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?
An article appearing at the website Torah.org 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?
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?