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The Torah’s Teachings on Alien Life

For the seeker of the strange and unusual, a wealth of interesting topics can be found in the mystic traditions of Judaism. One of the more famous legends from this faith to become popularly associated with modern Forteana involves the “Golem,” a literal man brought to life from mud by the Maharal of Prague, Judah Loew ben Bezalel, in the 1500s. However, the creation of mud-men by magical means is hardly the only area of the esoteric that the Jewish faith encompasses.

Much like the Holy Church of Rome, which acknowledges that there are scientific, and at times even scriptural justifications for life on other planets, much can be found in the holy texts of the Torah that seem to point us toward the same line of thought. Often, it is argued that for a divine intelligence or “creator” to exist, it would seem odd for such a being to begin the great work of creating conscious life throughout our universe… but if life were to exist on other planets, how might those varieties of intelligence differ from you or I? Also, would those differences merely be physical in nature, or would the same sorts of differences we might expect of alien life carry over into the spiritual realm just as well?

Big Ears Baby

An article appearing at the website deals with a few of the issues that extraterrestrial life forms may face under a God shared by Earthlings. As the Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan expresses in his article “Extraterrestrial Life,” one view holds that while aliens certainly could exist on distant planets, they may not be gifted with such human graces as “free will”. He cites the work of the Jewish Sefer Habris (The Book of the Covenant), believed to have been authored in the twelfth century by the biblical commentator Rabbi Yosef Kimchi, which divulges the following about alien life existing elsewhere:

[W]e find the opinion of the Sefer Habris who states that extraterrestrial life does exist, but that it does not possess free will. The latter is the exclusive possession of man, for whom the universe was created. The 18,000 worlds mentioned earlier, in his opinion, are inhabited physical worlds. The proof that he brings for his thesis is most ingenious. In the song of Deborah, we find the verse, “Cursed is Meroz… cursed are its inhabitants” (Judges 5:23). In the Talmud, we find the opinion that Meroz is the name of a star. According to this opinion, the fact that Scripture states, “Cursed is Meroz… cursed are its inhabitants” is clear proof from the words of our Sages for extraterrestrial life.

Of course, even this proof is subject to refutation, for the Zohar also follows the opinion that Meroz is a star, yet states that “its inhabitants” refers to its “camp,” that is, most probably, to the planets surrounding it. Nevertheless, the simple meaning of the verse seems to support the opinion of the Sefer Habris.

The Sefer Habris also notes, according to Rabbi Kaplan, that humankind “should not expect the creatures of another world to resemble earthly life, any more than sea creatures resemble those of land.” This is much in keeping, of course, with popular conceptions about alien life from a modern scientific standpoint, of course: if life evolved on a planet vastly different from our own, why would we ever assume that these beings would resemble humans in any way?

Jovian Being

Arguably, in general terms, when we think of non-human entities on Earth, this would entail other creatures from the animal kingdom, which, from a theological perspective, might not be viewed as thinking, reasoning beings; hence, in the sense of free-will being associated with beings who reason, it could be that the supposition that alien life would exist in a world void of free will might have stemmed (early on, at least) from the general presumptions that might have come to interpret what, precisely, “non human life” should entail.

Do the theological perspectives of Judaism really differ from that of Christianity, or perhaps other faiths such as Hindu and other traditions, when it comes to the study of alien life? Furthermore, is there any knowledge that might be gained in terms of the study of extraterrestrial intelligence by applying a largely theological interpretation, or would this merely better us in hopes of deepening our spirituality, perhaps in a cosmological sense?

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  • This is very interesting, I wonder how the story of the chariot of fire differs from the Christian version.

  • rsanchez1

    When he says that extraterrestrial life is not gifted with free will, it reminds me of some abduction accounts, where the people describe the ETs as robotic in mannerisms. They are not emotional, they just go through the motions, as if they were programmed that way. Some people even speculate that ETs abduct and study us because of our gift of free will. Maybe they want to find the secret to free will and how to free themselves, who knows.

    This also reminds me of the Replicators in Stargate Atlantis. They were a race of machines and obviously intelligent, capable of building cities on a planetary scale and exploring the stars, but they had no free will. They had to follow directives. They begged their creators for freedom from their aggressive directives, but would not receive it since they were designed to be weapons. Thousands of years later, one of our scientists messed with the coding and removed those directives, freeing a small group to develop “spiritually” and “ascend” in an attempt to join their creators as equals.

    Perhaps that’s why the ETs are studying us. We are made in the image of God, and have been blessed with free will. The ETs wish to become closer to God and could be studying us in the hopes of discovering how to do so.

  • mph23

    I think it’s ridiculous to think that intelligent alien life lacks ‘free will’ or doesn’t also view themselves as ‘chosen people’ of their god. Their god might be the same as our god. Or not. Maybe ‘gods’ only get one planet each. Maybe intelligent aliens (whether we’ve met them or not, or ever will…) have written the exact same thing, and therefore view us as creatures with no free will.

    Not to mention…But I will…How does anyone know WE have ‘free will’?

  • tinatomato

    Meroz, b.k.a., MARS.

  • Daniel

    In Judaism, angels are thought to have exceptional intellect and yet still lack free will. Their lack of free will is actually an extension of their intellect and closeness to divinity. Free will isn’t all its cracked up to be.

  • Arie Schwartz

    No, Mars in Hebrew is Madim.