Artist's rendering of a rover on Mars
Artist's rendering of a rover on MarsNASA

Is there – or was there - life on Mars? Figuring that out is one of the missions of the Curiosity mission, which landed a rover in a crater of the “red planet” early Monday, and has already begun gathering data and transmitting breathtaking photos back from Mars. So far, no evidence of life has been found – but finding evidence of life after just a few hours into a multi-year mission would be a bit too fortuitous.

What do Jewish sources say about the possibility of life on other planets? The Torah talks about G-d's creation of “heaven and earth,” but mentions the creation of life only in connection with the planet man live on – namely earth. But there are hints in the writings of the Prophets, as well as in the Talmud and the Zohar, of the possibilities of life on other planets.

One well-known source, for example, is that of an interpretation to a passage in the Book of Judges (5:23), in which Devorah the Prophetess, in her song in praise of G-d for helping Barak win the battle against his enemy Sisera, mentions a curse on “the inhabitants of Meroz.” In its commentary on the passage, the Talmud (Tractate Mo'ed Katan 16A) mentions that Meroz is a “star” (planet) and that the curse was given to its inhabitants.

Based on this passage, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who passed away in 1996, wrote in several of his letters that while there might be life in the universe, it was not at the same level of intelligence and understanding as man. If such life had reached that level of knowledge, it would have been given the Torah, as a guide to life. The fact that the Torah was given only to human beings shows that people are the only intelligent form of life in the universe, he wrote.

However, according to a well-known story, a biologist with NASA, Dr. Velvl Greene, once asked the Rebbe if searching for life on Mars was a legitimate activity for a believing Jew. According to published accounts of the story, the Rebbe answered, “Dr. Greene, look for life on Mars! And if you don’t find it there, look somewhere else in the universe. Because for you to sit here and say there is no life outside of planet earth is to put limitations on the Creator, and that is something none of His creations can do.”