Yesterday we discussed that during Zayin Adar we eat fish due to the constellation of Adar. Rambam lists these mazalot, and uses them extensively when discussing calendar calculations. They are also featured in later piyutim that we say during Pesach and Shemini Atzeret. However, I could only find a reference to the 12 constellations in Berakhot 32b without their names. Do you know any earlier Jewish sources that Rambam could use to create his list?

  • Are you talking about the 12 Zodiac signs or star constellations in general? E.g. Kima is not a Zodiacal sign.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Aug 27, 2018 at 19:57
  • The names of the Zodiac constellations are nothing original - they are simple Hebrew translations of the proto-Akkadian/Egyptian terms. Please note, that Rambam ibid refers to non-Jewish sages ("לגל התשיעי שהוא מקיף את הכל חלקוהו החכמים הקדמונים לשנים עשר חלקים "). Rambam also admits, that no original Jewish tradition survived (Hilchot Kidush Hachodesh) and all we know about the skies is the scientific observations.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Aug 27, 2018 at 20:00
  • @Al You may edit the second part of your comment with the source to the answer. Commented Aug 27, 2018 at 20:40
  • Did you know that or you didn't? Is it a Chidush for you? He says it was lost with the tribe of Issachar יודעי עתים לבינה.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Aug 27, 2018 at 20:42
  • @Al (I don't know why does it matter, but) I knew the ones we currently use are of non-Jewish origin just as the name of the months. Now we have a statement of Rambam vs. PdRE. Commented Aug 27, 2018 at 20:50

1 Answer 1


I summarise the really good comments that my question received:

Double AA suggested Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer, which is really hard to date, but according to researchers most parts are from late Antiquity, and by the 8th century had more or less its final form. In chapter 6 we read:

כל הכוכבים משרתים לשבעה כוכבים של שעות, ושמן כל"ש צמח"ן: כוכב, לבנה, שבתאי, צדק, מאדים, חמה, נוגה. והם משרתים לשבעה ימי השבוע: יום א' כוכב חמה, יום ב' צדק לבנה, יום ג' נוגה מאדים, יום ד' שבתאי כוכב, יום ה' חמה צדק, יום ו' לבנה נוגה, יום ז' מאדים שבתאי. וכולם משרתים לי"ב מזלות שהן כנגד י"ב חדשים, ואלו הן: טלה, שור, תאומים, סרטן, אריה, בתולה, מאזנים, עקרב, קשת, גדי, דלי, דגים. ואלו שנבראו במעשה בראשית לנהוג את העולם*

All the stars minister to the seven planets, and their names are KaLaSh TzaMChaN (כל"ש צמח"ן): Mercury (כ'), Moon (ל'), Saturn (ש'), Jupiter (צ'), Mars (מ'), Sun (ח'), Venus (נ'). And they minister to the seven days of the week: On the first day Mercury and Sun, on the second day Jupiter and Moon, on the third day Venus and Mars, on the fourth day Saturn and Mercury, on the fifth day Sun and Jupiter, on the sixth day Moon and Venus, on the seventh day Mars and Saturn. And all of them minister to the twelve constellations, which correspond to the twelve months, and they are: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius, and Pisces. And they were created during the Creation to drive the world.

Uber Chacham commented that we can read about the mazalot in Rashi's commentary (11th century) to Rosh Hashanah 11b (even though Rambam probably didn't have access to it):

ר"א אומר אותו היום י"ז במרחשון היה יום שמזל כימה עולה ביום גלגל חמה עגול הוא, חציו למעלה מן הקרקע וחציו למטה מן הקרקע, ושנים עשר מזלות קבועין בו וזה סדרן, טלה שור תאומים סרטן אריה בתולה מאזנים עקרב קשת גדי דלי דגים. וסימניך טש"ת סא"ב מע"ק גד"ד, ששה מהן שקועין למטה וששה מהם למעלה

R. Eliezer says: That day was the seventeenth of Marheshvan, a day on which the constellation of Pleiades rises at daybreak, the Sun is round, half of it above the ground and half of it below the ground, and contains twelve permanent constellations, and this is their order: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius, and Pisces. And its mnemonic is TaShaT SaEV MaAK GaDaD (טש"ת סא"ב מע"ק גד"ד), six of them immersed below, six of them above.

* Translation recycled from Sefaria

Yaacov Deane listed many mystical works, like Sefer Yetzirah 5:5 (or 5:2 or 5:4 in other versions), which should have existed by the 3rd century. Sefer Raziel haMalakh contains many parts that were edited in the late antiquity, and at many places refers to the mazalot, here's one complete list.

  • Nice summary. I would point out that according to most shittos, פדר"א is even older than Mishnayos, and may have even been the first piece of torah shebal peh to be written down Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 13:03
  • @uber which shittos are those and why do you they are the majority?
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 13:36
  • @Double AA - Take a look at the introduction to the Zichron Ahron PDR"E, they do a nice job of bringing everything down (while seeming a bit too sure of themselves, if you ask me), but, looking at it again, it doesn't seem to be the majority, but rather just that all of the gedolim who talk about it say that. The main argument, in short, is that every Tanna mentioned in PDR"E is from the dor of RYB"Z or earlier (other that rav shimon ben lakish, but rabbeinu tam already says that that's a mistake in the girsa), plenty before Rebbe and the mishnayos Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 18:14
  • In my understanding, this is a big mistake (as I commented above). We have no tradition (according to Rambam) and everything you cite about constellations and the Zodiac is the translated non-Jewish sources, not a Jewish tradition.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Aug 27, 2018 at 20:03
  • @Al BTW Not agreeing with a good sourced answer and downvoting a low quality answer are two different things. Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 5:32

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