Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review of "The Secrets of the Stars"

Guest post by David S. Zinberg 

Review of The Secrets of the Stars by Rabbi Ari Storch (Lakewood: Israel Bookshop Publications, 2011).

May a Jew believe in astrology? Most modern-leaning, traditional Jews would likely say no. Astrology has long been considered a pseudoscience, and we Jews have a proud tradition of scientific study and accomplishment which has flourished in parallel to our religious legacy. As rational twenty-first-century people, most of us would gladly consign astrology to its rightful place next to alchemy, magic, divination, and other medieval fallacies. Furthermore, from a moral and religious standpoint, we tend to regard free will as an axiom, and astrological determinism undermines the very foundation of human freedom and accountability. To posit a mechanism by which human behavior may be guided by the zodiac and the planets, acting as a sort of providential conduit between God and man – even if man is allowed to overcome that mechanism – is to diminish both man’s freedom and God’s omnipotence.

Yet references to astrology are found throughout the Talmud and the Midrash, and in the writings of great medieval Jewish thinkers. Abraham Ibn Ezra (c.1089-c.1161), for example, wrote several treatises on the subject and generously applied astrological theory in his biblical commentaries. Even Rashi (1040-1105), in his commentary on Exodus (quoting the Midrash), says that Pharaoh received advice from his astrologers on the day Moses was born and, before agreeing to release the Israelites, warned Moses of “a star that is a sign of blood and murder” awaiting them in the desert. So how can we reconcile the undeniable presence of astrology in Jewish texts with our modern conviction that it is nonsense?


There are three general approaches to this problem, particularly with respect to the literature of the Talmudic Sages. There is the historical approach, which places astrology and other discredited notions in the context of the ancient world in which the Talmud was formulated. Despite their greatness, the Sages repeated ideas – including many now known to be false – that were prevalent in the Near East in the first few centuries BCE and CE. They were simply operating within the intellectual climate of their day. The second approach is apologetic; its adherents insist that the Sages would not err, even in scientific matters. Therefore, we misunderstand what appear, only superficially, to be incorrect notions about the physical world. Such statements in the Talmud, according to this approach, must have an esoteric meaning representing a deeper metaphysical, rather than scientific, truth. The third, and most radical, response is fundamentalist. Talmudic fundamentalists reject the historical approach and do not feel compelled to rationalize the Sages’ statements. Much like biblical fundamentalists, they maintain that everything in the Talmud and Midrash, even from the realm of biology and the physical sciences, is literally accurate.

The Secrets of the Stars is a product of the fundamentalist approach to astrology in Judaism. It is based on the premise that astrology is a true science having the full support of Jewish tradition. The author does not argue this position; he takes it as a given, based on passages in the Talmud, Midrash, and medieval Jewish works sympathetic to his thesis. He does not acknowledge the disputes over astrology in both general and Jewish intellectual history, and includes only a passing reference to a debate in the Talmud itself about Israel’s subjection to astrological influence. To avoid being cast as a full-fledged determinist, or as a proponent of predictive astrology, the author attempts to hedge his astrological philosophy with the following disclaimer, in his Introduction: “Despite the power of the mazalos suggested in this work, it does not suggest pre-determined destiny. The Creator endowed man with free choice, a fundamental belief in Judaism . . . While this sefer points to the strong parallels between the events and figures of history and the constellations, never is a cause-and-effect relationship suggested. The argument that as mirror images one affects the other is easily countered. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, and it is only after the fact that one can decode the celestial secrets. The stars do not necessarily dictate the future, but history may be read from them.” This makes astrology sound like a purely subjective art form, valid only for past events. But, in fact, this is not the consistent message of the book. In a chapter entitled “Nearing Completion,” for example, the author predicts what will occur when the point of the vernal equinox on the celestial sphere enters the constellation Aquarius (this will indeed take place in approximately 600 years from now – the precise date depends on where you decide to draw Aquarius’ border – due to a real astronomical phenomenon called precession of the equinoxes). Identifying Aquarius as “the mazal of Yisrael,” Rabbi Storch states that this event “will undoubtedly infuse the year with a spirituality that only Klal Yisrael can bring, and ultimately with geulah, redemption.” (This discussion may recall a hit song from the late 1960’s on “the dawning of the Age of Aquarius”).

Rabbi Storch is an energetic advocate for astrology as an interpretive method for Judaism and has tapped into deep creative reserves to implement his program. He offers several novel parallels between the zodiac – which he considers divinely ordained – and a variety of themes, such as the Hebrew months, the twelve tribes, and Ezekiel’s vision of the heavenly chariot. But his unbridled creativity leads him down some strange and dangerous paths; he makes a rare proposal for a syncretism of Greek mythology and biblical narratives (though Rabbi Storch maintains that the Greek myths are merely corruptions of our own traditions). Thus, Hercules, who defeated Draco the Dragon, “represents the ideal man who overpowered his evil inclination, in contrast to the failure of Adam and Chavah.” And, “the centaur, a man-like creature with four legs . . . depicts this handicap – Noach’s inability to walk on his own two feet.” Occasionally, his ideas take a turn to the bizarre, such as when he links the tribe of Judah with Cancer, the crab. Adding to the famous midrashic tradition which has Nachshon ben Aminadav jumping into the Red Sea before it parted, Rabbi Storch says that Nachshon “quite literally took on the persona of the crab . . . He was not bound by perceived boundaries.”

Not surprisingly, Rabbi Storch finds a kindred spirit in Ibn Ezra. Describing him only as a “great Torah scholar,” Rabbi Storch cites Ibn Ezra’s astrological works numerous times throughout the book. He fails to mention, however, that Ibn Ezra was a highly controversial figure, in his own lifetime and for centuries following his death. Today, in fact, many of his opinions – unrelated to astrology – are considered heretical in some Orthodox circles. Ibn Ezra often rejected midrashic exegesis on the narrative portions of the Bible, preferring his own brand of natural (peshat) interpretation. He was a harsh critic of Rashi for being inclined towards midrashic commentary. Ibn Ezra pointed to verses in the Torah which could not have been written by Moses and believed that the latter half of Isaiah (from chapter forty) was written by an anonymous prophet who lived at the end of the Babylonian Exile. The great Polish Talmudist, Rabbi Solomon Luria (known as Maharshal, 1510-1574), wrote scathingly of Ibn Ezra, “he did not master the Talmud . . . he frequently criticized great Torah scholars . . . we do not follow his commentaries . . . for he opposed Halakhah on many occasions, and even came out against the Sages of the Mishnah and Talmud . . . I believe he has already been punished, since he has lent support to heretics and disbelievers.” Ibn Ezra is hardly a mainstream figure within rabbinic Judaism, and one wonders whether Rabbi Storch has thought through the implications of standing on the shoulders of this particular giant.

While Rabbi Storch champions Ibn Ezra’s astrology, he conspicuously neglects Maimonides. Maimonides stated his objections to astrology explicitly and repeatedly within his halakhic and philosophical writings. Incredibly, though consistent with its fundamentalist approach, there is not a single reference to Maimonides’ rejection of astrology in this book. Responding to an inquiry on astrology from the Rabbis of Provence, Maimonides wrote: “Know, my masters, that every one of those things concerning judicial astrology that (its adherents) maintain – namely, that something will happen one way and not another, and that the constellation under which one is born will draw him on so that he will be of such and such a kind and so that something will happen to him one way and not another – all those assertions are far from being scientific; they are stupidity.” Because it is false, Maimonides insisted, the Torah prohibited astrology as it prohibited other forms of idolatry. Referring to the Bible’s list of idolatrous practices, including astrology (me’onen of Deut. 18:10), Maimonides wrote in his Mishneh Torah, Laws Concerning Idolatry (11:16): “Whoever believes in these and similar things and, in his heart, holds them to be true and scientific and only forbidden by the Torah, is nothing but a fool . . .” In the Laws of Repentance (5:4), he argued that the fatalism of the “foolish astrologers” is contradictory to all moral and religious law. To be fair, much of Maimonides’ cosmology, summarized in Basic Principles of the Torah, the very first section of the Mishneh Torah, is also obsolete (e.g., the four-element theory and the idea that the celestial orbs are intelligent). But like the Sages, Maimonides could only work with the best science of his day. His rejection of astrology, unique within medieval Jewish thought, remains on target from the perspective of modern, traditional Judaism.

The Secrets of the Stars draws mostly from post-biblical sources or, more precisely, from a carefully selected sample of sources. To gain a wider perspective on the issue, it is helpful to take a step back from the period of the Sages, when Hellenistic astrology was pervasive in the Near East, and return to the Bible. As part of its unrelenting campaign against paganism, the Bible sharply condemns astrology. The Torah and the Prophets repeatedly contrast Israel, who is told to place her faith directly in God, with her neighbors, who divine their future from the stars. Thus, Deuteronomy (18:13-14): “You must be wholehearted with the Lord your God. Those nations that you are about to dispossess indeed resort to soothsayers and augurs; to you, however, the Lord your God has not assigned the like”; Isaiah (47:13): “You are helpless, despite all your art. Let them stand up and help you now, the scanners of the heavens, the star-gazers, who announce, month by month, whatever will come upon you”; Jeremiah (10:2): “Thus said the Lord: Do not learn to go the way of the nations, and do not be dismayed by portents in the sky; let the nations be dismayed by them!”

Just as Judaism as a whole evolved considerably since biblical times, the Bible did not have the last word on astrology. However, we need not be overly embarrassed by astrology or by other false scientific beliefs in the Talmud; after all, they represent the Sages’ best attempt at engagement with general culture. On the other hand, we must not embrace these statements as the truth simply because they are in the Talmud.

Viewed in its larger ideological context, Secrets of the Stars represents an alarming tendency within recent Orthodox thought to make the Sages infallible, even on matters of nature and science. But an attempt to bolster tradition by assigning quasi-divine status to the Sages is a desperate measure that is ultimately destined to fail. On a practical level, by adding unnecessary layers of superstition to our religion, we risk alienating a critically important segment of Jewish society that would like to come closer to Jewish tradition, but will be repelled by a theology so obviously out of touch with reality.

Hopefully, Secrets of the Stars will generate further discussion about the interaction of Jewish thought and law, today and in the past, with both good and bad science. That discussion deserves a much deeper and more balanced treatment than is found within its pages.

36 comments:

  1. Important post. At least he didn't pretend the Rambam eld of Astrology.

    I have engaged in debates with frum Jews who have asserted that the Rambam actually believed in Astrology. Just not the false Astrology of the heathens, rather, the true Torah Astrology.

    That's how far it goes...

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  2. In terms of medieval Jewish positions on astrology, it is worth noting that the Ralbag (Gersonides) was a strong believer in astrology and its force in shaping our destiny but also believed that human free will could override the future otherwise determined by the stars.
    He also believed that God knows the future as determined by the stars but does not ultimately know the future since it could be that human choice will override it.
    His position is fascinating because he does believe in astrology, yet has an even stronger belief in free choice that can override astrology and divine foreknowledge.

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  3. "There are three general approaches to this problem, particularly with respect to the literature of the Talmudic Sages."

    There is fourth approach, which I find more often amongst Academics rather than Frum Jews, but I find it's the more reasonable of approaches.

    That approach says that while the Phyical Science statements are incorrect, they do reflect reality which are still relevant today as Psychological Phenomena. The Rabbis might have believed that someone born at a certain time would behave a certain way because of the positioning of the stars, and they were not correct about that, but they were correct about the basic psychological groupings of human beings. The statements which they say, and the Midrashim can then be learned in relation to the psychological realm of human experience and the teachings need not be rejected nor fetishised into ridiculousness.

    The basic view of this approach, is that ancient people told stories and made observations about the world around them. They were able to recognize patterns, and give these patterns labels. They were not aware of the cause of these patterns, but used their Gd given intellects to discern probable causes. What they witnessed was real and not imaginary, and what they witnessed was influenced by the cultural biases they had, living in presumably, Torah oriented Societies.

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  4. I wonder how he straddles his ideas of what's going to happen in 600 years with a prevalent orthodox belief that the world wiill only exist 6000 years?

    This book sounds absurd but nothing beats a recently published 'Sgulot Israel' as the most complete collection of the most bizzare beleifs and practcies.

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  5. "But an attempt to bolster tradition by assigning quasi-divine status to the Sages is a desperate measure that is ultimately destined to fail."

    Are you serious? People who believe this "exhibit no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of parts, no slowing of energies, no dulling of an alert and aggressive mind" - to borrow Mark Twain's observations concerning the Jews.

    Well, time will tell.

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  6. We have an astology today called genetics. One can look at a person's genes and tell all sorts of things about the person. Back then, they used stars to determine things about a person.

    The common denominator between these two things is that just as it is foolish to live one's life according to his astrology, it is foolish to live one's live according to his DNA and genes.

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  7. I'm having some problems with Blogger making comments disappear when I approve them. If you don't see your comment, try resubmitting it.

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  8. "I'm having some problems with Blogger making comments disappear when I approve them"

    Spontaneos degeneration

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  9. Interesting review. 2 objections:

    "Ibn Ezra is hardly a mainstream figure within rabbinic Judaism, and one wonders whether Rabbi Storch has thought through the implications of standing on the shoulders of this particular giant."

    This is utter nonsense. You know how you can tell? Pick up a Mikraos Gedolos. One of the main commentaries you will see is that of Rav Avraham Ibn Ezra. You will further notice that he is cited by Ramban. (In this Ibn Ezra closely parallels Rambam. Both had books that were widely frowned upon: Ibn Ezra’s Astrology and Rambam’s Guide to the Perplexed. Ibn Ezra also had some cryptic passages about stuff being added to the Torah, Rambam recreated Judaism in his own image and in the traditions of the prophet Aristotle through the sages Al Farabi and Ibn Rushd. Ramban took what he liked from them and rejected everything else, and their respective commentaries/legal codes are respected up to the present day.

    As to your specific “reasons for Ibn Ezra’s rejection”:

    1) “Ibn Ezra often rejected midrashic exegesis on the narrative portions of the Bible, preferring his own brand of natural (peshat) interpretation.”

    Yes. So did Rashbam. Is he also in the camp of pretend-excommunicated Rishonim?

    2) “Ibn Ezra pointed to verses in the Torah which could not have been written by Moses”

    Do you know what the Chareidi
    response to that is (contrary to every single book ever written by Chaim Potok)? “No, he didn’t.” Ibn Ezra was deliberately vague, for good reason. Given what we can ignore in Rashi (i.e. God’s corporeality) and Rambam (i.e. everything) it’s not hard to ignore a few cryptic lines in Ibn Ezra.

    Also, given that every reader of this blog already recognize that mystical garbage is mystical garbage, why don’t you focus on what’s interesting about the book? There’s a ton of interesting mysticism, fables, magic etc. in Jewish tradition, and even if most of it isn’t considered compatible with “Orthodox Judaism,” it’s still interesting! In fact I think one the more frequent contributors to this blog, one Rabbi Natan Slifkin, actually wrote a book on the subject of Jewish mythological creatures called Sacred Monsters. And while I’m sure that books contains a lot in the way of apologetics, and “how do we make this fit with Orthodox thought?” sections (note: I just bought the book but haven’t yet read it) a lot of its interest is in knowing what early Jewish figures thought – there were a lot of really interesting beliefs throughout Jewish History! If this book seeks to convey those beliefs without the apologetics, all the better from my perspective! (Though believing in this nonsense is admittedly a bit weird, and may skew this authors view as well.) It certainly could have gotten a more interesting review than: “Here are some good and bad reasons why this author is wrong (the good reason being the one implicit in the title of this website).”

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  10. The majority fundamentalist view is that, while astrology (if done correctly) can be accurate, Jews shouldn't pay attention to it. It is a pity that he is rejecting that view.

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  11. The ancient and medieval practitioners of astrology and believers in the influence of the stars were merely mislead by the the scholarly and folk opinions of their times - although the torah and prophets warn against such beliefs, as noted by the reviewer. Someone who believes in such things today has a problem with accepting physical reality. Moreover, astrology in medieval times was based more on actual astronomical observations and mathematical analysis. Todays astrology, if the horoscope peddlers are any indication, is mere folklore and superstition. As the Rambam noted, it is unworthy and unbecoming of Jews to believe in such nonsense.

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  12. This review is no good. To review a book, you must take the author on his own terms, and see how well the author accomplishes his goals in light of those terms. You cannot review a book by premises the author himself does not subscribe to.

    That is exactly what Zinberg does here. Clearly [and I happen to know him personally] R.A. Storch accepts the orthodox premise that anyone living in the time of the Talmud and quoted therein is infallible. Likewise, any custom or practice condoned by chazal must perfore be right. You may well disagree with these convnetions, but these are the ones Storch is working with. Given that, it is unreasonable to expect Storch to cite authorities to the contrary, or relate to astrology in the skeptical tone Zinberg himself advances.

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  13. Maimonides wrote: “Know, my masters, that every one of those things concerning judicial astrology that (its adherents) maintain – namely, that something will happen one way and not another, and that the constellation under which one is born will draw him on so that he will be of such and such a kind and so that something will happen to him one way and not another – all those assertions are far from being scientific; they are stupidity.”

    It seems the author fully agrees with the Rambam in rejecting judicial astrology.

    And FYI, the Rambam fully embraced a different form of astrology which is all over the first 11 chapters of the second section of the Guide.

    From Chapter 10:
    IT is a well-known fact that the philosophers, when they discuss in their works the order of the Universe, assume that the existing order of things in this sublunary world of transient beings depends on forces which emanate from the spheres. We have mentioned this several times. In like manner our Sages say, "There is no single herb below without its corresponding star above, that beats upon it and commands it to grow." Comp. "Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? Canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth?" (Job xxxviii. 33). The term mazzal, literally meaning a constellation in the Zodiac, is also used of every star, as may be inferred from the following passage in the beginning of Bereshit Rabba (chap. x.): "While one star (mazzal) completes its circuit in thirty days, another completes it in thirty years." They have thus clearly expressed it, that even each individual being in this world has its corresponding star. Although the influences of the spheres extend over all beings, there is besides the influence of a particular star directed to each particular species; a fact noticed also in reference to the several forces in one organic body; for the whole Universe is like one organic body, as we have stated above.


    David Zinberg, the reviewer makes the following critique:
    But his unbridled creativity leads him down some strange and dangerous paths; he makes a rare proposal for a syncretism of Greek mythology and biblical narratives (though Rabbi Storch maintains that the Greek myths are merely corruptions of our own traditions).

    But Maimonides concurs with Rabbi Storch's approach specifically regarding astrology.
    From Chapter 11:
    Having been brought up among persons untrained in philosophy, we are inclined to consider these philosophical opinions as foreign to our religion, just as uneducated persons find them foreign to their own notions. But, in fact, it is not so.

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  14. It is like gambling, if there would be no losers then gambling would be fine, and the Torah would not prohibit it.

    The same goes for Astrology, if the stars would have only good things to say about our lives. Then there would be no reason to
    refrain.

    If we have any doubts about the legitimacy of Astrology, we can follow it for a while and see for ourselves to determine it's accuracy.

    We must just make sure we use well known legitimate websites that are highly recommended by authoritive experts in astrology.
    And if we read some bag news about ourselves, we should remember, we can choose, and do not fear Hashem is here.

    As Jews we are constantly reminded of it, and that it effects our lives - everyday.

    E.g. In the Maariv services when we say "...and arranges the stars in their watches in the sky, according to His will."

    And of course, when we hear ourselves saying Mazel Tov to each other, which refers to our stars, our astrology, our mazalos.

    With saying Mazel Tov we are in essence wishing each other 'to have a good Astrology'.

    I would like to take this opportunity and wish everyone the best of a Mazel Tov.
    o

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  15. 1. I have actually met and discussed this in depth with a rabbi Aryeh Kaplan discussed in one of his books, whose knows Jewish astrology, has a rabinical mesorah on the subject, and practices in in a kosher manner. He doesn't use it to try and predict the future, he just tells you about yourself and personality using your exact time of birth and Hebrew name. It's quite eerie, and goes way, way beyond what's possible with cold reading.

    2. The "traditional view" includes a strong ban on trying to use astrology to tell the future. The penalty for which is losing your ability to change the future now that you've tried to divine it. (E.g., if you get a genome test saying you're 90% likely to get breast cancer, you've just stuck yourself with that permanently when you had more power to change it beforehand).

    3. The entire topic of free will is a giant rabbit hole once you dig into it. Does a smoker have the same free will not to smoke as a non-smoker? Maybe the desire is too powerful in that time and place, and his only real free will was the decision to check himself into rehab. Mazzal isn't fundamentally different. It's simply a mechanism we don't understand scientifically at the moment.

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  16. His position is fascinating because he does believe in astrology, yet has an even stronger belief in free choice that can override astrology and divine foreknowledge.

    Fascinating concept. Can we say the same thing about Freud's theories of unconscious instinctual motivations and the behavioral model? That we agree they are operative in determining our behavior and actions, but free will can override them?

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  17. Betzalel said

    The common denominator between these two things is that just as it is foolish to live one's life according to his astrology, it is foolish to live one's live according to his DNA and genes.

    And yet amazingly this is exactly the argument made for the acceptance of homosexuality! Now that we are "convinced" the behavior has a genetic component, and not under the conscious control of the individual, how can we call it assur?

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  18. Baltimore ResidentApril 25, 2012 at 3:55 AM

    As a Baltimore resident, I find the writer's assumed allegations against Rabbi Storch to be not only ludicrous but comical. Any acquaintance of Rabbi Storch is immediately aware of his vast knowledge in Torah, one which the blogger would do well to research. Additionally how would the blogger explain the hasmados (approbations) for the book written by Rav Usher Weiss and Rav Belsky? Is the blogger not only undermining the authority of Rabbi Storch, but of these Geonim?

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  19. Frankly, I find this review by Zinberg of "secrets of the stars" disappointing. Rather than focus on the actual content of the book, the reviewer simply argues for his own opinion that 'astrology' has no place in Judaism. The harsh criticism directed toward Rabbi Storch 'a fundamentalist' and the Ibn Ezra 'hardly a mainstream figure' sounds more astrologophobic rant than rational. No where in the book does Rabbi Storch state the sages were infallible. There are a plethora of rishonim, achronim and modern day rabbinic writing which ascribe various significance to the heavens, stars, and zodiac in a metaphysical, mystical or kabbalistic sense. By dismissing this approach taken by many great Rabbis off-hand, Zinberg displays the same fundamentalist & parochial viewpoint he wrongly imputes to Rabbi Storch. Having actually read the book, I found 'secrets of the stars' a well written and insightful discourse on the intersection of astrology, Jewish history and machshava.

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  20. On a practical level, by adding unnecessary layers of superstition to our religion, we risk alienating a critically important segment of Jewish society...

    He sounds like he's lamenting the fact that it's bad enough we have to deal with the 'necessary' ones.

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  21. > “the centaur, a man-like creature with four legs . . . depicts this handicap – Noach’s inability to walk on his own two feet.”

    I’ve always thought that the centaur must have been the result of someone who’d never seen a man on horseback seeing a horse and rider from a distance, and telling other people who’d never seen a man on horseback.

    > But an attempt to bolster tradition by assigning quasi-divine status to the Sages is a desperate measure that is ultimately destined to fail. On a practical level, by adding unnecessary layers of superstition to our religion, we risk alienating a critically important segment of Jewish society that would like to come closer to Jewish tradition, but will be repelled by a theology so obviously out of touch with reality.

    Those who hold up rabbonim as demi-gods aren’t interested in any segment of Jewish society that rejects mysticism. Why do you think their approach is destined to fail? Often the more mystical a religion becomes, the more entrenched it gets. If a religious belief is rational, if we understand it, then we might modify or reject it as circumstances dictate. If it is mystical and beyond our ken, then we must adhere to it whatever the circumstances. It’s a lousy appraoch if you’re interested in kiruv, but it’s a great appraoch if you’re trying to hold onto the people you already have.

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  22. I discuss the centaur in Sacred Monsters.

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  23. Please note that I just posted a full response from Rabbi Storch.

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  24. nice blog..thanks for sharing..

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  25. I'm curious about the statement "we Jews have a proud tradition of scientific study and accomplishment which has flourished in parallel to our religious legacy."

    In parallel? Our religious legacy is thousands of years old; Jews came rather late to the scientific revolution and they were invariably SECULAR Jews (Freud, Einstein, Bohr, etc etc etc etc).

    So what proud scientific accomplishments and discoveries had we made prior to the late 19th century? Did we have scholars that compared to the great Muslim scientists of medieval times, or the Greeks of much earlier? I know that some folks like to point out anecdotes from the Gemara like how (Rabban Gamliel?) "invented" the telescope, etc., but it is more accurate to say that Jews were copiers and NOT innovators for the vast majority of our history.

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  26. Betzalel said...

    The common denominator between these two things is that just as it is foolish to live one's life according to his astrology, it is foolish to live one's live according to his DNA and genes.

    Well, Betzalel, by your reasoning you have just condemned thousands of Jewish women who carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes for breast cancer to an early death. After all, why should they waste their time and health insurance deductibles visiting highly trained Geneticists, Oncologists and Radiologists to be screened for breast cancer, and in some cases have radical mastectomies even before cancer is detected? It's just a waste of time and foolishness according to you.

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  27. Zach said "but it is more accurate to say that Jews were copiers and NOT innovators for the vast majority of our history"

    according to isaac newton, the greeks falsely predated their history so as to claim to have been ahead of [earlier than] the Jews in science.

    kuzari also says that the jews were there first. Prof. levi in 'science in torah' [feldheim] writes that not only jewish sources claim jewish precedence in science, there is also one gentile source which admits so [origen?].

    i don't have these sources with me here to specify their exact location. if there's an interest i'll dig them up.

    kt

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  28. "May a Jew believe in astrology? Most modern-leaning, traditional Jews would likely say no. Astrology has long been considered a pseudoscience."

    belief in pseudoscience is FORBIDDEN to a jew? is this in shulchan aruch or 1 of the 613 commandments?

    r. kellner[?] wonders 'if a jew has to believe in anything'. so: belief in alternatives to the 13 principles of faith is in, but belief in pseudoscience is out. i see.

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  29. David Ilan,

    It's absolutely foolish for a woman to have a radical mastectomy even before cancer is detected, just because her genes say she will get breast cancer.

    That's exactly what I mean.

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  30. I think David Zinberg’s critique is right on. Why would one write a book about this subject in the first place, unless one believes there’s truth in this discredited pseudoscience? And why would anyone believe there’s truth in astrology unless one believes that just because certain Sages were believers, it necessarily follows that there has to be Torah that can be learned from this pseudoscience. To paraphrase Zinberg, this book “represents a tendency to make the Sages infallible, even on matters of nature and science.”

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    Replies
    1. "why would one write a book about this subject in the first place, unless one believes there's truth in this discredited pseudoscience"

      So does that mean Gershom Scholem believed in the truth of Kabbala?

      Delete
  31. "So does that mean Gershom Scholem believed in the truth of Kabbala?"

    The title of the book "Secret of the Stars" clearly implies that the author believes there is validity to the study of the Stars. Gershom Scholem wrote an unbiased academic critique of Kabbala.

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    Replies
    1. Whether or not the title indicates that the author believes in astrology is debatable.

      Before you implied that a writer would only write about something he believes is true.

      Delete
  32. The only useful insight to be gained from astrology is how easily people can be fooled by the Barnum effect. There once was a study where a number of student volunteers filled out some information regarding their birth date and location, and each were given a detailed astrological report. Each volunteer was asked to rate how accurate the reports were, and the vast majority of them thought that the reports described them almost or completely perfectly. However, at the end of the study it was revealed that all of the astrological reports were based on exactly the same birth date - the birth date of an infamous serial killer.

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  33. David Ohsie please give my regards to Cheryl.

    Rabbi Slifkin et al, I'm interested in your thoughts about http://asimplejew.blogspot.co.il/2007/04/guest-posting-by-talmid-shlissel.html

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  34. Is Ari Storch any relation to Larry Storch, of "F Troop" fame?

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