Thursday, July 2, 2020

Does the Torah Support the Belief in Extraterrestrial Life?

Today, July 2nd, is celebrated world-wide, as "World UFO Day."

It all started on July 2, 1947, when W.W. "Mac" Brazel discovered a metallic object on his Roswell, NM ranch. The U.S. government claimed that it was a high altitude balloon. Conspiracy theorists, however, claim that the government covered up an alien invasion. For thousands of years, UFOs and ETs have captured the imagination of human minds and literature. Humankind has always been obsessed with knowing if other creatures inhabit other parts of our vast universe. What is the Jewish attitude toward extraterrestrial life? Surprisingly, there are Jewish sources which may support life on other planets.

The Torah (Genesis 6:4) describes the existence of nefilim on the newly-created earth. According to the commentary of Yonatan ben Uziel, these beings were called nefilim because they literally "fell from heaven." Rabbi Yehudah ben Barzilai Nasi (11th century Spain), who wrote a commentary on the esoteric and enigmatic Sefer Yetzirah (the Book of Creation), opines, based on these verses, that there is indeed intelligent life on other planets.

In the victory song commemorating Barak and Deborah's conquest over Sisera and his troops, one of the verses states, "Cursed is Meroz, cursed are its inhabitants" (Judges 5:23). Prior to this (Ibid verse 20), Barak and Deborah claim, "they fought from heaven, the stars in their courses fought against Sisera." The Talmud (Moed Katan 16a) asks, what is Meroz? The Talmud answers that some say that Meroz was an individual, but others claim it is the name of a star that fought against Sisera.

Based on a verse in Ezekiel 48:35, the Talmud (Avodah Zara 3b) records that "God flies through 18,000 worlds." The mystical source, Tikunei Zohar suggests that these 18,000 worlds are planets ruled by tzadikim, righteous individuals. Another Talmudic source (Sanhedrin 92b) claims that these righteous people are given wings to travel from planet to planet.

Other Jewish sources appear to negate any possibility of extraterrestrial intelligent life. Midrashic sources note that God created this world - i.e. earth - in order to give the Torah to the Jewish people (Bereshit Rabbah 1:4 and 3:7). The seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who was familiar with the mystical literature on extraterrestrial life, asserted that intelligent life is defined by the ability to distinguish right from wrong. Free will, he proclaimed, can only take place with the existence of the Torah. Absent God's blueprints, there cannot be intelligent life. The Rebbe also claimed that it would be impossible to have a second Torah, since Torah is truth, and truth can't be duplicitous.

While Jewish sources may allow for extraterrestrial life, our role is to follow the Torah, which came from God in Heaven, and to try to perfect and protect the earth which humankind inhabits.

Happy 'World U.F.O. Day."

This Treat was originally posted on July 2, 2019.

Copyright © 2020 NJOP. All rights reserved.

No comments: