Over the past week the planet Mars has appeared at its biggest and brightest as the Red Planet and Earth move closer together than they will be again until 2035. So, what does the Torah say of other planets?
An old joke has two bug-eyed aliens meeting on another planet. One introduces itself to the other. “Hello, I’m zog59723.” The other responds, “Funny, you don’t look Jewish!”
Our tradition recognises the majesty of creation and even the possibility of life in other star systems.
The stars and the planets are part of God’s creation and were as familiar to our Biblical ancestors as they were to the Greeks, Romans, Babylonians and Egyptians.
Even star signs are mentioned in the Talmud. Our rabbis of old were astronomers and understood the heavens. That is how they set our calendar so accurately. The prayer El Adon is a Kabbalistic discussion of the planets.
We are not, however, as obsessed with astrology as much of the rest of the world. It is against our world view, because we hold ourselves responsible for our own actions, able to influence our fate.
In Genesis 15:5, God takes our father Abraham outside to show him the stars, by way of illustrating that we shall become infinitely numerous.
In Gemara Nedarim 32a, Abraham asks God what will be, as he appears destined not to have children. God responds that he should ignore his astrology and instead think about where he is in the here and now.
In Midrash Bereshit Rabbah (44:12) , we are told: “R’ Levi said: ‘While the sandal is on your foot, walk on the thorn. All who are placed below them should fear them, but you, who are placed above them, step on them.’”
Star signs and portents can be frightening – and as Mars glows menacingly big and red in our skies, we remember that, in ancient times and in astrological belief, it is considered a portent of war. But this is not how we as Jews should think.
As Rabbi Yochanan reminds us in Jeremiah (10:2): “Do not be disheartened by portents in the sky; let the nations be disheartened by them. The nations, but not Israel.”
Rabbi Zvi Solomons serves the Jewish Community of Berkshire (JCoB.org), based in Reading
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