Annulling “Your Horoscope For Today” Through Just Another “Roll of the Dice:” Weird Al vs. Bruce Springsteen

August 27, 2012 at 12:31 am, by

Taurus: You will never find true happiness.”

Thus said “Your Horoscope For Today” by “Weird Al” Yankovic.

In Weird Al‘s zany universe, the Zodiac more often than not predicts bad things to come.

Some things aren’t awful though. For example, if you are a Pisces: “You are the true Lord of the Dance, no matter what those idiots at work say.”

But unlike Weird Al, many Normal People see astrology as a false science. Because Yankovic is aware of this disbelief, the bridge of the song speaks to the skeptics of the universe:

Now you may find it inconceivable or at the very least a bit unlikely / That the relative position of the planets and the stars could have a special deep significance or meaning that exclusively applies to only you, / But let me give you my assurance that these forecasts and predictions are all based on solid, scientific, documented evidence, / So you would have to be some kind of moron not to realize that every single one of them is absolutely true.

The bridge of the song is very Talmudic in a sense. The Talmud often offers a decent argument with an introductory word like teima (meaning “You would say”)–only to then say ella (meaning “BUT…”) and totally negate the previous argument (sometimes without great logic).

Not only is Yankovic’s rhetoric a little Talmudic, but so are his irony and mixed feelings about astrology.

In the Babylonian Talmud, a certain debate (on Shabbat 156a) includes 2 strong opinions:

1. Astrology is #good4theJews
2. Astrology is NOT #good4theJews

Rabbi Haninah says that constellations grant knowledge and wealth to their gazers, and the people Israel (fortunately) have their own constellation. Though he speaks from the gut, he is not the only pro-constellations voice in the Babylonian Talmud. (For starters, check out Shabbat 53b, Bava Kama 2b, and Megillah 3a.)

In turn, Rabbi Yohanan (Rabbi Haninah’s teacher) responds that there ain’t a single constellation in the sky for the people Israel! Rabbi Yohanan says that Jeremiah 10:2 prohibits stargazing, and the good sage tells us a non-Biblical story about Abraham rejecting astrology in favor of other religious truths. (Fun fact: The Book of Jubilees 12:16-18 also tells a story about Abraham turning down the messages of the stars. This story also never made it into the Hebrew Bible.)

Jews held onto these strong opinions about the Zodiac for quite a while. The Middle Ages saw Jewish philosophers like Abraham ibn Daud (in Sefer Emunah Ramah) speak of the constellations as eternal truths while the philosopher Maimonides blatantly called astrologists “stupid people” whose science was without proofs (see his “Letter on Astrology” for the Jews of Marseilles). 

While Maimonides’ position might align with the feelings of most contemporary Jews, it is not clear when Jewish thinkers stopped emphasizing the future-telling powers of astrology. (My guess: the same time the rest of the world did–the Enlightenment.)

Regardless of whether or not Jews today believe in astrology, beneath the Zodiac sits a deep religious anxiety that remains yet unresolved: Are our destinies pre-determined?

When doubt creeps into Weird Al’s universe (“The stars say that you’re an exciting and wonderful person, but you know they’re lying“), despair for the future enters too (“If I were you, I’d lock my doors and windows and never never never never never leave my house again”).

But despair not (unless you want to)!

Another strand of wisdom teaches: when we fail, we try try again.

On Human Touch, after Bruce Springsteen fails with Lady Luck (“a losing gambler,” he calls himself), Springsteen proclaims that he’ll reach paradise at his next “Roll of the Dice.”

After The Boss loses, he’s willing to play again. His voice exudes the certainty that he is not destined to fall. In fact, if he has any destiny, then he is bound for glory.

But how could Mr. Springsteen know that his fate holds fortune? On the other hand, why should Mr. Yankovic be so sure that he’ll fail?

Where do our anxieties come from? Do we foster anxieties we learn from experience? Do our worries come from superstitions–from fears divorced from our earthly reality? Are our fates engraved in the stars, or can we write our own journeys?

For Weird Al and Rabbi Haninah, the heavens will always draw their fate. But Springsteen and Rabbi Yohanan know that their lives are in their own hands.

Rabbi Akiva once tried to articulate both attitudes in just four Hebrew words: Hakkol tzafuy, vehareshut netunnah (“Everything is foreseen, and freewill is given.”) (Pirkey Avot 3:15). Whether or not these words intended to reconcile two truths, Rabbi Akiva’s words highlight two Jewish insights and inquiries into the future.

Can we change directions? Or is there no escaping our destiny?

Will you roll the dice? Or will you only read your horoscope for today?

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