I'm an Israeli Jew living in Israel. I often give "sky tours" where I show children and adults different stars and a view through a powerful binocular at objects of interest.
Recently a young boy asked a naive question at a sky tour:
Is it true that the first three stars that we see at night are Avraham, Izhak, and Yaacov?
I answered him that depending on the time of year the first three stars that he see will not always be the same stars, and that he should direct religious questions to his father. He seemed to accept this.
Then when myself and other people started to point at stars (with our fingers, a laser pointer, and the binocular) this same inquisitive lad started telling us that in Judaism it is forbidden to point at stars. Being Ashkanazi I had never heard this, but other children were familiar with the tradition. I explained to them that the rule probably has root in the differentiation between our religion and that of the Greeks, who believed that the stars represented their false deities. Because I am not pointing to explain a false deity but rather to explain a scientific concept, the pointing should be acceptable. This explanation was not accepted so I again suggested to the young man to consult his father on the issue.
In the great Jewish tradition, I've now told a story and here follow the questions:
- What is the basis of the tradition (minhag) to not point at stars?
- Assuming that this is not a Mizvah from above, did the wise man who made the rule explain why?
- Considering that I regularly give sky tours to the devout and also to those who do not express their relationship with their creator on a daily basis, how might I better anticipate and cater to the unique traditions of our people? Simply "not pointing" will not work, I probably do more pointing than talking.
- Should I warn groups that I point at stars before we start, at the same time that I ask them to disable cellphones and other sources of light?
- Are there any resources for specifically Jewish tales and observations of the stars?
I would actually love to give the tours a more Jewish angle, especially considering the heavy Arab influence in the stars' names due to their research on the topic (before Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, anyway). Being sensitive to Jewish traditions is therefore very important, however I stress that the tours should remain a scientific exercise and not a religious exercise. Surely Judaism has a place for that.