50
  1. Does the Torah discuss extra-terrestrial life and/or civilizations?
  2. Do any Torah sources exist which discuss what these hypothetical beings would be like and their status/nature? (eg. Would they be similar to gentiles vis-à-vis their obligation in the Sheva Mitzvot Bnei Noach?)
3

7 Answers 7

56
+500

In Devorah and Barak's song (upon defeating Sisra), part of the song went as follows (Shoftim 5:23):

'Curse you Meroz,' said the messenger of the Lord, 'curse you bitterly (you) inhabitants thereof,' because they came not to the aid of the Lord, to the aid of the Lord against the mighty.

The Talmud (Mo'ed Kattan 16A - English on page 59 here) brings two opinions of who or what Meroz is. According to one of the opinions, Meroz is the name of a star. So Devorah and Barak are cursing the inhabitants of a star (i.e. aliens) for not coming to their aid in battle.

According to here:

Hasdai Crescas, the great medieval Jewish philosopher, evoked the words of Psalm 19:2: “The heaven [or skies] declare the glory of God….” The rich cosmic landscape with all of its created wonders, is a testament to the artistry of its Creator...Crescas’ classic work, Ohr Hashem, originally published in Ferrara, Italy in 1555, contains an entire chapter where he maintains that the possibility of life on other planets is not in conflict with Jewish belief and Torah sources.

and from here:

Rabbi Chisdai Kerashkash, in his book Ohr Hashem (4, 5) explains that the possibility of extra-terrestrial life is not negated anywhere in Torah sources. The Sefer HaIkarim, on the other hand, quoted in Sefer HaBrit (1-3, 4), is of the opinion that there is no life on the stars and planets. The Sefer HaBrit himself argues, and agrees with Rabbi Chisdai. Similarly, the Chidah in Petach Einayim (on Tosafot, Menachot, 37a) is of the opinion that such life does exist.

Here is a link to the Ohr Hashem. According to the article by Aryeh Kaplan brought Adam's answer, it is Ma'amar 4, Drush 2.

Here is a link to the Chidah, (but he seems to be discussing two-headed sub-terrestrial human life.)

Here is the Sefer Habrit (Part 1, Ma'amar 3, Chapter 4). Please learn it, since I'm not sure I understood it correctly, but it appears he says that while life may exist, it will not be life we are familiar with. This is because the conditions are different there than they are here on earth. He compares this to sea-life. The Talmud says that everything that exists on dry land exists in the sea as well, but they are not exactly the same form. The ones in the sea may parallel the ones on dry land, but they're different because they live in a different environment.

He continues that it is impossible that there will be human-like aliens with free will, although they might have intellectual capabilities. According to Torah, only man was created with free will, not any creature lower (e.g. animals) or higher (e.g. angels) than him.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe (see here and here) said that “One who declares that there is no life besides on earth is limiting the Creator’s abilities.” And encouraged Professor Velvel Green to continue his work in this area.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe maintains that while life may exist on other planets, intelligent extraterrestrial beings with free choice do not exist. He appears to be differentiating between the capacity for intellect (a single trait) and an intelligent life form (the whole human package). [This may also be a result of a less than perfect translation]

Much like there are animals that can do things that are considered to be human traits, such as speak and use tools, so too there are non-human beings that have intellectual capacities. It is even possible that these non-human beings can surpass human capabilities. Angels, for example, have more intellectual capacities than humans (Maimonides Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah 3:9). However, free choice is a uniquely human capability that sets us apart from the the rest of creation. Free choice, according to Torah, is defining quality of intelligent life.

Free choice is only possible because G-d gave us the Torah. Without free choice, observing Torah and Mitzvot would be a sham. Therefore, when G-d gave us commandments, he gave with it the ability to truly choose whether to do them or not. It is because of the Torah that we have free choice. Since the Torah was only given to the Jewish people here on earth, we must say that any extra-terrestrial being does not have free will.

Civilized Societies are created by intelligent being with free choice. If aliens don't have free choice, they would not have civilizations.

See here for a summmary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's view by Tzvi Freeman.

26
  • 1
    Love the research, but can you make a minor correction where you site the talmud. The talmud is saying that Devorah asked for the star to help , 'not the inhabitants'... However, if one wants to force that to mean aliens they can, but its not the pshat. Please make that clear. (What stars can and can not do is a separate discussion)
    – avi
    Aug 2, 2011 at 5:40
  • 1
    @avi: I was referring to the second half of the passuk, "curse you bitterly (you) inhabitants thereof"
    – Menachem
    Aug 2, 2011 at 6:42
  • 2
    Are you claiming that non-Jews don't have free choice?
    – Double AA
    Jun 27, 2012 at 18:43
  • 3
    If the inhabitants of Meroz do not have freewill then it was not their fault that they didn't come. So why the curse??
    – Dov F
    Jun 27, 2012 at 19:47
  • 1
    @DoubleAA: Non-Jews have free choice because they too are subject to Torah commandments, namely The Seven Noahide Laws, which were also given specifically to the people here on Earth.
    – Baruch
    Jul 2, 2012 at 19:27
25

To answer your question clearly,

  1. Although the Pentateuch does not seem to make any mention of extraterrestrial life, some places in Nevi'im and Ketuvim may be understood to be making reference to Extraterrestrial life. One instance is in Shoftim 5:23,

    'Curse ye Meroz', said the angel of the LORD, 'Curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof, because they came not to the help of the LORD, to the help of the LORD against the mighty.'

    Meroz is identified in the Talmud (Moed Kattan 16a) as (according to one opinion) a star or celestial body,

    ...מרוז איכא דאמרי גברא רבה הוה ואיכא דאמרי כוכבא הוה...

    Based on one understanding of this opinion's reading of the pasuk it would seem that Meroz is inhabited/contains a civilization who would be capable of aiding the Jewish people in battle.

    Various Kabbalistic works (whose translation and discussion are out of my scope) make mention of the possibility of extraterrestrial life as do a number of medieval Jewish philosophers. For more on this see below.

  2. Regarding what the status of these being would be and their obligation in the Sheva Mitzvot Bnei Noach, Sefer Habrit tells us, 'we should not expect these beings to resemble life on our earth, just as life of the sea does not resemble that of the land' and it seems clear that they would not be obligated in the Sheva Mitzvot Bnei Noach being that they were not commanded in them and are not descendants of Noach.


Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan wrote a phenomenal piece on this topic which lays out all the sources and philosophical implications of extraterrestrial Life (ie. aliens) called "On Extraterrestrial Life" which was originally published in Intercom Magazine in 1972 and again published posthumously as part of "The Aryeh Kaplan Reader" (here is a link to Google Books) and is available online here.

I strongly recommend reading it if you are interested in this topic, but here is a basic synopsis of the 3 main opinoins:

  • Rav Chasdai Crescas in his work, Or HaShem, comes to the conclusion that there is nothing in Jewish theology to preclude extraterrestrial Life.
  • Rav Yosef Albo disagrees with this concept and states that it is theologically impossible for extraterrestrial Life to exist.
  • Sefer Habrit takes a middle road in stating that extraterrestrial Life certainly exists, but that it does not posses free will (although the beings may be intelligent). He adds that we should not expect these beings to resemble life on our earth, just as life of the sea does not resemble that of the land.

In the article Rabbi Kaplan lays out the foundations to answering your question by discussing the nature of free will and how it relates to these hypothetical extraterrestrial beings.

1
  • it seems like that sefer habris is talking about spiritual creations since hE SAys that it would be false to say theyre "וגשמיים" "physical Feb 1 at 18:43
9

Similar to several answers above: there was a Jewish biologist who consulted for NASA when they were concerned about viruses being brought back by astronauts and the like. He said he spoke with Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneurson, the 7th Lubavitcher Rebbe, about extraterrestrial life. The Rebbe said that sentient beings would be theologically problematic, but all other sorts of life forms were most certainly possible. "And don't say they can't exist, because then you're claiming there's something G-d can't do!"

3
5

Traditionally no, however a alien inclined reading of the Bible, could lead one to believe that the "Nephilim" (נְפִילִים) and "Anakim" (ענקים) might be aliens, or other races of humans. They are treated as goyim and not animals.

However, the alien life forms so far discovered by science all fall under the halachic category of 'non-existent' since they can not be seen with the naked eye :)

2
  • What do you mean by "They are treated as goyim and not animals."? What do you mean by: However, the alien life forms so far discovered by science all fall under the halachic category of 'non-existent' since they can not be seen with the naked eye? I am not aware of even the confirmation of the existence of extraterrestrial microorganisms.
    – mevaqesh
    Jan 14, 2016 at 22:36
  • I was answering the second question, saying that nephilim and anakim aliens if they existed would be treated like other goyim and expected to behave with certain standards and not like animals having no free will.
    – avi
    Jan 17, 2016 at 3:24
3

The Sheva Mitzvot of Bnei Noach are for the decendants of Noach, so unless the aliens were first offspring of Noach and then moved to another planet, then no, aliens would not need to keep Sheva Mitzvot. If they are in a similar image to Noach, it might be a good idea to teach them the Sheva Mitzvot though :-P

1

I love the research you have done. I'm interested in the fact that my rabbi says that to believe in aliens is non-religious and goes against the Torah: I say it doesn't, because in many instances, such as in Ezekiel, it mentions some sort of, I'm assuming, beings in a craft telling to take measurements — and also in Enoch. And I do believe that in Song of Solomon it is written that he possessed a flying machine referred to as a "carpet", which is an analogam, as that term was used widely in the Middle East in those days to describe these flying machines.

1
  • 2
    While some of this post does serve as a partial answer to the question asked, so I'll leave it in place, it also contains a question, which belongs not here but (if anywhere) as a new question. Anyway, welcome to the site; I hope you stick around and enjoy it. You might want to check out the faq and to register your account: both will allow you to enjoy the site's features better.
    – msh210
    Nov 8, 2011 at 16:50
1

BH

Yes, someone told me he saw the sources in Toras Menachem, but I didn't believe him, then he showed me.

I later tried to find it but was very difficult, but by searching key phrases I discovered it's in volume 57 page 172 http://www.halachabrura.org/agada/26shvuoteduyot.htm,

only thing is that volume is not anywhere online, but the original yiddush is in Sichos Kodesh, year 5729, volume 2 page 341, 7th section of that page [for some reason each page number is divided into many other pages]

Here's a free translation into English [you get what u pay for], the square and curly brackets are my own words, round brackets are in original text:

BH

"..which we had asked of him: one may ask, indeed, regarding what one might ponder, if there exist "life forms" [yitzurim] and "animals" [baalei chayim] on the stars etc..

Which, this is all, in truth, has no concept that is relevent to Torah and Mitzvos; rather, one is strongly involved in tefilllin; in order that there should come another one who puts on teffilin...

and through this which another will ask him, when he knows what to answer, then through this there will come by the other, that he should be a keeper of shabbos, or eating kosher, or putting on teffilin..

[because of this], one can answer such a person:

there is a gemara

Ah, but why had he never heard of this?

there is, in truth, two gemaras.

one time in shavuos, which this is indeed a gemara that they indeed learn in yeshvios, and masechtas moed katan, which we indeed learn in the times of "between the boundaries" [bein mitzarim {the time that the sicha is being given, in shabbos chazon}]

...which indeed, we didn't write this in the gemara right after we "flew" on the moon; rather, the gemara, we had published hundreds of years prior, and it had been said {I guess "said" by word of mouth} even more hundreds of years before, and it had been spoken to Moshe from Sinai

Which there in gemara, it says that at the time that Devorah had said the song regarding the war of Barack {obama?} and Sisra, she had said "Cursed be Meroz, cursed be it's inhabitants".

Which there {in the gemara} there are 2 "ones who say", regarding what the translation of "Meroz" is.

The first "One who says" says that Meroz is a name of a star, which the star was the Mazal of Sisra, and because of this, he {the star} didn't come to the help of Yisroel,

and "its inhabitants" means these which "sit" on the star {sit or dwell, "Yoshev"...}

And like Rashi himself brings (in Shoftim), both explanations {I assume it means the other of it being "a man" which wasn't mentioned here}, and Rashi brings there, the first explanation, that this is a star, and "its inhabitants" refer to those which sit on the star.

Which the Giving of the Torah is indeed specifically here below, since the Adam [person] in this world is greater [lit. "more high"] than the "creations" on the stars

And even though that Rabeinu Chananeil explains that "its inhabitants" are these stars which are around the star Meroz; nevertheless, there is indeed here many difficulties regarding the explanation of Rabeinu Chananeil.

{The rest of the Sicha is missing}

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .