Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
Contact Us

Is There Life on Other Planets?

Is There Life on Other Planets?

The Jewish view on UFOs, aliens and extraterrestrial intelligence

 Email

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 .
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
320 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Vladimir Slovakia May 4, 2017

first i would like to emphasize that we should concentrate on the life we live on earth. i think that people are not ready to accept a possibility there is a life outside. our egos are the biggest problem. we even can not behave to one another. personally im sure there is a life in the universe. its like someone has mentioned bellow - the brain is limitation but our mind is unlimited. so the universe is. its neverending "something". far beyound our comprehension. and HaShem is capable of anything. deflate your ego and then you will understand much more Reply

Joseph Shellim Moorabbin May 5, 2017
in response to Vladimir:

It's more than ego. The facts say 'no life' imprints in the known universe for 14 Billion years. The mathematical logic says the unknown is more like the known than not so. Reply

Mordechai Baltimore, MD May 4, 2017

If intelligence is defined by being able to make free choice a and is determined by whether or not there is Torah, and Torah is only on Earth, how can it be that the inhabitants of Meroz would be cursed for making a poor decision. Don't they have no free will and are therefore not intelligent? Reply

Tom 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. Reply

Adam 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. Reply

Feigele FLorida 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? Reply

Joseph Australia 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. Reply

Anonymous January 11, 2017

Unconvinced If Torah is a necessary condition for intelligent life, was human life before Torah demonstrably unintelligent? Reply

S U.K. 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. Reply

Dolf from Holland June 9, 2016

And what is the second explanation? Reply

Gregory Glavinovich Sacramento January 12, 2016

Thank you Chabad is the best Very good thank you very much Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

Chabad is the best Reply

Eleazar Goldman San Francisco 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. Reply

Joseph 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. Reply

Anonymous Pasadena, CA January 10, 2016

Is there life on other planets? B"H For Eleazar Goldman, The mind is not finite, the brain is, but the mind is not. for such is the world of the abstract, such as abstract artworks, or the High end of Theoretical Physics where a simple symbol (The sideways 8) is used by the Physicists, and cosmologists in their calculations. There are some who have suggested that if one uses a baseline, or a reference point, or even a starting point, you are not dealing with the infinite, which has no beginning and no end. In intermediate electrical systems we use Imaginary numbers and plug them into formulae to calculated voltage and current in the windings of generators and motors in relation to their angular positions. Imaginary Numbers? the mind can handle the infinite sir. In symbols, and in metaphors using the imagination to carry us there and back again. :-)
(Ask a Rabbi about the 'Ayin', or 'Ein Sof' of kabbalah sometime.) Reply

Eleazar Goldman San Francisco January 7, 2016

Something new This is a place for discussion, and I do not think anyone can claim to be G-d on here by asserting that what one thinks are the absolute reality or LAW in the vast universe is actually the way that it is. At least, that's why I come here, to enjoy different perspectives, and add my own also. Reply

Joseph January 6, 2016

Broken record. You keep saying the same thing. Eleazar Goldman San Francisco I haven't been here a long time. You've a good memory. But they keep asking the same things :)

Something new:
What does
"Man and woman created He them" refer to? Reply

Joseph January 6, 2016

"meaning more was in existence at that time than just the Lord." The text is explicit. Humans are the last life forms of a list of prior life forms. Also, the verb in the verse is in the singular. Reply

C Martinez Auburn, IN January 6, 2016

Finite vs Infinite My, my all this discussion on the two, okay so how does one explain that we were created in 'our' image? That to me suggests a holy council, meaning more was in existence at that time than just the Lord. Besides the way earth is described suggests to me that the water and land were already there, he just separated them as he did an already present light and darkness. So perhaps he was just doing work in this corner of the infinite universe at the time and described his works as it pertained to the History of our people to us and he didn't go any broader than our history for reasons yet unknown to us but he hints at their being more in his word usage, such as 'our' and other things suggest certain alien notions such as Ezekiels ship that the Lord took him to, the pillars of fire extending from the heavens down to earth, the lifting of Elijah. There seem to me plenty of examples to suggest the Lord has own Army and they are alien based. IE-the guy sent to Moses before coming into Israel Reply

Eleazar Goldman San Francisco January 5, 2016

Joseph same old same old Broken record. You keep saying the same thing over and over and over again. Try something new please. Reply

Joseph January 4, 2016

LIFE OUTSIDE EARTH. Three factors for consideration.

1. Theologically, the Torah commands humans to have dominion. It means we are the most advanced life in creation. That the Torah mentions all life forms but does not mention others favors a positive conclusion we are the final, most advanced life form.
2. Scientifically, there has not been life imprints in the known universe for some 14 Billion years - aligning with (1). It stands to reason if other life forms did exist, some would be older than earth life and thus far more advanced - yet they have not been able to contact us or make their appearence known.
3. Mathematically, the surprising correct maths says the vastness of the universe goes 'against' the probability of life, rather than favoring it. E.g. Imagine a tall building with 1,000 appartments, and the first 5 shows no life: this says the other 995 appartments have no probability of life, rather than the possibility of life. The same applies for the known & unknown universe. Reply