HOW COULD THEY HAVE KNOWN? The Number Of Stars reported in the Gemora

Rabbi Shlomo Cohen

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More frequently than you might suppose the scientific community discovers something which turns out to be something that Chazal had already said 1,500 years ago. Sometimes this may be chalked up, by those who don’t believe in Mesora, to fortuity or a good guess. However, these statements turn up with such startling regularity that one gets the feeling that science is just finally catching up to what we’ve believed all along.

A case in point is a Gemora in Brachos 32b. Here, Hashem is addressing Israel to explain a difficult verse.

מוד בבלי מסכת ברכות דף לב עמוד ב

אמר לה הקדוש ברוך הוא: בתי, שנים עשר מזלות בראתי ברקיע ועל כל מזל ומזל בראתי לו שלשים חיל ועל כל חיל וחיל בראתי לו שלשים לגיון ועל כל לגיון ולגיון בראתי לו שלשים רהטון ועל כל רהטון ורהטון בראתי לו שלשים קרטון ועל כל קרטון וקרטון בראתי לו שלשים גסטרא ועל כל גסטרא וגסטרא תליתי בו שלש מאות וששים וחמשה אלפי רבוא כוכבים כנגד ימות החמה – וכולן לא בראתי אלא בשבילך

Hashem said to her, “My daughter, twelve constellations I have created in the sky. For each constellation I have created 30 hosts. For each host I have created 30 legions. For each legion I have created 30 cohorts. For each cohort I have created 30 maniples and for each maniple I have created 30 camps. To each camp I have hung 365,000 myriads) ten thousand (of stars corresponding to the days of the solar year. All of them I have created only for your sake.”

The Gemora uses the hierarchy of the Roman army for its choice of terms. It seems to be giving us a number and that number is apparently the number of stars in the sky.

For starters, it is important to know that only 5,000 to 6,000 stars are visible to the naked eye. Yet, for some reason, the Gemora would have us believe that there are actually

12 x 30 x 30 x 30 x30 x 30 x 365,000 x 10,000 stars in the sky.

What could possibly have been on the minds of the Rabbis? It was plain to everybody that the number of stars could not possibly be anywhere near this fantastic overstatement. Why even bother with, what could only have been deemed, science fiction. Who would believe such hyperbole when it was patently obvious to anyone that no such number of stars existed?

It wasn’t until the larger telescopes were developed in the early 1900’s that astronomers began to comprehend the extreme vastness of the universe. In 1918, the astronomer, Dr. Harlow Shapely [1885-1972] estimated that there are 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone. He then estimated that there are about 100 billion galaxies in the universe. Note that both of these figures are little more than educated guesses [with the stress on the guess], on the part of Dr. Shapely. These figures are still used by astronomers today. In scientific notation the figure is given at 1018 –201020 stars in the universe. This is a very large number. Centuries ago there wasn’t even a method of writing such huge figures.

Yet, Chazal, in the Talmud, redacted 1,300 years ago, in language that could be easily understood, gave a figure of 12 x 305 x 365 x 107 which equals approximately 1018.

10,000,000,000,000,000,000 – that’s 10 septillion stars.

With no high tech equipment, no fancy telescopes, how was it possible for the ancient Rabbis to have dreamt up such a figure and whatever possessed them to pass it off as objective truth?

Coincidence?  Lucky guess? A stab in the dark?

 Not likely!

 

 

 

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