As a follow up to "creation-of-super-humans",

The Gene-modification technologies promise interesting developments in human evolution/changes, both physical and intellectual.

On the physical side - better strength, stamina, resistance to diseases, longevity, but some will surely go much further - extra limbs, extreme body modifications, extra height and more.

On the intellectual side - better memory, faster thinking, but some will surely go further - eidetic unlimited memory with instant retrieval, and one day rewiring of our basic biological needs and urges.

What are the boundaries of someone being called "אדם" - a human, as opposed to "חיה" - an animal or "מלאך" - an angel or simply non-human?

The question refers of course to Halachic and Hashkafic ramifications.

  • 1
    @AlBerko I see a lot of overlap here with the questions about aliens converting to Judaism and robots counting for a minyan. Not convinced they’re dupes, but you might start there (and a good chunk of the sci-fi catalog) for some sources on the topic.
    – DonielF
    Oct 24, 2019 at 18:32
  • Kilayim 8:5 "Wild man-like creatures (apes) are [in the category of] hayyah. Rabbi Yose says: they cause impurity in a tent like a human being.*"
    – Loewian
    Oct 25, 2019 at 13:20
  • What distinguishes humans from other creatures is that humans are made in the Image of God. Aug 21, 2020 at 4:26
  • Improving qualities of humans at the margins would not make them a new type of creature, and it definitely wouldn't make them angels or beasts.
    – N.T.
    Aug 23, 2020 at 9:51
  • Improving qualities of humans at the margins would not make them a new type of creature, and it definitely wouldn't make them angels or beasts.
    – N.T.
    Aug 23, 2020 at 9:51

2 Answers 2


Not an answer, but some important sources to be consider when approaching this subject. So far these distinguish man by (potential for) speech, and de'ah (sentience).

Gen. 2:7

ז וַיִּיצֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם, עָפָר מִן-הָאֲדָמָה, וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו, נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים; וַיְהִי הָאָדָם, לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה.

Then the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

Onkelos: ... and man became a speaking spirit (ruach m'mallela)

אונקלוס: וּבְרָא יְיָ אֱלֹהִים יָת אָדָם עַפְרָא מִן אַרְעָא וּנְפַח בְּאַפּוֹהִי נִשְׁמְתָא דְּחַיֵי וַהֲוָת בְּאָדָם לְרוּחַ מְמַלְּלָא׃

Rashi: Beast and wild animals too are called "nefesh chayah" however this [same statement] of man [is] he's the [most] alive of all of them, as he has the addition of sentience (de'ah) and speech (dibur).

לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה" - אף בהמה וחיה נקראו נפש חיה אך זו של אדם חיה שבכולן שנתוסף בו דעה ודבור

סנהדרין סה ב

רבא ברא גברא שדריה לקמיה דר' זירא הוה קא משתעי בהדיה ולא הוה קא מהדר ליה אמר ליה מן חבריא את הדר לעפריך

Sanhedrin 65:b

Rava created a "man", and sent it to Rabbi Zeira. He tried to talk to the "man", but it didn't reply. He said, you came from the "Haberim" [wizards], return to your ashes.

So, one can argue if the "man" had intelligence, it would be considered human, or just that Rabbi Zeira wouldn't spot that it's a magic-created being.

  • Ability to speak certainly doesn't make someone human. What about a mute?The same way Rav Zeira realized he wasn't dealing with a mute person he would have realized that he wasn't dealing with a real person some other way.
    – Schmerel
    Mar 23, 2020 at 15:34
  • @Schmerel You are right, of course. I will edit to make it more clear. Mar 23, 2020 at 21:39
  • ^ See Gen. 2:7 Onkelos and Rashi; will add Apr 19, 2021 at 14:42

The Scholar's definition of a human

Scholars have tried to define the definition of man, and many did so differently, as we will see. Plato (c. 427–347 b.c.e.), attempts to give us a definition of a human being and what makes us human. Plato, a student of Socrates (469–399 b.c.e.), (father of the Socratic method), believed in the almost mystical but nonsensical theory of forms. Plato felt that everything was a copy; a copy of the ideal. Thus, for example, a table is only a table because there is a perfect table in heaven. Without this perfect table elsewhere, the ideal of beauty, they would be no table. Scholars cannot determine where the ideal resides. Is it in heaven or in the mind? Plato doesn't seem to know.

Aristotle (384–322 b.c.e.) disagreed with his teacher Plato. He rejected the amorphous theory of ideals. He focused more on how to live your life properly.

Aristotle was an empiricist. He only accepted what is rational and scientific, observable facts. He was attentive to careful observation, extensive experience, and scientific findings. He would, for example, reject virgin births. Aristotle felt that everything in this world has a purpose. If the object in question achieved its functional use, it achieved its purpose. A chair's purpose is to provide comfortability. Thus the chair has purpose. Humans, too, have a purpose. Its what distinguishes us from animals. A good person is one who acts morally. An excellent person is one who thinks. Maimonides (1138-1204) agrees with this way of thinking. A good Jew is one who practices halacha, Jewish law. An excellent Jew is one who develops their intellect. Because the Torah mitzvot are a means to an end, they help people acquire a proper understanding to improve themselves and society, the goals of the Torah. But the laws are not dispensable. They will continue to be observed in the messianic era. The messianic era will not be a time in a changed in nature. Rather, Jews will live peacefully in Israel and governments will provide the opportunity for philosophizing. Maimonides emphasized the acquisition of knowledge and the use of the scientific method.

The Platonic person looks at a painting, admires it, but does not take notice of its beauty. An intelligent person (or Aristotelian) marvels at the painting, take notice of it and puts its beauty in the form of application. They analyze the work and try to understand why it is good and how it fits in with the others. Thus, while Plato sees a “pie in the sky,” Aristotle takes the pie in hand, savors it and eats it.

This rational view was considered heresy to the Dominican heresy-hunters of Montpellier, France. They burned the Greek pagan books before they started burning the Guide. The ideas of metaphysics and the books in which it was contained had no value in Christianity, but it did in the Arabic world where Jews and Arabs existed together for many centries until 1492 when Jews were exiled. Needless to say, Solomon b. Abraham, David b. Saul, and Rabbi Jonah Gerundi were the perpetrators for burning the Guide in Europe. It would not be revealed again for about 200 years until after Moses Mendelssohn has provided it for the general public. Thus, the Chanukah story is not about the Maccabee revolt against Hellenistic paganism, Greek culture. It was a rebellion against the Syrian Greek, who banned circumcision, erected a pagan statue in the Temple and banned Torah study. It was a theological battle, not a rebellion against Greek philosophy.

What does the bible say about being human

Genesis 2:7 reads:

“The L-rd G-d formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a nefesh chayah.”

Onkelos does not render this simply as “a living being,” but characterizes this as man's ruach m’mal’la, “one with the power of speech,” a phrase denoting a certain level of intelligence.


According to Aristotle and his philosophical disciple Maimonides, a person who focuses his time in contemplative study, neglect to improve themselves or society, refraining from proper habits in the avoidance of the joys of this world in extream isolation (neglecting the Golden Mean) are not religious and certainly not pious – nor can they be called appropriately human. Aristotle defined what it means to be human. To be human is to develop the intellect. It is what separates us from animals. To do otherwise would be almost not human, or to put it differently, it would be less than human.

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    -1 for not being a Judaism based answer. Oct 24, 2019 at 19:46
  • @Salmononius2 What on earth are you talking about? Of course, it is a Jewish answer. Maimonides followed Aristotle's footsteps. If not Aristotle, then it is Maimonides and I certainly mention him more than twice in the answer. People should listen to non-Jews. Maimonides wrote: "listen to the truth from whoever speaks it. Your comment is vauge. Please explain how this is not "Jewish"?
    – Turk Hill
    Oct 24, 2019 at 20:24
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    Thank you. Your answer is pretty trivial and does not deal with upper boundaries. I agree that we can define pretty easily how we differ from animals, but what about super-humans?
    – Al Berko
    Oct 24, 2019 at 22:23
  • My answer was to delve and explain what makes us human. In other words, I felt it was necessary to explore why we are different than animals and compare that with a machine. The human element is something that can only come from G-d. It cannot be duplicated into a machine if that makes sense.
    – Turk Hill
    Oct 24, 2019 at 22:55
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    do you think that aristo and plato are in gan eden or something, that you quote them non-stop?
    – Adam
    Aug 21, 2020 at 1:25

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