Zodiac in Jewish Tradition

The twelve-fold division of the zodiac, as first developed by the Chaldean astronomers, spread to the West about the beginning of the Christian era. There is no mention of the zodiac in the Talmud; only R. Johanan mentions it in, and in a negative vein, in the Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 156a): "Israel is immune from planetary influence," basing his view on the verse in Jeremiah 10:2, "Thus said the Lord, learn not the way of the nations and be not dismayed at the signs of the heavens...."

Be not dismayed at the signs of heaven....The zodiac is first mentioned in Jewish sources in Sefer Yezirah (the earliest extant Hebrew text of systematic, speculative thought, with discussions of a distinctively mystical nature; written sometime between the 3rd and 6th centuries), where the names given to the 12 signs are direct Hebrew translations of the Latin names. A later publication, the Yalkut Shimoni (best known and most comprehensive anthology of midrashim, dating somewhere around the 12th-13th century) associates the 12 signs of the zodiac with the 12 tribes of Israel. In a medieval Midrash on the festivals of the year (Pesikta Rabbati), a passage occurs which explains the names of the signs homiletically in accordance with Jewish history.

Although around the 15th century we find the zodiac signs illustrating hymns related to the Prayer for Rain recited on Shemini Azeret, these hymns were excluded from most modern mahzorim (special holiday prayer books). Today, the only Jewish context where we find the signs of the zodiac is in calendars.


History of the Jewish calendar
Structure of the Jewish calendar



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