I found an article pointing to some Jewish perspectives on the possibility of intelligent extraterrestrial life: “Extraterrestrial Life” by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, posted on torah.org.
Kaplan discusses the range of sages’ views on extraterrestrial life.
One Rabbi figures there’s nothing in Jewish thought that precludes ETs and quotes, as Kaplan says, “the Talmudic teaching (Avoda Zara 3b) that “God flies through 18,000 worlds.” Since they require His providence, we may assume that they are inhabited.”
Another Rabbi figures that since the universe was created for human beings “no other creature can exist possessing free will,” and without free will, why exist? (I’m not sure I get the logic which goes from “the universe was created for human beings” to “no other beings with free will exist.” I guess this Rabbi is assuming that ETs with free will could not benefit man in any way (assuming this Rabbi’s understanding of the universe as created for the benefit of humanity). But why not? ETs could serve us well in multiple ways.
Another sage, Sefer Habris, has a similar problem with the idea of ETs having free will (probably for the same reason as the above-mentioned rabbi?), but still figures that ETs exist even so. As Kaplan explains, “The 18,000 worlds mentioned earlier, in his opinion, are inhabited physical worlds. The proof that he brings for his thesis is most ingenious. In the song of Deborah, we find the verse, “Cursed is Meroz… cursed are its inhabitants” (Judges 5:23). In the Talmud, we find the opinion that Meroz is the name of a star. According to this opinion, the fact that Scripture states, “Cursed is Meroz… cursed are its inhabitants” is clear proof from the words of our Sages for extraterrestrial life.” Hmmm, I’ll have to check into that!
The Zohar “also follows the opinion that Meroz is a star, yet states that “its inhabitants” refers to its “camp,” that is, most probably, to the planets surrounding it. Nevertheless, the simple meaning of the verse seems to support the opinion of the Sefer Habris.” Interesting!
Kaplan sums up much of his discussion by saying, “There may even be other forms of intelligent life in the universe, but such life forms do not have free will, and therefore do not have moral responsibility.” Hmmm, again — the whole idea of non-intelligent or non-moral ETs only.
Kaplan mentions Song of Songs 6:8 as including the phrase “Worlds without number.” My NAS Bible says “maidens without number.” Hmm, it must have something to do with the idea that the Song of Songs is a metaphor for God’s love for God’s people. And, if so, then “virgins” or “maidens” would represent, not more possible lovers, but more “peoples” of God to love — i.e., more planets.
It’s not surprising, then, that if the assumption is that the universe is barren of intelligent moral agents, then there’s a void to be filled — by populating the universe with righteous persons from Earth:
“The Tikunei Zohar further states that every tzaddik (righteous person) will rule over a star, and therefore have a world unto himself. The 18,000 worlds mentioned above would therefore be that number of stars, presided over by the 18,000 tzaddikim that are alluded to in the verse (Ezekiel 48:35), “Around Him are 18,000.” However, these may only refer to those worlds visited daily by the divine presence, but there may be innumerable worlds for the lesser tzaddikim.”
Kaplan begins his conclusion by reiterating his belief that the universe was created for Earthly human beings: “Since an overcrowded Earth will not give the tzaddikim the breadth they require, each one will be given his own planet, with its entire population to enhance his spiritual growth.” Reminds me of LDS theology.
Interestingly, he ends by pointing to an interpretation which shows HOW the righteous will get to these other planets: “Once we know that the stars and their planets were created as an abode for the tzaddikim, we might naturally wonder how they will be transported to them. However, the Talmud even provides an answer to this question. Discussing the passage (Isaiah 40:31), “They shall mount up with wings as eagles,” the Talmud states that in the future world, God will grant the tzaddikim wings to escape the earth. The Zohar goes a step further and states that “God will give them wings to fly through the entire universe.””
Interesting, interesting stuff. But I gotta give those scripture passages a closer look.