What Does Judaism Have to Say About Aliens?

If you look closely, our foundational texts are full of references to the possibility of life outside planet Earth.

When senators, journalists and Navy fighter pilots acknowledge the phenomenon of UFOs, we know we’re no longer in alien la la land. As UFOs are regularly spotted in restricted U.S. airspace and Congress holds more open hearings around these sightings with former intelligence officers asserting the United States has collected “non-human biologics,” many might be wondering: What does Judaism have to say about extraterrestrials?

At least as a rabbi, I know I am. 

“Jewish space lasers” may be a meme of the past, but our foundational texts do have something to say about the possibility of life outside Earth. Let’s dig in, shall we?

Does the Torah mention alien life?

In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, God creates light and darkness on the first day, but the sun doesn’t enter existence until the fourth day. Where does this supernal light come from? God says “let there be light,” as opposed to God “created” light — the inference seems to be that this light comes from some kind of place beyond the creation narrative.

Breishit Rabbah, a Talmudic era midrash on Genesis, states that “God created worlds and destroyed them, created worlds and destroyed them, until he created these and said, this is good for me, those were not good for me.” 

While some might focus on the fact that God seems to have settled with planet Earth (in that, well, that’s our shared zip code), who’s to say the creatures on some planet in the multiverse don’t feel the same exact way about their planet? How many other planets were there and who lived in those locales? Are there Torahs for other species? And do they also fight over whether chicken soup is better with noodles, matzah balls or kreplach? 

OK, is that the only possible reference to aliens in the Torah?

Nope! Later in Genesis, chapter six, the Torah states: “And it came to pass when humankind began to increase upon the earth, and daughters were born to them. The B’nei Elohim saw that the daughters of man were good and they took themselves wives…The Nefilim were on the earth in those days – when the B’nei Elohim would consort with the daughters of man who would bear them children.” 

Who in heaven’s name were these B’nei Elohim and Nefilim? Literally, B’nei Elohim means “children of God” and Nefilim means “the fallen ones” (um, fallen from where?). If this isn’t some space odyssey level haziness right at the beginning of the Bible, I don’t know what is. Regardless, this is a text that certainly isn’t included in Sunday school education. 

Later in the Bible, Psalm 145:13 states that “God’s kingdom is one that spans all worlds.“ Worlds, as in plural worlds. The inference is clear: The Torah is at least open to the idea that whatever life may exist beyond our own, God rules there too. Perhaps we ought to read Psalms 19:2 literally: “The heavens declare the glory of God!” Does the heavens include all their heavenly bodies, too?

And in the book of Judges 5:23, Deborah the prophetess says, “Cursed be Meroz, cursed be its inhabitants!” The Babylonian Talmud (Shevuot 36a and Moed Katan 16a) states that Meroz is a star or planet. A star or planet that apparently has (cursed) inhabitants in it. 

Are there any descriptions of possible UFOs in the Torah?

What was Exekiel’s famed vision of the merkavah, the chariot, if not an encounter with some other worldly being? The chariot, driven by the likeness of man, had four wheels each pulled by creatures with four wings and human faces mixed with those of animals. 

Meanwhile, the Babylonian Talmud in tractate Avoda Zara 3B states that “God roams on his light cherub and flies through 18,000 worlds.” 

What are these mystical joy rides God seems to be taking? Perhaps they have something to do with whatever has been shining so bright for those Navy pilots? While we’re at it, what exactly are the cherubim and seraphim, these mystical heavenly bodies, even the rabbis of old can’t seem to describe physically? 

(And yes, it’s true that later in that very section of the referenced Talmud the rabbis berate anyone who interrupts Torah study with trivial matters. Still, exploring alien life is far from ordinary). 

Any other surprising references to aliens in Judaism?

The Hasidic master Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke of Nikolsburg, in his book “Divrei Shmuel,” writes, “The Holy One Blessed Be He is King of all the upper and lower worlds and all kinds of creations.” Clearly, Judaism believes in the limitless power of God and existence’s expansiveness, regardless of our ability or willingness to engage or comprehend such matters.

But let’s go back to the Torah.

The most often repeated charge in the Torah has nothing to do with the Sabbath or dietary laws; it’s to love and not oppress the “ger,” or alien. Sure, in Biblical context, this alien refers to the other: an immigrant, stranger, refugee. Point is, Judaism always pushes us to look beyond ourselves and self interests.

Maybe engaging with the outer realms of space is a kind of engagement with the ultimate other, the ultimate unknown. Still, while we wait for confirmation of what else is out there, we can focus inward (including treating the Torah’s gerim, or aliens, with love). After all, Judaism’s been trying to alert us to the other for thousands of years. A little alien help can’t hurt.

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