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Is There Life on Other Planets?

Is There Life on Other Planets?

The Jewish view on UFOs, aliens and extraterrestrial intelligence



Someone told me that according to Judaism, human beings are the only conscious beings in the universe. Is there any basis to this?


Certainly not!

First of all, the sages discuss the fact that animals also feel pain, based on the biblical prohibition against causing them undue suffering.1

Second, there are plenty of accounts in the Torah of the higher angels, who are conscious of a realm of reality far beyond ours.

Third, Maimonides2 and others write about the heavenly bodies as conscious beings—and not simply in an allegorical sense. If anyone should ask, “How can a ball of helium and hydrogen contain consciousness?” simply ask in return, “And that a warm mass of gray meat has consciousness is reasonable?”

The uniqueness of humankind is not our consciousness, but the way that consciousness is able to enter the realms of good and evil, make decisions and distinguish between them.

Sources in Torah

Several Torah scholars of past generations have discussed the possibility of life on other planets. Rabbi Chasdai Crescas (Spain, 1340–1411) wrote that there is nothing anywhere in Torah that negates such a possibility.3 Rabbi Yosef Albo (Spain, 1380–1444), on the other hand, disagreed.4 Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz (Poland 1765-1861), cites Albo, but rejects his thesis.5

Shortly after the first moon landing, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of blessed memory, pointed out6 that there is support in Torah for the notion that life exists on other planets. Furthermore, we can know something about that life through deduction from what the Torah tells us. Here is his argument:

In the Book of Judges,7 Deborah the prophetess sings about the victory of Barak over Sisera. In her song, she says, “Cursed be Meroz! Cursed, cursed be its inhabitants, says the angel of G‑d!”

Where is Meroz, and who are its inhabitants? The Talmud8 gives two explanations, one of them being that Meroz is a star or planet. The heavenly bodies had also come to help the Israelites, as Deborah stated just one verse earlier, “From the heavens they fought, the stars from their orbits . . .” This star, however, which was the dominant star of Sisera, apparently did not come to their aid. And so, General Barak penalized Meroz—and its inhabitants.

Are these inhabitants intelligent? Intelligence is defined by Torah to mean the capacity to make decisions with free will. Free will is only possible where there is Torah, whereby the Creator offers His creatures more than one possibility and asks that they make the appropriate choice. (Torah includes the laws of Noah, which are given to all human beings.) In other words, just as we are created by the Creator's word, so we are provided free choice by His command to do or not do.

So, if there would be intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, those creatures would have to have Torah. Could they have a different Torah than us? This is not possible, since Torah is truth, and there cannot be two truths.

Could they then have the same Torah as us? This also seems impossible, since the Torah itself describes in detail how the Torah was revealed on this planet, and that account itself has a strong impact on how the Torah is to be fulfilled.

It therefore appears that although it is quite possible there is life on other planets, that life would not be intelligent in a way similar to human life and culture.

But should we be looking?

Dr. Velvl Greene was a microbiologist who was enlisted by NASA in their project to determine if there is life on Mars. He asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe privately if this was something he should be doing.

The Rebbe replied, “Dr. Greene, look for life on Mars! And if you don’t find it there, look somewhere else in the universe for it. Because for you to sit here and say there is no life outside of planet Earth is to put limitations on the Creator, and that is not something any of His creatures can do!”9

1. See, as examples, Talmud Baba Metzia 32a; ibid 85a.
2. Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 3:9.
3. Ohr Hashem 4:5.
4. Sefer Ha'Ikrim.
5. Sefer HaBrit HaShalem 1:3, 4.
6. Shabbat Parshat Devarim 5769 (August, 1969).
7. Judges 5:23.
8. Shevuot 36a; Moed Katan 16a. See also Rashi on in Judges ad loc.
9. For a full account of this story, see The Rebbe and the Scientist: Looking for Life on Mars.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription.
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Discussion (293)
July 8, 2015
Intelligent Life
I'm not sure I agree with the notion that the life must not be intelligent because they wouldn't have Torah. The Torah talks about events in the Middle East and how it was revealed in the Middle East on Mount Sinai. Does that mean there is no intelligent life in North America just because the Torah doesn't talk about it? Clearly not. The Torah is intended to be a guide to the Jewish people, not a comprehensive history of the whole Universe. And the Torah applies to the whole Universe, even where people don't know it. Intelligent life existed in North America and other regions of the globe before Torah was brought there. Why not other planets?
Gregory Koch
June 7, 2015
Re. "finite, or infinite really depend upon one's perspective. "
Why I disagree. 1. The opening 4 words of Genesis says 'In the beginning God'. My reading: once nothing but God existed, else this verse becomes superfluous. 2. Infinite = God, because God never changes ['I am God I do not change'/Malachi], so God did not create another infinite God. 3. We know of nothing that is not subject to change. 4. An infinite realm does not need God or science - it was always there, maybe only wearing a different t-shirt. 5. We are told to have dominion. This is not possible in an infinite realm. 6. All evidence points only to a finite universe. 7. We know that stars, space & time had a beginning [BHT].

I'm not trying to act too smart or argue with sages & scientists. Just speaking my own perceived truth.
Joseph Shellim
Melbourne, Vic.
June 7, 2015
G-d's "accomplishments" are infinite!
But G-d stays the same since the beginning of his Creation towards all humans, nature and animals Science is infinite because it will always improve to the infinity. The Universe keeps on expanding thus is infinite pulling with it any other life forms-- thus we will never be able to find out about them. Human brain is infinite because it will always find arguments to prove its ability to think further and further until the end of times. What else is there to prove!
Boca Raton FL
June 7, 2015
Mr Travis in Texas
Yes, the evidence is, in regard to alien interaction with this planet, as you pointed out, totally conclusive To ignore the strong and clear evidence only obfuscates the reality that has been ongoing for who-knows-how-long, but maybe thousands of years.

The concept of infinity cannot be encompassed by the rational/analytical mind. It is beyond the capability of the rational mind to understand or probe the concept. Thank you for your post.
Eleazar Shlomo ben Yakov Goldman
San Francisco, CA
June 4, 2015
Is there life on other planets?
B"H Whether the creation is finite, or infinite really depend upon one's perspective. Beyond the universe may be only open space without end. We can not tell because of all the stars and galaxies between us and that which may be beyond them, if it can be measured it is not infinite. Many believe the account in Genesis to be describing the Beginning of everything, but it could be discussing the Beginning of This reality.. in fact, the same word which is the title, is also used as the first word of the first sentence, and indicates there were other tangibles prior to This reality. Seven of them are indicated by Torah; 6 - letters + 1 - parchment. We can prove that all emotion is merely chemicals shifting in our brains & bodies, yet the chemicals are not capable of emotion unto themselves, it is not as it appears to be. Never rely on only one perspective, that is considered blindness. As emotion is not just the chemicals, Life is not just as it appears to be either, there is more
Pasadena. CA
June 4, 2015
has anyone considered that the rings of Saturn around our world have a binding energy? Correct me if i'm wrong, but I think the earth's electromagnetic field is monitored by these rings ...

How many of man's aerospace experiments test this idea of infinity? Infinite mind, infinite space ...

Astronaut Mitchell had a lot to say about life on other planets once he retired from NASA. There is certainly proof of other life forms; E.T. docking off the moon. Roswell. It's only the beginning.
P. Travis
June 4, 2015
Hannukah....finite oil changed into potentialy infinite oil
We all know the story of Hannukah, where there was only enough oil to keep a lamp lit for less than a day, which the Holy One altered ( not violated ) in response to the prayers and requests of His people to be able to light the lamp for 8 days which we as Jews celebrate every year. The Holy One could have easily caused a finite amount of oil to become an infinite amount there is nothing that the Holy One cannot do.
Eleazar Shlomo ben Yakov Goldman
June 4, 2015
Possibilities beyond your imagination!
Yes, finite means: "Point final" - end of road. But using "Grey matter" means opening your mind to the inexplicable, unknown and more possibilities that you never could imagine... The wheel keeps turning back/forth--as nature does thus able to change anything that we believed finite or infinite... --the circle of life!
Boca Raton FL
June 4, 2015
Finite and infinite
I had explained what you got backwards, Mr Shellim, maybe you didn't understand what I wrote.

No one can comprehend the infinite, no, not you, me or anyone else. The Infinite One created an infinite Universe filled with infinite life, and created it with infinite love, out of nothing. Can you comprehend that? I can't, and no one else can. That's why the Tetragrammaton is the Ineffable Name, and why we substitute the Name Adonai or just Ha-Shem ( the Name ) for that which is so incomprehensible, and, that our mind recoils upon itself in Awe of just the concept. Enjoy and share the wonders of an infinite universe, that "science" has barely begun to unravel.
Eleazar Shlomo ben Yakov Goldman
June 2, 2015
Re. "But finite might also change into infinite!"
That would violate the finite factor of this universe. Make your mind up so you clearly understand what finite means if discussing Genesis. Once, everything contained in this uni never existed, according to the opening 4 words. Not even the premise of finite.
Joseph Shellim
Melbourne, Vic.
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