Is There Life on Other Planets?
Someone told me that according to Judaism, human beings are the only conscious beings in the universe. Is there any basis to this?
Second, there are plenty of accounts in the Torah of the higher angels, who are conscious of a realm of reality far beyond ours.
Third, Maimonides2 and others write about the heavenly bodies as conscious beings—and not simply in an allegorical sense. If anyone should ask, “How can a ball of helium and hydrogen contain consciousness?” simply ask in return, “And that a warm mass of gray meat has consciousness is reasonable?”
The uniqueness of humankind is not our consciousness, but the way that consciousness is able to enter the realms of good and evil, make decisions and distinguish between them.
Sources in Torah
Several Torah scholars of past generations have discussed the possibility of life on other planets. Rabbi Chasdai Crescas (Spain, 1340–1411) wrote that there is nothing anywhere in Torah that negates such a possibility.3 RabbiYosef Albo (Spain, 1380–1444), on the other hand, disagreed.4 Rabbi PinchasHorowitz (Poland 1765-1861), cites Albo, but rejects his thesis.5
Shortly after the first moon landing, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of blessed memory, pointed out6 that there is support in Torah for the notion that life exists on other planets. Furthermore, we can know something about that life through deduction from what the Torah tells us. Here is his argument:
Where is Meroz, and who are its inhabitants? The Talmud8 gives two explanations, one of them being that Meroz is a star or planet. The heavenly bodies had also come to help the Israelites, as Deborah stated just one verse earlier, “From the heavens they fought, the stars from their orbits . . .” This star, however, which was the dominant star of Sisera, apparently did not come to their aid. And so, General Barak penalized Meroz—and its inhabitants.
Are these inhabitants intelligent? Intelligence is defined by Torah to mean the capacity to make decisions with free will. Free will is only possible where there is Torah, whereby the Creator
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