emphasized. After all, how about the rest of us.  b)
Ritvah (Chidushei Haritvah to Moeid Katan 28a). A bit like the Tosephos.
The mazal has a partial effectiveness (lav bezechusa talia legamri- its
not completely devoid of dependence on one's free actions), but a tzadik
is more completely free of mazal than a commoner, who may also be free
with extra effort in the zechusim department.  c) R. Hai Gaon (answer to
benei Kabas). The mazal is real but only describes tendencies. Any man
through his efforts and free choices may overcome such tendencies.  d)
Meiri. A person's acts force his mazal. This is a bit unclear, at least
to me. I interpret this as the mechanical mazal model i.e. the mazal is
simply a part of nature, the mechanical tool through which God chooses
to work his will on this world. They are a part of the physics rather
than the metaphysics of reality, and God will respond to people (through
the mazal) based on their freely chosen acts, such as prayer. A striking
(pre-)echo of this approach is Berachos 59a where the mazal kimah
(probably Pleiades) is used to turn on Noah's flood and cochav Aysh
(possibly Alderan or the Hyades cluster) is utilized to turn it off.  e)
Zohar (Bemidbar 216) Mazal used to hold sway, but doesn't anymore since
matan torah. The status of goyim is unclear (kol biryan dialma kadem
diesyahaves oarysa liyisrael havu talian bemazla aval basar...afik lon
mechiyuva dicochvaya..it is ambiguous whether "afik lon" modifies "kol
biryan" or just "liyisrael") f) The Rambam. The whole mazal concept is
simply nonsensical& unreal.  Any number of further permutations may also
be found (or suggested) containing basically variants and/or
combinations of the above themes.

7) None of these answers seem sufficient to deal with the extreme
statement of Rava's quoted by Joey to the clear effect that everything -
life, progeny, and material sustenance depend not on one's deeds, but
the decree of the stars. here is no "tendency" or recognition of just
another physical force of nature, but an explicit claim of the complete
supremacy of the pre-destined stars. One easy solution is to simply
reject Rava as a daas yachid, an individual non-canonical opinion. Meiri
explicitly adopts this path, quoting Rava's maimra and rejecting it. Of
course the Rambam, though not mentioning Rava by name also rejects such

8) A more interesting solution to the Rava "problem" was offered by R.
Binyamin Benedict (in Merkaz Hatorah BeProvence, Mosad Harav Kook). it
is R. Benedict's thesis that these words were uttered by Rava as a
horaas shaah (a temporary measure, in response to a particular
situation) as part of the eulogy he gave at the death of his rebbe,
Rabbah bar Nachmani. Rabah was the Rav of Pumbedisa.  At this time in
history the populace of Pumbidesa apparently consisted mostly of
sleazeballs. (see Avodah Zara 70a -where an an anoymously opened wine
barrel in pumbeditha is is deemed fit since "most of the thieves are
jewish", Kesubos 82a - where the dishonesty of pumbaditheans is common
linguistic wisdom, Horoyos 12a - where R. Mesharsya warns in his will
against living in pumbedisa.  see also Chulin 127a, Bava Basra 46a) who
also hated their Rav, Rabah (Shabbas 153a -"kegoan mar, desonu leih
culhu pumbaditaei") and lost no opportunity to compare him unfavorably
with his predecessor (Taanis 24a -"vehaw R. Yehuda ki havi gazar taanisa
veasa mitra"). Rava was greatly concerned that Rabbah's death would be
an occasion for the populace to further slander their late Rav.  In
order to emphasize the fact that Rabbah was led an unblemished life, he
ascribed his untimely death not to any (falsely presumed) unworthiness,
but rather the capriciousness of the Mazal.

9) This interpretation tends to grow on you when one considers the
following.  First, (setting aside the fundamerntal difficulty that any
Amora could possibly have believed prayers/mitzvos make no difference) it
is directly contradicts other Rava statements e.g. Immediately following
the sugya continues with Rava enumerating three items where prayer is
required to secure a desired outcome.  And the talmud makes no note of
the obvious contradiction to the immediately preceeding. Moreover the
offending statement of Rava is brought down in a section of the talmud
which is discussing the categorization of different death ages. e.g.
those who die at age fifty are said to have suffered a death of carais,
Rava says this includes anyone dying between the ages of fifty and
sixty, but they only mentioned fifty years alone to preserve the honor
of the prophet Samuel (who died at age 52). R. Benedict suggests that
the thematic continuity here of both Rava statements is also the intent
to preserve the honor of a gadol - implying that the amoraic (or
saboraic) editors of this daf clearly understood that to have been the
peculiar circumstance of Rava's remark.

Mechy Frankel                                 W: (703) 325-1277
<frankel@...>                           H: (301) 593-3949

From: <Dialectic@...> (Barry Freundel)
Date: Mon, 13 Jun 1994 11:33:15 -0400
Subject: Astrology

My argument against astrological use for ANY purpose by Torah umadahniks
is simply that all the astrological systems including those in the
gemarah and sefer Yetzirah are based on assumptions of the nature of
planets, planetary mechanics and functioning that are not in line with
current scientific thought or understanding. As there is no chiyuv to
believe in this and in fact Rambam assurs it I would opt for the science
if the madah part of the phrase is to have any meaning.


From: <6524dcurw@...> (David Curwin)
Date: Mon, 6 Jun 1994 12:43:07 -0400
Subject: What year is it?

The following is a summary in English of an article in the Hebrew
journal of Yeshivat HaKibbutz HaDati, Bikkurim (1983), by Shmuel Kedar:
( I will adapt it for 5754)

We are currently in the year 5754 since the Creation. But how do we arrive at 
that number? From the Tora the following is clear: 
 From the Creation until the birth of Noach: 1056 years
 From the birth of Noach until the Flood: 600 years
 From the Creation until the birth of Avraham: 1948 years
Yitzchak was born 2048 years after Creation
Yitzchak was 60 when Ya'akov was born, and Ya'akov was 130 when he went to 
Egypt, so Ya'akov went to Egypt 2238 years after Creation.

Here's where it gets a little tricky. According to the Tora, Bnei
Yisrael were in Egypt 430 years (Shmot 12:40). But it would be difficult
to accept that only 4 generations passed in 430 years, so most of the
commentators say that the 430 years began at the Brit Ben HaBtarim (The
Covenant of the Splitting) which according to tradition, took place 30
years after Yitzchak was born.  So therefore, the Exodus took place in
the 2448 years after Creation.

In Sefer Melachim A (6:1) it says that Shlomo began building the Temple
480 years after the Exodus. The building took 7 years, so the dedication
of the first Temple was 2935 years after creation. From the Tanach, it
is difficult to determine the exact length of the period of the First
Temple. This is due to the fact that the length of a king's reign was
determined from the 1st of Nisan. Since there were some 20 kings during
that period, there is not a clear length of time given. However, the
Talmud (Sanhedrin 38a, Yoma 9a) says the length of the first Temple was
410 years. Therefore, if we accept this, the destruction of the first
Temple was 3345 years after Creation.

According to historians and archealogists, the first Temple was destroyed in 
586 BCE. So we now have the information to determine the year we are 
currently in after creation:
 Destruction of the First Temple: 	3345 After Creation
 Beginning of the Common Era:		3931 After Creation (3345+586)
 From the Common Era until Today:	5925 After Creation (3931+1994)
 (There was no year 0):			5924 After Creation

But how can we be in the year 5924? We say we are in the year 5754!
Where did the 169 years go? (In September it will be 169 years.)

According to historians, the destruction of the first Temple occurred in
the year 586 BCE, and the destruction of the second Temple occurred in
the year 70 CE - 655 years betweent the destructions. But from the
gemara in Yoma (9a) only 490 years passed between the destructions. The
difference? 165 years! Do we say that the Rabbis made a terrible
mistake? Or that all the historians are wrong?

According to Shmuel Kedar, the answer can be found in the Gemara in
Avoda Zara (9a). It says there that 6000 years the world existed. 2000
of Tohu (waste), 2000 of Tora, and 2000 of Mashiach. What ended the
period of Tohu?  In the year 2000, Avraham was 52. According to that
gemara, the verse "the souls that Avraham made in Charan (Breishit
12:5)" was written about when Avraham was 52. That is the beggining of
monotheism, the beginning of the period of "Tora".

What happened in the year 4000? According to Chazal, the of the second
Temple was in the year 3835 After Creation, 70 CE. So according to
Chazal, the year 4000 After Creation was 235 CE. But according to the
historians, the destruction of the second Temple was in the year 4000
exactly! It makes much more sense that the destruction of the Temple
would mark the end of the period of Tora (since so many mitzvot of the
Tora are dependent on the Temple) instead of the year 235, when nothing
of note occured.

So once again, why were Chazal off by 169 years? According to Shmuel
Kedar, this was not a mistake, but rather an intentional hiding of the
true date.  Why? According to the gemara in Rosh HaShana (3a) the second
Temple was divided into 4 periods - the Persians, the Greeks, the
Romans, and the Herodian period. They give the Persian period 34 years.
Historians say however, that the Persian period lasted around 200 years.
Once again there is the 170 year gap!

In Sefer Daniel (12:4-10) the following is written: "'But you, Daniel,
keep the words secret, and seal the book until the time of the end. Many
will range far and wide and knowledge will increase'...One said...'How
long until the end of these awful things?'...I heard and did not
understand, so I said, 'My Lord, what will be the outcome of these awful
things?' He said, 'Go, Daniel, for these words are secret and sealed
until the time of the end...but the knowledgeable will understand.'"

Perhaps Chazal viewed the above as a divine obligation to hide the true
date?  A hint to this could be found in the fact that untill the ninth
century, the dates in all ketubot and gittin were written from the Greek
period or from the destruction of the Temple. And today, when we write
the words "l'briat ha'olam" (from the Creation of the world), we add
"l'minyan she anu monim kan" (according to the years that we count).

And notice: "Sod Daniel" (the secret of Daniel) in gematria = 165!


End of Volume 13 Issue 60