Astrology in Medieval Judaism

In the Middle Ages, Ibn Ezra, Maimonides, and others debated the legitimacy of astrology.

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Reprinted
with permission of href="http://www.myjewishlearning.com/redirect/redir.php?U=http://www.continuumbooks.com/"
target="_blank">The Continuum International Publishing Group from
href="http://www.myjewishlearning.com/redirect/redir.php?U=http://www.amazon.com/dp/9004122222"
target="_blank">The Encyclopedia of Judaism, edited by Jacob Neusner,
Alan Avery-Peck, and William Scott Green.

In the Middle Ages, especially in the
orbit of Islam, Jews increasingly practiced astrology. A thorough knowledge of
this art is evidenced in the Zohar and Sefer
Raziel
, and astrology is referred to frequently in medieval liturgical poetry,
including the works of poets such as Kalir and Ibn Gabirol.

Well
known Jewish astrologers of the ninth century were Jacob ibn Turik, whom Ibn
Ezra says brought the astrological tables of the Hindus to Baghdad. Of the same
period, some astrological works remain extant of Sahl ben Bishr al-Israeli,
also known as Rabban al-Tabari ("the rabbi of Tabarisran").

Biblical Commentaries & Astrology

In
this period, the works of Islamic astrologers were translated by Jews into
Hebrew. Ibn Ezra himself was an avid follower of astrology, which he referred
to as a sublime science. He even translated into Hebrew the astrological work
of Mashallah, the court astrologer of Almansur and Marnun, and he authored
important works on the constellations and planets.

Referring
to astrology in his biblical commentaries, Ibn Ezra understood the heavens to
represent the Book of Life in which people’s fate is written. Still, in accordance
with the inherited talmudic perspective, he believed that this fate could be
overruled by God, to whom humans accordingly have recourse in their quest to
reshape their own destiny.

A
similar approach appears in the commentary to Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah of Abraham b. David of Posquieries (Rabad). While asserting the
influence of the stars upon human destiny, he also avers that faith in God can overcome

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Alan J. Avery-Peck is the Kraft-Hiatt Professor in Judaic Studies and Chair at Holy Cross University and a prolific author. Dr. Avery-Peck's primary research interest is Judaism in the first six centuries C.E., with particular attention to the literature of Rabbinic Judaism.

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