By Rabbi Ariel Abel
Finding LIFE on Mars is perhaps just round the corner. Reports of rivers of brine on the surface have raised the possibility there is life where there is water.
So, what is the Torah’s view on extra-terrestrial life?
The earliest records of life from elsewhere in the Torah begin with reference to the Sons of Elohim, who descended to Earth, married women and fathered children. This verse is the source of the expression, “fallen angels”.
They appear to be a race of male supermen whose offspring were heroic and famous.
In the book of Judges, Deborah the prophetess bemoaned the lack of co-operation she suffered from the tribe of Reuben.
However, she cursed the inhabitants of Meroz, which according to one view in the Talmud is a planet. Deborah expected the inhabitants of that planet to assist from beyond in the vanquishing of Israel’s enemies.
The scripture suggests extra-terrestrial involvement, in the form of stones raining down on the enemy – perhaps from a spaceship. But the Merozians were lamentably absent from the fray and made Deborah’s job a lot harder.
The 14th-century theologian Rabbi Chisdai Crescas admits the possibility of extra-terrestrial life with free will and moral responsibility based on the Talmudic teaching that God flies through 18,000 worlds.
This number of worlds relies on a verse in Psalms that the righteous will in future times inherit that number of worlds to inhabit.
Whereas this may refer to spiritual worlds rather than material locations, this has no bearing on the possibility of some form of ET life: beings from the beyond could exist in dimensions of existence very different from ours. Since they require his providence, we may assume that they are inhabited.
Pinhas Eliyahu Horowitz, a rabbi in Vilna in the 18th century, in his work Sefer Habrit, states that extra-terrestrial creatures exist but have no free will.
However, for Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, a 20th-century kabbalistic writer: “We therefore have a most fascinating reason why the stars were created, and why they contain intelligent life. Since an overcrowded Earth will not give the Tzaddikim the breadth they require, each one will be given his own planet to enhance his spiritual growth.”
For Rabbi Kaplan, the prospect of ET life is exciting precisely because it opens the door to exploring new dimensions of spiritual growth. • Ariel Abel is rabbi of two Jewish communities on Merseyside.