Are there any Jewish writings that suggest the Earth revolves around the sun and is not the center of the universe?


The Rebbe holds that both opinions are correct based on the theory of relativity by Albert Einstein.

This means there is a third opinion that supersedes the whole issue of heliocentrism and geocentrism, making both viewpoints equally valid, and the reason this is a relevant addition to answers focusing on what sefer may or may not have been written using heliocentric metaphor for ma'asah b'reshit.

(The Rambam wrote on ma'asah b'reshit, not on how to construct telescopes or otherwise create implements for the practice of physical science of the study of the stars, astronomy.)

This third opinion confirms the Earth is not the center of the universe, for no such thing as "a center of the universe" can exist.

My source is a shiur by Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson, discussing both the the correct way of interpreting Maimonides' cosmology, how the theory of relativity supersedes both the Copernican heliocentric ("Western") and Ptolemaic geocentric ("Greek"/"Hellenistic") cosmologies.

More specifically, it answers the question of why this does not make the writings of Maimonides "obsolete" or "faulty", regardless of the relevancy of both geocentrism and of heliocentrism.

As such, it indicates that there is a possibility for Torah-true writings supporting heliocentrism to exist, and that you should ask your Rabbi which of the two hashkafos he holds to, preferentially before studying either of them.

The only parts of your answer I cannot answer is whether these texts have been written, whether they have been preserved and if so, where.

Three relevant starting points in the shiur:

Discussion of the Rambam's "Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah", Chapter 3, and responses to it.

The two models, of heliocentrism and geocentrism, and their resolution in the theory of relativity, quoting Einstein's student Hans Reichenbach's writings.

The Rebbe's public endorsement of the theory of relativity.

I'm in the process of amending my answer to include Jewish sources that support heliocentrism.

  • 1
    Thank you for your answer. Saying that both are true doesn't seem to conform with the question's phrasing "is not the center of the universe". Answering "it depends on your perspective" doesn't match. – robev Jul 31 '20 at 18:26
  • @robev, my answer supports the position that there is no absolute center to the universe, and thus it answers the second half of the question, "are there positions that support the Earth not being the center of the universe", with a resounding "yes". The first half of the question it answers with "the question is dependent on haskafah - ask your Rabbi". – וילם Jul 31 '20 at 19:13
  • Is he claiming the rishonim who held earth was the center of the universe held it was the center of the universe only from a certain perspective or that it was absolutely the center of the universe? It seems abundantly clear that no one in history before the modern period held this position that you attribute to a Rebbe. His is an innovation, not traditional Judaism. – Double AA Jul 31 '20 at 19:21
  • "there is a possibility for Torah-true writings supporting heliocentrism to exist” Your source contradicts this statement. It says that heliocentrism, geocentrism and all -centrisims are all wrong since there is no objective center, which they all claim incorrectly to have identified. Rambam thought the earth was the center of the universe in an objective sense, not just from a certain perspective. He also knew his left nostril was the center of the universe from a certain perspective and he paid that perspective zero credence. – Double AA Jul 31 '20 at 19:25
  • I have to bow out for now, shabbat shalom. – וילם Jul 31 '20 at 19:57

Unfortunately, no - most Jewish sages until very recently insisted on the Sun rotating the Earth.

  • The Talmud had some clear ideas of the sun circling outside a domed earth, moving through a window to the other side of the dome.
  • Maimonides clearly describes the earth of being at a center around which the Moon, Sun, and the planets rotate.
  • Rabbi Hayyim Vital writes about the earth being the center of "all of the worlds" like the pit of a date (עץ חיים שער א' ענף ד'):

נמצא כי כדור הארץ שאנו עומדים בו הנה הוא הנקודה האמצעית שבכל העולמות כולם כעין גרעין התמרה שהוא באמצע האוכל והאוכל מקיפו מכל צדדיו

Edit: The following article goes through a comprehensive list of sources from the 16th century onwards, showing that indeed no sources actually endorse the Copernican theory, with most rejecting it outright as blasphemy, up until the mid 19th century, with the Academic Rabbi Isaac Samuel Reggio supporting it.

*Though to prove this conclusively, we would need to go over every single source.

  • 1
    The question was are there any that do, and you answered most don't? How is this an answer? – Double AA Oct 8 '18 at 19:01
  • 1
    Is R Hayyim Vital speaking about the physical universe or kabbalistic "worlds"? Your presentation is perhaps misleading – Double AA Oct 8 '18 at 19:02
  • 2
    @DoubleAA Use of כדור clearly suggests he's talking about the Earth as a lanet, not ארץ. עץ חיים שער א' ענף ד' – Al Berko Oct 8 '18 at 19:54
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    We also discuss the sun rising and setting in spite of the technical inaccuracy. Are we sure that Chazal were speaking literally and not metaphorically? – DonielF Oct 8 '18 at 20:27
  • There's a book which came out recently which lists early achronim who endorsed the heliocentric model...haven't read it so I don't know whom – robev Oct 9 '18 at 2:34

This answer is [only] a clarification of the previous answer:

There could be no authentic Jewish sources for claiming that the Earth rotates around the Sun other than ones that agree with the common science.

The reason is very simple - it has no practical Halachic implementations.

  1. The only need to present the Solar system in its current form (Sun-centered) vs Earth-centered is to simplify the calculations of rotations of all other planets around the Sun. Technically, it is universally agreed that the physical Universe has no "center" and any point can be accepted as the center and the calculations made in accordance.

  2. THe Jewish Halachah only uses 3 planets for all the practical laws: Earth, the Sun and the Moon. Even if we admit that the other planets (at least Venus, Mars and even Jupiter) were known in the ancient times, their rotation has no place in the Jewish Law and therefore the calculations are never mentioned.

NB: This dispute is similar to the dispute of calculating the orbits of space shuttles and satellites - whether Einstein's relativity must be used or Newton's laws work just fine. Turns out, most of the time Newton works just fine.

So a Sun-centered system presents no benefits whatsoever for calculating the Jewish times - daily, monthly or yearly.

  • To clarify: are you suggesting that Chazal would only carry out their own scientific experiments when Halacha demanded it, but that if it were not a practical discussion, they wouldn’t? (By the way, they were aware of seven heavenly bodies - the sun and moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. See, for instance, Shabbos 156a.) – DonielF Oct 8 '18 at 21:15
  • @DonielF 1. Somewhere in Hil. Rosh Chodesh Rambam is clear that since the tribe of Issachar wen to Galus, we lost all the astronomical tradition and everything astronomy we have ever since is either foreign or speculated. 2. THe Sages carried no experiments whatsoever, they had no need. In Judaism, there's no need for extended calculations, and for Halachic needs, the Caldean knowledge was just right. – Al Berko Oct 8 '18 at 22:17
  • Gersonides proved that the earth was not the center of the universe. More like the sun. – Turk Hill Oct 9 '18 at 4:45
  • @user17072 Lubavitcher said E=mc2. So what? Unless he clearly explains where did he derive it from, the חזקה is he cites the science. – Al Berko Oct 9 '18 at 10:25
  • Gersonides got it from observation. – Turk Hill Oct 9 '18 at 16:25

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