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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

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Question:

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

Response:

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

Footnotes
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 5729 (August, 1969).
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 Chabad.org, 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. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Discussion (317)
February 23, 2017
Does Torah tell you everything their is to know about everything in existence, or is it silent on things in Earth history and cultures? It seems like the "outer Torah" teaches what we need to know to do what we are directed to do, plus some history and a little science. The "inner Torah" contains good stuff that is somewhat transcendent and allegorical.
I respectfully suggest it is possible that other planets with other civilizations could have a Torah tailored to them. It can be just as true, wrapped into stories of the lives of their ancestors and the events of their civilization, with the same inner truths via allegory contained therein. Why not? He can do anything he wants, and the universe is a lot of nature not to use.
Tom
January 18, 2017
Rabbi confuses truth with perspective. Our Torah is our perspective of truth but it is G-d's truth. We can only comprehend it from our narrow perspective. No reason G-d cannot give Torah to other beings. They would receive it and interpret it in the way G-d intends for them. Maybe it would be identical to ours maybe not but it could still be the same Torah.
Adam
January 14, 2017
Just ignorant - intelligence is there, it just need to be fed. Wouldn't you say you are more intelligent today than years ago?
Feigele
FLorida
January 13, 2017
There was intelligence from Day 1.
The lacking was of moral and ethical provisions. The nations worshiped deities that cared not for morals or ethicals, only sacrifices, even of humans. The Torah changed all this with sacred laws.
Joseph
Australia
January 11, 2017
Unconvinced
If Torah is a necessary condition for intelligent life, was human life before Torah demonstrably unintelligent?
Anonymous
June 13, 2016
Man's ego
Man still thinks he is the most important creation in the universe. This misses the point that everything is one, everything is HaShem,
Whatever and wherever creation is this is a reflection of HaShem. The inner most qualities of a life source and creator beyond our comprehension.

Mankind being one image of HaShem, how many consciously aware images can HaShem create that reflect the essence of the original source? Do they all have to be mankind?

We are a limited refraction of HaShems light. A part cannot be greater than the whole? A part cannot envisage or fully understand the whole, we are simply a part of something far greater than our self. Limitation is part of our creation.
S
U.K.
June 9, 2016
And what is the second explanation?
Dolf from Holland
January 12, 2016
Thank you Chabad is the best
Very good thank you very much Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

Chabad is the best
Gregory Glavinovich
Sacramento
January 12, 2016
Infinity and Ayn Soph
I don't know why anonymous from Pasadena scripted a note to me here. I'm aware of all that he wrote about. Or she. Including Ayn, ayn soph and ayn soph aur. While we can juggle with the concept of infinity or symbols that represent it, neither the mind, nor the brain can conceive of the actuality of it.
Eleazar Goldman
San Francisco
January 10, 2016
Infinite Minds.
Is this not subject to what is given us in its due time? Otherwise, try as we may, we cannot even imagine a new color.
Joseph