For the week ending 26 November 2005 / 24 Heshvan 5766

The Zodiac

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: RS

Dear Rabbi,

A Jewish college professor told me that the symbols of the Jewish month, i.e. fish, scales, scorpion, pail, bow etc. originate from the Romans. I would like to know if this is correct because I thought that they originated from the Jews. Your web site talks about the symbols so I thought you may know the answer. Thanks, RS.

Dear RS,

With due respect to your professor, it is widely accepted in academia that the zodiac signs as we know them [Aries, the Ram; Taurus, the Bull; Gemini, the Twins; Cancer, the Crab; Leo, the Lion; Virgo, the Virgin; Libra, the Balance; Scorpio, the Scorpion; Sagittarius, the Archer; Capricorn, the Goat; Aquarius, the Water Bearer; and Pisces, the Fishes] originated in ancient Mesopotamia. The Greeks later adopted the symbols from the Babylonians and passed them on to other ancient civilizations such as the Romans who came much later. If the Jews received the zodiac signs from another culture, it was not from the Romans but from the Babylonians.

However, the Jewish perspective is that the signs of the zodiac were positioned at the time of Creation, and their influence is intimated in the Torah. Thus our Talmudic Sages describe in great detail the dynamic between the progression of the creation of the zodiac signs and their corresponding influence on Mankind (Pesikta, ch. 4). Furthermore, the entire wisdom of the Torah, including the knowledge of the zodiac, was taught by G-d to Adam and his descendents. Even though it was eventually perverted and incorporated by most of humanity into idol worship, a select few such as Abraham retained its true meaning.

So writes Rambam, "Their mistaken reasoning was that since G-d created the skies and spheres as part of nature, and placed them high up and gave them dignity, as servants who serve Him, it would be appropriate to laud, glorify and honor them as wellOnce this matter was decided upon, they proceeded to build temples to the stars, to bring sacrifices to them, to laud and glorify them verbally and to bow down to themBut as for the Creator, only certain individuals recognized Him, such as Hanoch, Metushelach, Noah, Shem and Ever. Things continued in this manner until Abrahamwas born" (Avodat Kochavim 1:1).

In fact, regarding Abrahams having no children, the Torah states, "And Abraham said, Lord G-d, what will you give me, seeing I go childless?.And He brought him outside and said, Look toward the heaven and count the stars if you are able to number them, and He said to him, So shall thy seed be" (Gen. 15:5-8). Our Sages explained that Abraham saw in the stars that the astrological influence under which he was born dictated that he would have no children. G-d replied, I will intervene such that your offspring will be as numerous as the very stars in which you see youll have no children (Shabbat 156a).

The Zohar, which according to Jewish tradition is attributed to the teachings of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai of the 2nd century, correlates the 12 signs of the zodiac to the 12 Hebrew months and the 12 tribes of Israel (I:173). Since the essence of each tribe is essential to the nature of the Jewish People, which is inextricably bound with the purpose of Creation and its future fruition, this supports the ideas mentioned above that the influence of the zodiac was fixed from Creation and known to the Jewish People from the time of their inception.

It is important to remember that since the Hebrew months literally correspond to the moon, each month begins and ends with the new moon, and the full moon is in the middle of the month. Therefore, unlike the common, incorrect version of the zodiac based on the Gregorian calendar, each sign is in harmony with one month, with its greatest influence during the full moon of that month. One of the earliest, ancient Jewish texts called Sefer Yetzira correlates the zodiac signs with the months, tribes and 12 faculties as follows:

The sign of Nisan is Tleh/Aries/Ram corresponding to Judah and the faculty of Speech. This is the month the Jews overcame the Egyptian deity of the ram. Judah means "thanks", related to speech and on Passover of this month the Pascal lamb was offered and we recite the haggada.

Iyar is Shor/Taurus/Bull corresponding to Issachar (Torah scholars) and the faculty of Thought. In this month we must be as strong and stubborn as a bull in preparation to receive the Torah.

Sivan is Teumim/Gemini/Twins corresponding to Zevulun (Torah supporters) and the faculty of Motion. This is the month of Shavuot when we received the double Tablets and should strengthen our efforts to support Torah.

Tamuz is Sartan/Cancer/Crab corresponding to Reuven (means "see") and the faculty of Sight. Just as the crab hides, so we should refrain from the distractions of this summer month and direct our sights toward spiritual pursuits.

Av is Ari/Leo/Lion corresponding to Shimon (means "hear") and the faculty of Hearing. In this month, the lion-like nations of Babylon and Rome destroyed the Temlpe and we must listen to the lesson and return to G-d.

Elul is Betula/Virgo/Virgin corresponding to Gad and the faculty of Action. This is the month of repenting, to purify our thoughts and deeds in preparation of Rosh Hashana.

Tishrei is Moznaim/Libra/Scales corresponding to Ephraim (fruitful) and the faculty of Coition. In this month is Rosh Hashana on which we are judged, and hope to merit a productive new year.

Cheshvan is Akrav/Scorpio/Scorpion corresponding to Menashe and the faculty of Smell. This month lacks a holiday and may be spiritually cold as venom, yet one must work hard to change the letters of Menashe to "neshama" spirituality.

Kislev is Kashet/Sagittarius/Archer corresponding to Benjamin (warriors) and the faculty of Sleep. Here we must direct and propel the inspiration from Chanuka through the rest of the winter to overcome spiritual slumber.

Tevet is Gedi/Capricorn/Kid corresponding to Dan (judge) and the faculty of Anger. The siege against Jerusalem began in this month as a result of baseless hatred among Jews. Here we must be as steadfast as a goat to refrain from judging unfavorably which leads to anger and destruction.

Shevat is Dli/Aquarius/Water Drawer corresponding to Asher (wealth) and the faculty of Taste. By this month most of the rain in Israel has fallen and we celebrate Tu bShevat by eating bountiful fruits.

Adar is Dagim/Pisces/Fish corresponding to Naftali and the faculty of Laughter. Just as fish are covered by the sea, in this month we observe Purim which celebrates the hidden miracles of G-d which bring salvation and joy to the Jewish people.

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