the Rambam in yesodei torah says that stars are creatures with intellect. how do we reconcile this with modern science which says that they are merely inanimate balls of hydrogen and helium gas.

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    He also thought Neptune didn't exist...
    – Double AA
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 7:02
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    Does saying something has intellect necessitate it is 'living'?
    – Zachariah
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 13:14
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    This question would be stronger if you'd edit in why you believe that it's necessary to reconcile the Rambam's cosmology with that of modern science.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 14:09
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    Well, modern science also says humans are balls of oxygen and carbon and the like, yet Jews believe in a soul. Perhaps the Rambam believed stars have some spiritual component analogous to a human's soul, and this is what he meant. As you haven't cited or quoted the Rambam, it's hard to tell. −1.
    – msh210
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 18:00
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    @DoubleAA, so you think the contradiction the asker is noting is between inanimate (=nonmoving) and having intellect? What does one have to do with the other? (I'm really asking the asker, not you. Asker, please edit your question to clarify what you mean to ask.)
    – msh210
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 7:12

3 Answers 3


The Rambam himself addresses your question. He writes the following in Moreh Nevuchim regarding the science in the Gemara:

Moreh Nevuchim (3:14):

אל תדרוש ממני להתאים את כל ענייני האסטרונומיה שהם ציינו אל המצב כפי שהוא, כי המתמטיקה היתה לקויה באותם זמנים. והם לא דנו בזאת מבחינת שהם מוסרים אמרות אלה מפי הנביאים, אלא מבחינת שהם היו חכמי אותן תקופות במקצועות אלה או שמעו אותן מפי חכמי אותן תקופות.

Do not ask me to reconcile all matters of astronomy that they (the sages) stated about astronomy with the actual reality, for the science of those days was deficient, and they did not speak out of traditions from the prophets regarding these matters. Rather because they were the wise of that period in these matters or because they heard them from the wise of that period.

As such, the Rambam would tell you not to try to reconcile his approaches with our conventional scientific understanding. Like the sages, he was basing his teachings on the knowledge of the philospophers and mathematicians of his own time.

  • Yehuda that is correct.
    – Jonathan
    Commented Sep 11, 2019 at 15:44
  • That doesn’t address the first cause, especially if the first cause is G-d describing His own creation as He often is quoted doing in the Tanakh. Rambam was basing his view on a divine creator or a proto-evolutionary happen stance? If it is the former then he was obliged to conform to divine revelation, if it were merely human speculation what good was it without confirmatory proof? Commented Sep 11, 2019 at 19:18

When they landed a man on the moon, one great rabbi (R' Yaakov Kamenetsky, I think?) observed: "well Rambam was quoting Aristotelian philosophy and thought the moon had an intellect; Ramban was a kabbalist and said it's a ball of mineral. Looks like Kabbala just beat Aristotelian philosophy."

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    You don't need Kabbalah to beat Aristotelian philosophy.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 7:26
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    I heard that that was the only time that R' Yaakov Kamenetsky watched TV, and it was for the purpose of seeing with his own eyes which side of that dispute was correct.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 14:07
  • @IsaacMoses and Shalom, One of my Rabbeim quoted a Rav who said of the lunar landing, "Don't believe everything you see on TV."
    – Seth J
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 16:35
  • @shalom not exactly how Rav Yaakov wrote it,but it can be found in his sfer Emes Lyaakov page 15 in Bereishis.
    – sam
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 7:47
  • who says astrology is from aristotle? (could well be he got it from us) there's quite a lot of stuff in the torah itself on it which was well before aristotle
    – ray
    Commented Jul 12, 2013 at 7:51

I think that both Aristotle and Maimonides relied on the science of their day which was wrong in many ways. Yet, the Rambam, unlike his predecessors, did not believe in the efficacy of astrology. In Yesodei Torah, I do not think the Rambam literally believe that beings exist in these inanimate balls of hydrogen and helium gas.

I recognize that he only knew the science of his time and some of his ideas which were based on that science are erroneous. An example is his view that upon death the person's knowledge (intellect) joins the sphere of intellect that circles the earth. Today we know this is the soul and not the flow of the active intellect. His and Aristotle's view of women was also erroneous and based on false science.[1]

[1] By science, he said a woman had fewer teeth. But he was not a misogynist.

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