Does Judaism believe in astrology? Is there any validity to it or is it just pagan nonsense – some of which made its way into Jewish teachings? Along the same lines, is there anything wrong with reading one’s horoscope in the paper, basically just for amusement?
The Aish Rabbi Replies
Thank you for your very important question. The Jewish belief is that astrology is a real force. It is one of the means God placed in the world of channeling spiritual forces to the physical world. (Needless to say, in the Jewish view, it is not a force independent of God. No forces are.) People are influenced by such factors as the day of the week they were born on and the ruling constellation at the time of their birth (see especially Talmud Shabbat 156a). The Zodiac also to some degree directs the forces which flow to the earth at any given time and can be used to (very roughly) predict future events.
Although the science behind this has all but been forgotten today, the ancients were much more familiar with it.
Even though such forces do exist, the Torah forbids both the study of astrology and the inquiring about the future from soothsayers. See for example Deuteronomy 18:10-12: "There shall not be found among you... one who practices divination, an astrologer, one who reads omens, a sorcerer... or one who consults the dead. For an abomination to the Lord is anyone who does these, and on account of these abominations did the Lord your God drive out [the Canaanite nations] before you." (See also Leviticus 19:26,31 and Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 179:1.)
Although such practices are in fact ways of finding out potential future events, they are dark and evil ways of doing so, using forbidden supernatural forces rather than turning to God Himself. Rather, as the Torah continues, God will send us prophets to let us know His will and what is in store for us in the future (v. 15). Furthermore, “You shall be complete / wholehearted with the Lord your God” (v. 13). Rather than attempting to divine the future ourselves, trust God that He will bring what is right for us. Turn to Him and pray to Him, and leave our worries for the future in His capable hands.
The Talmud (Shabbat 156a) states a further principle that “there is no mazal (controlling constellation) for Israel.” Although there are astral influences in this world, we can rise above them through prayer and personal worthiness. The Talmud illustrates with an incident which occurred to Rabbi Akiva’s daughter. A soothsayer informed R. Akiva that his daughter would die of a snakebite on her wedding day. Nothing happened. The morning after her wedding, she went to take a barrette she had placed in a crack in the wall the night before, and found a stabbed snake attached to it. Her father asked her if she had any idea why it happened. She explained that yesterday, when everyone was busy with the wedding, a poor man came to the door for charity and no one was available to help him. She gave him her own portion of food. R. Akiva told her, “You have done a good deed” and applied the verse to her “And charity saves from death” (Proverbs 10:2).
On top of all of this, the Sages see the practice of astrology as a very inexact science, not very reliable to begin with. The prophet Isaiah describes necromancers as “chirping and mumbling” (8:19). As the Talmud (Sotah 12b) puts it, “They see and know not what they see; they mutter and know not what they mutter.” It illustrates this with the decree Pharaoh made to drown the Jewish baby boys in the Nile. His astrologers told him that the savior of Israel was about to be born, and that he was vulnerable to water. Perhaps he could be drowned at birth. Shortly after Moses was placed in the water, they said they no longer see that sign in heaven and the decree was annulled. But, explains the Talmud, Pharaoh’s astrologers did not truly understand what they saw. Moses was punished much later in the desert at “the waters of strife” – when he hit the water-giving rock rather than speaking to it (Numbers 20). But the waters of the Nile had no effect on him.
Thus, to wrap up, although Judaism believes in astrological influences, we are commanded not to inquire of them. In any event they are not very accurate – especially when it comes to the Jewish people. Rather we are told to trust in God that He will give us what is best for us in life.
Although horoscopes and fortune-tellers today are very unlikely to have any validity to them, just in case, one should not inquire of them, even just for fun.
If you would like a more detailed explanation of the Jewish view on such matters, you might want to purchase Faith and Folly by Rabbi Yaakov Hillel, a very thorough and readable treatment of this and many related subjects.