No No Nostradamus
Perplexed along the Potomac wrote via the Internet:
A nearby Jewish group is planning to hold a book discussion on Nostradamus. It was my impression that Judaism seriously frowned upon the belief that the stars can be used to predict the future. Nostradamus, to me, seems way off the Jewish path...despite the fact that Im now told he had a Jewish background. I usually attend this series of book discussions; however, Nostradamus strikes a discordant note. Have I misread Jewish law and not heard enough about Nostradamus?
(Thank you for a wonderful Ask-the-Rabbi feature).
Dear Perplexed along the Potomac,
Actually, it is generally accepted by the Talmud and Midrashim that the stars do indeed influence events, and that one who understands this influence can, to some extent, predict future events. Its not really so different from the way a meteorologist or a stock analyst look at trends and influences and foresee tomorrows outcome.
For example, the Egyptian astrologers correctly foresaw that a baby would be born who would redeem the Jews from Egypt which, by the way, is why Pharaoh decreed that the babies be cast into the Nile.
But you dont put your full faith in the weather forecast, and certainly not in stock predictions, do you? All the more so should we be highly skeptical of the accuracy of whoever presumes to read the stars, especially today. Even the ancient Egyptians, who were proven experts, were only able to see generalities, and couldnt predict anything with perfect accuracy. The farther along we get from their ancient wisdom, the hazier this area of knowledge seems to become.
Furthermore, G-d is All-Powerful and can change what the future seems to hold. For example, through our prayer and good deeds, G-d may change a "bad" event into a good one.
Astrologers told Rabbi Akiva that a snake would bite and kill his daughter on the day of her wedding. On her wedding night, she took the jeweled pin from her hair and stuck it into the wall; in the morning light she saw that her pin was stuck through the head of a snake which had been poised to bite her! Rabbi Akiva asked her, "My daughter! Some good deed must have saved you from this snake. Can you think what it might have been?" "Well," she answered, "last night a poor man came to the wedding, but everyone was too busy with the feast to notice, so I gave him my portion of food."
The Torah tells us to live in the present and have perfect faith in G-d. If we do so, we wont feel the need to know or worry about future events that are beyond our control. All said, therefore, I dont think a Jew should give much weight to the predictions of any would-be star-gazer.
- Shabbat 156b