Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Out of this World

It is obvious from the Torah, and from life experience in general, that human beings are not the only conscious, thinking beings on the planet. The Torah shows great concern for the feelings of animals, with calls to understand the nature of animals and have compassion upon them by feeding them before we feed ourselves, and also by not forcing animals of various types to work together. However, are living beings on this planet the only conscious entities in the universe?

Malachim (angels) are spoken of in the Torah and elsewhere in Jewish writing as having an awareness of the happenings in various spheres of existence. This includes both our level of physical existence, as well as planes beyond our limited human comprehension. In this way, then malachim (angels in the real Jewish understanding, not in the Western idea of beings with wings that hop around) are superconscious. The Rambam, as well as other Jewish sages, writes that heavenly bodies (including stars and planets) also have a form of consciousness.

When dealing with the issue of conscious life on planets other than Earth, it is completely incorrect to assert that there is “no Biblical support for life outside of our own planet.” The fact is that the Torah does give support to the idea of extraterrestrial life. In Sefer Shoftim (Judges 5:20-23), Devorah HaNeviah (Deborah) speaks about particular stars and planets, and the life on the stars and planets, and the assistance they gave to the Israelites. Specifically named is Meroz, which the Talmud says is a star, and it is stated in the text itself that this star has inhabitants (“Cursed be Meroz, cursed! And cursed be its inhabitants.”). While there is no specific discussion regarding what form the inhabitants take, and how exactly their role in the world, consciousness of locations outside of their home, and countless other questions work, it is clear that to believe in life outside of Earth is not a non-Biblical idea.

In more recent years, a scientist involved in a space research program that attempted to find life on other planets in our solar system asked the Lubavitcher rebbe zt”l whether or not looking for life on other planets was appropriate. The rebbe responded that he should continue to look for life outside of our planet, because to sit and say that there is no life other than life on Earth would be to put limitations on G-d, and that is something that is completely forbidden for creations to do.


  1. I for one don't think angels have wings, harps, and hop around. They are very real beings with specific tasks which include specific missions from G-d for overseeing countries, people, and congregations. Angels observe worship services, long to look into the mysterious of redemption.

    There are both angels and demons carrying on tremendous activity that we are rarely privy to.

    The stars and planets have some type of "personality." The stars sang when they were hung in space, the earth groans in anticipation of being redeemed from the Adamic curse.

    I read Judges carefully and I am not sure that says there is "life" on the planets but it makes it clear that "nature" fought with G-d against the enemies of Israel. I recognize the Torah as being inspired by G-d but isn't the Talmud a commentary on the Torah? If so, I would not recognize it as inspsired in the same sense as the Torah, therefore I would fully question the reference to Meroz having inhabitants. I am no being disrespectful to the Talmud, if it is a commentary containing the Misnah and Gemara then I respect it as a reference material on the lines of the commentaries I have in my office but not inspired, or G-d breathed.

    I do agree 100% we are foolish to ever place restrictions on G-d.

  2. The Oral Torah was given by G-d at the same time as the Written Torah and is therefore equal in revelation and deliverance. The Mishnah and the Gemara detail discussions, statements, and debates in the area of Oral Torah, as well as the situations in which these exchanges took place. It is, therefore, not a commentary on the Written Torah, but an encyclopedic narrative of the information given at the same time as the Written Torah, with the information being delivered by men who received it directly, coming down from Moses and Joshua. The Oral Torah is completely necessary to understand the Written Torah, as the two were not meant to be understood outside of one another.

    The Written Torah itself makes reference to the Oral Torah several times. When relaying information about kosher slaughter, the Written Torah says that we should slaughter animals "as I have commanded you," but the Written Torah never actually gives the outline of kosher slaughter. Where, then, did G-d command us? The Oral Torah is where kosher slaughter is detailed.

    The Written Torah also specifically forbids an Israelite from marrying a Moabite, which is a command from G-d. The Book of Ruth, though, discusses a woman from Moab who not only married one Israelite, but two Israelites. The Oral Torah, though, explains that this command applies specifically to Israelite women marrying Moabite men, not the reverse.

    Exodus 21:23-27 seems to detail ways in which people may seek their own vengeance from those who harmed them. The Written Torah in Leviticus 19:18, though, says that people are not allowed to seek vengeance. The Oral Torah explains the seeming contradiction. The list of examples when the Oral Torah is needed goes on and on.

    With regard to Meroz having inhabitants, it is not the Talmud that says this, but the Book of Judges itself, as it says, "'Cursed is Meroz,' says the angel of G-d, "Cursed bitterly are its inhabitants"' (Judges 5:23).