Astronomy plays an important role in Jewish life because it is the means by which we calculate the months and, therefore, the holidays-based on the cycles of the moon. Astrology (reading the future from the alignment of the stars), which many today might scoff at, is actually cited frequently in ancient Jewish texts and is considered a valid science by some Jewish philosophers-with the caveat that God took Abraham and all of his descendants and placed them outside the workings of such metaphysical mysteries. The sages placed so much value on the study of the stars that it is written in the Talmud:
“Rabbi Simeon ben Pazzi said in the name of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi on the authority of Bar Kappara: He who knows how to calculate the cycles and planetary courses, but does not, of him Scripture says (Isaiah 5:12), ‘but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither have they considered the operation of his hands.’ Rabbi Samuel ben Nachmani said in Rabbi Jochanan’s name: How do we know that it is one’s duty to calculate the cycles and planetary courses? Because it is written (Deuteronomy 4:6), ‘for this is your wisdom and understanding in the sight of the peoples.’ What wisdom and understanding is in the sight of the peoples? Say, that it is the science of cycles and planets” (Shabbat 75a).
Today we have a set Jewish calendar, scientific equipment and knowledge that makes the study of astronomy a specialized science Nevertheless, there is an important message in this Talmudic passage. If, as is frequently quoted, knowledge is power, then each of us must recognize whatever knowledge/ability we have and use it as a positive power in the world.
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