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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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An imaginary zone of the heavens containing the twelve signs within which lie the paths of the principal planets, and through which the sun passes in its annual course. The signs, mostly representing symbols of animals, extend for thirty degrees each, and the entire zodiac is divided into twelve equal parts, six north and six south of the equator. When Hipparchus observed the constellations at Rhodes, those which bore the same names coincided approximately in position with the divisions of the sun's path which they designated and which agree with the signs according to the Talmudic tradition. The precession of the equinoxes, however, gradually shifted the series, and the discrepancy now amounts to an entire sign. The signs are used by astronomers, while the constellations are employed by astrologers. Menahem ibn Zeraḥ (fourteenth century) says that the zodiac moves very slowly from east to west, one degree in 100 years, making 36,000 years for the cycle, and that some authorities believe the movement to be eccentric ("Ẓedah la-Derek," p. 21b, Ferrara, 1554).

The Twelve Signs.

The duodecimal division of the zodiac is first mentioned in the "Sefer Yeẓirah," which is of unknown antiquity, and in which the constellations ("mazzalot") are named in the following order: Ṭaleh, Shor, Te'omim, Sarṭan, Aryeh, Betulah, Moznayim, 'Aḳrab, Ḳeshet, Gedi, Deli, and Dagim, corresponding to Aries, Taurus, etc., and to the twelve months beginning with Nisan. The constellations are also said to correspond to the twelve organs of the body; two hands, two feet, two kidneys, the gall, intestines, liver, throat, stomach, and pancreas ("Sefer Yeẓirah," 5:4). This order of the constellations harmonizes with the theory of the Assyrian astronomers, who supposed that at the moment of crossing the equator toward the north the sun was at the first point of Aries, and that about thirty days later it entered Taurus, and so on. They also designated the signs according to the organs of the body, which they arranged in the sequence of head, neck, arms, breast, heart, bowels, kidneys, loins, thighs, knees, legs, and feet.

The twelve constellations represent the twelve tribes, while each station of the zodiac has thirty paths, and each path has thirty legions (of stars) (Ber. 32b). The standards of the tribes corresponded to the zodiacal signs of the constellations, so that in the east was the standard of Judah, with Issachar and Zebulun beside it, these three being opposite Aries, Taurus, and Gemini; in the south was the standard of Reuben, with Simeon and Gad, opposite Cancer, Leo, and Virgo; in the west was the standard of Ephraim, with Manasseh and Benjamin, opposite Libra, Scorpio, and Sagittarius; and in the north was the standard of Dan, with Asher and Naphtali, opposite Capricornus, Aquarius, and Pisces (Yalḳ., Num. 418).


The motives underlying the choice of the symbolic signs are obvious in the case of some and only conjectural in the case of others. All may be traced to Assyrian mythology and influence. The Jews during the Babylonian exile adopted Hebraicized forms of the Assyrian names of the months and constellations. In some instances the Rabbis endeavored to explain the origin of these names. Thus they said that the Temple could not be destroyed in thefirst month (Nisan) since the sign Aries is a reminder of the 'Aḳedah, Isaac representing the sacrificial "ṭaleh" (= "lamb"). In the second month (Iyyar) the sign Taurus or Shor (= "ox") recalls the "calf tender and good" (Genesis 18:7) which Abraham provided for the angels; and in the third month (Siwan) the sign Gemini (= "twins") represents Esau and Jacob. In the fourth month (Tammuz) the sign Cancer (= "crab"), which lives in water, represents Moses, who was saved from water, while in the fifth month (Ab), which is designated by the sign of Leo, "the lion is come up from his thicket" (Jeremiah 4:7), the Temple named "Ariel" (= "the lion of God") was destroyed (Isaiah 29:1; Pesiḳ. R. 27-28 [ed. Friedmann, p. 133b]). The constellations represent the Creation: Aries is light and Taurus is darkness; Gemini represents the two sexes; Cancer symbolizes man, who first retreats to nooks and corners like the crab, but eventually becomes as brave as a lion (= "Leo"); Virgo is a symbol of marriage; Libra weighs all the deeds of man, who, if found guilty, is punished by Scorpio, a symbol of Gehinnom; after purification in Mercy, however, he is cast forth as quickly as an arrow from a bow, represented by Sagittarius, and becomes as innocent as a kid and is purified as by water poured by Aquarius (Pesiḳ. R. 20 [ed. Friedmann, p. 97b]).

Astrologic Use.

Since each of the planets was supposed to rule a certain hour of the day, while every constellation governed a certain month of the year, the fate of an infant was predicted according to the heavenly bodies that presided over the hour and the month of its birth. The conjunction of the planets and constellations was accordingly manipulated to determine the fortunes of the person whose horoscope was thus drawn. A "good" planet might synchronize with a "bad" constellation to some extent. Both planets and constellations indicated certain characteristics in the person born at that time, and care had likewise to be taken to marry only such a mate as had been born under a harmonizing planet and constellation, since otherwise the marriage would be a failure. A detailed description of the influence of the several planets and constellations is given in the "Ẓedah la-Derek" of Menahem ibn Zeraḥ (, §§ 28-29), as well as in the "'Abbi'ah Ḥidot" of Abraham Ḥamawi (pp. 49b-62a, ed. Leghorn, 1874), but all agree that the righteous Jew is above the "mazzal" (constellation or planet) and need not fear any evil fate. In support of this teaching the passage "be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them" (Jeremiah 10:2) is frequently quoted, and it is contrary to the Jewish religion to consult the predictions of astrologers or to depend on them (Deuteronomy 18:11).

The dates at which the sun enters the signs of the zodiac in the course of a year are specified in the accompanying table.

J. D. E.
Sun EntersHebrew Name.Approximate Date.First of Hebrew Month.Approximate Hebrew Date.Jewish Constellation.Astronomical Signs.
AriesṬalchMarch 21NisanMarch 27
TaurusShorApril 21IyyarApril 26
GeminiTe'omimMay 22SiwanMay 25
CancerSarṭanJune 22TammuzJune 24
LeoAryehJuly 23AbJuly 23
VirgoBetulahAug. 24ElulAug. 23
LibraMoznayimSept. 24TishriSept. 22
Scorpio'AḳrabOct. 24ḤeshwanOct. 22
SagittariusḲeshetNov. 23KislewNov. 19
CapricornusGediDec. 22ṬebetDec. 18
AquariusDeliJan. 20ShebaṭJan. 16
PiscesDagimFeb. 19AdarFeb. 15
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Zodiac'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​z/zodiac.html. 1901.
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