Every few years, someone claims to have seen a UFO and the suspicion of life on other planets is raised, only to disappear as quickly as it came about. This time, however, seems different. It isn’t just golfer Bryson DeChambeau, basketball star Shaquille O’Neal, and quarterback Baker Mayfield who claim to have recently seen UFOs. Sightings have soared during the pandemic. Indeed, instead of just the usual attributions to conspiracy theory, a unit of the Pentagon has been established to investigate sightings, and UFOs are the subject of a Congressional inquiry whose report is due in the next few weeks.
Even former President Barack Obama said in an interview this week, "What is true, and I'm actually being serious here, is that there are, there's footage and records of objects in the skies, that we don't know exactly what they are. We can't explain how they moved, their trajectory. They did not have an easily explainable pattern. And so, you know, I think that people still take seriously trying to investigate and figure out what that is."
The upcoming report from Congress likely won’t conclusively settle the question of the existence of UFOs, but is Judaism even open to the possibility? In his Sefer Ha’Ikarim, R’ Yosef Albo (1380-1444) rejects the concept of life on other planets. R’ Pinchas Horowitz (1765-1861), in his Sefer Ha’Bris, says that R’ Yosef Albo is wrong; but while he believes there is life on other planets, they do not have free will in the sense of human beings.
Rav Chasdai Crescas of Spain (1340-1411) writes that nothing in the Torah negates the possibility of believing in extraterrestrial life. He quotes the words of Tehillim (19:2): הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם מְֽסַפְּרִ֥ים כְּבֽוֹד־קל וּֽמַעֲשֵׂ֥ה יָ֝דָ֗יו מַגִּ֥יד הָרָקִֽיעַ׃, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims His handiwork,” as potential evidence that praise of Hashem can come from inhabitants of the heavens. He has an entire chapter in his work, Ohr Hashem, on the possibility of life on other planets.
Rabb Aryeh Kaplan argues that the basic premise of the existence of extraterrestrial life is strongly supported by the Zohar. He writes, “The Midrash teaches us that there are seven earths. Although the Ibn Ezra tries to argue that these refer to the seven continents, the Zohar clearly states that the seven are separated by a firmament and are inhabited. Although they are not inhabited by man, they are the domain of intelligent creatures.”
Rav Soloveitchik (“The Rav Thinking Aloud,” p. 93) was asked about alien life and said: “It is possible that Hashem created other life forms on other planets. It is no problem to yahadus. The reason man likes to think he is the only created being in the entire universe is because of his egotistical nature. Even the concept of am ha’nivchar, chosen nation, may only be relative to our world, our small section of the universe. The Torah is written from the viewpoint of our sun, moon, and stars. It would not detract from our being the am ha’nivchar of this region of space if there were other am ha’nivchar in a distant galaxy.”
Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, on the other hand, is reported as having said that there may or may not be living creatures in outer space but there cannot be human like creatures with bechira, free will. The Torah was given only to the Jewish people on planet Earth, and Hashem would not have created creatures with bechira, but without a Torah to guide them.
Shortly after the first moon landing, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, argued similarly. While acknowledging that there is support in Torah for the notion that life exists on other planets, he argued that life could not be intelligent or similar to human life. If they were, they would need Torah to guide them. They couldn’t have the same Torah, since it was only revealed on Earth. They couldn’t have a different Torah, since there is only one truth. Therefore, while there might well be life elsewhere, it is not intelligent life similar to humans.
So, do UFOs and extraterrestrial life exist? Maybe. But while we may be curious, how much of a difference would it really make to our lives?
On the other hand, there are a group of people who live with us here on Earth, yet it feels like we are living on different planets. And there is something we can and must do about it.
While over the last two weeks 4,000 rockets have rained down on innocent Israeli civilians, If Not Now, a group that describes itself as “a movement of Jews to end the Israeli occupation and transform our community,” tweeted this: “We can show the world that Jews don't need Israel in order to keep us safe. We're creating thriving, flourishing, safe Jewish lives here in the diaspora by building strong communities and working in solidarity with other marginalized people against white supremacy.”
Reacting to a group of Jews being attacked in L.A., popular comedian Sarah Silverman posted, “Jews in the diaspora need allies. WE ARE NOT ISRAEL. And we…aren’t the Israeli government.”
Perhaps most disturbing is a public letter signed by dozens of American rabbinical students accusing Israel of apartheid and calling on American Jewish communities to hold Israel accountable for the “violent suppression of human rights.”
Inexplicably, the letter does not mention Hamas or Israeli civilians. Frankie Sandmel, a rabbinical student at Hebrew College and one of the authors of the letter, explained: “I can’t speak for the group. For myself, as an American Jew who has never lived in Gaza or the West Bank, I don’t feel like I have ground to stand on to try to influence how Palestinians respond to oppression. I do have the ability to speak to the American Jewish community that I am hoping to lead, to look at the ways that we vote and the ways that we give tzedakah and the ways that we educate our communities.”
Am I really living on the same planet as those who signed this letter? Are we looking at the same reality? Do we come from the same history and do we really share the same destiny? How can we expect non-Jews to stand with the Jewish State while a growing number of our own people are expressing sympathy and support to the perpetrators of evil, rather than the millions of innocent victims being terrorized? When it comes to these philosophies, there is no speculation or inquiry necessary. These attitudes are alien and foreign and have no place on our planet or in our universe.
Our brothers and sisters in Israel are facing a harsh battle, running in and out of bomb shelters and executing missions to eliminate terrorists. But the battle doesn’t end on Israel’s borders; it is continuing online as well as offline right here in America where elected members of Congress are condemning Israel and calling for cutting off funding and support.
This is no time for silence, indifference or inaction. For a year and a half our Israel activism was suspended as we, Israel and the world focused on a common enemy, Corona. It is time to re-activate, to set the record straight, to speak truth to power, to demand of elected leaders that they have a strong moral voice, to stand with justice and to give our greatest ally in the Middle East more than lukewarm support or a tepid statement that Israel has a right to defend themselves.
While UFOs and extraterrestrials are uncertain, let us stand up and leave no doubt that there is strong pro-Israel life here on Earth.