Epistle to Yemen/XIII
|←page xii||Epistle to Yemen [xiii]
|Iggeret Teiman, translated by Boaz Cohen, notes by Abraham S. Halkin|
his deeds were for the sake of heaven. Consequently, in view of the probity of his motives, which we have disclosed, one must not decry him for his Messianic computations.
I note that you are inclined to believe in astrology10 and in the influence of the past and future conjunctions of the planets upon human affairs. You should dismiss such notions from your thoughts. Cleanse your mind as one cleanses dirty clothes.11 Accomplished scholars whether they are religious or not, refuse to believe in the truth of this science. Its postulates can be refuted by real proofs on national grounds. But this is not the place to enter into a discussion of them. Mark well, however, what Scripture has to say about the astrologers. At the time when Moses rose to leadership the astrologers had unanimously predicted that our nation would never be freed from bondage, nor gain their independence, but fortune smiled upon Israel, for the most exquisite of human beings appeared and redeemed them at the very time which was supposedly most inauspicious for them. Furthermore, Egypt was smitten with the plagues at the very time for which the astrologers foretold an epoch of wholesome climate, abundance, and prosperity for its inhabitants. To the failure of their vaticination, Isaiah alludes when he says "Where are they then thy wise men? and let them tell thee now, and let them know what the Lord of Hosts hath purposed concerning Egypt. (Isa. 19:12).
Similarly the pundits, astrologers, and prognosticators were all of one mind that the administration of Nebuchadnezzar, the wicked, marked the beginning of an era of enduring prosperity. Forsooth, his dynasty was extinguished and destroyed, as was divinely forecast by Isaiah. He derided them for pretending to fore-knowledge, and held up to scorn the state which fancied itself in possession of sapient folk versed in futurity, as we read "Let now the astrologers, the star-gazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up and save thee" (47:13).
They are likewise wrong in their predictions concerning the era of the Messiah, may he speedily come. For while the Gentiles believe that our nation will never constitute an independent state, nor will they even rise above their present condition, and all the astrologers, diviners, and augurs concur in this opinion, God will prove false their views and beliefs, and will order the advent of the Messiah. Again it is Isaiah who makes reference to this event in the verse: "That frustrate the tokens of the impostors, and maketh the diviners mad, that turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish, that confirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messengers, that saith of Jerusalem, "She shall be inhabited, and of the cities of Judah, They shall be built, and I will raise up the waste places thereof." (44:25-26). This is the correct view that every Israelite should hold, without paying any attention to the conjunctions of the stars, of greater or smaller magnitude.
I have observed your statement, that science is little cultivated, and that learning does not flourish, in your country, which you attribute to the influence of the conjunctions in the earthly trigon.12 Remember that this low state of learning and science is not peculiar to your country, but is widely prevalent in Israel today. Indeed, a Divine premonition of such a state of affairs is contained in a verse in Isaiah which reads, "Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work, and a wonder, and the wisdom of the wise men shall perish, and the prudence of the prudent men shall be hid." (29:14).
This condition is not due to the earthly or fiery trigon, as is proven by the fact that Solomon, King of Israel, lived during the earthly trigon, and yet Scripture testifies that "he was wiser than all men." (I Kings 5:11). So did Abraham of blessed memory, who was designated the Pillar of the World, discover the First Cause of the entire universe, and demonstrated the central importance of the principle of the Unity of God for all mankind. He, Isaac and Jacob, all three of them, carry the throne of glory in their hearts, to make use of a rabbinical metaphor "The patriarchs are the chariots," (Genesis Rabbah 82:7), which in turn was suggested by the verse, "And God rose up over him." (Genesis 35:13). The meaning is that they have attained a true conception of the Deity. Now the three patriarchs lived during the earthly trigon.
10Cf. S. Thein, Der Talmud oder das Prinzip des planetarischen Einflusses, 2nd edition, Vienna, 1876, p. 89 ff., Eugene de Faye, Gnostiques et Gnosticisme, Paris 1925, p. 281, note 2, Boll, Sternglaube und Sterndeutung, Leipzig 1926 and Cumont, Astrology and Religion among the Greeks and Romans, New York 1912.
11Maimonides in a parenthetical remark rebukes in a veiled and mild manner a number or scholars in Egypt who seem to have taken too lax an attitude towards a group of radicals who repudiated the oral law.
12The signs of the zodiac were divided into four groups of three, called trigons, and were named after the four elements. The airy trigon includes Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius; the earthly trigon, Taurus, Virgo, and Capricornis; the fiery trigon, Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius, and the watery trigon, Cancer, Scipio, and Pisces. df. Nallino, Encyclopedia of Islam, s. v. Astrology. p. 495.