AFTERLIFE IN MODERN JUDAISM
“Judaism celebrates life and the living . It dwells on life here rather than on the hereafter as other religious faiths do. Life is precious, the here and the now.”
[Jean Herschaft, “Patient Should Not Be Told of Terminal Illness: Rabbi,” The Jewish Post and Opinion, 13 March 1981, p. 12.]
“…it is certainly true that Judaism gives us no details about what happens after death”.
[Dennis Prager, “Life would be cruel if Judaism made no religious room for ‘afterlife'” Jewish Exponent, October 22, 1989, p. 35ff.]
Dead is dead – ” what lives on are the children and a legacy of good works .”
[Rabbi Terry Bard, Director Pastoral Services, Beth Israel Hospital, quoted by Kenneth L. Woodward, “Heaven”, Newsweek, (March 27, 1989) pp. 52ff.]
AFTERLIFE IN BIBLICAL JUDAISM
SHEOL – AN UNDERWORLD REALM OF THE DEAD
Says Jacob – “If any harm came to him [Benjamin] on the journey you are to undertake, you would send me down to Sheol with my white head bowed in grief” (Gen. 42:38).
PROPHET SAMUEL RETURNS FROM THE UNDERWORLD OF SHEOL
Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in his own town of Ramah. Saul had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land . The Philistines assembled and came and set up camp at Shunem, while Saul gathered all the Israelites and set up camp at Gilboa. When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. He inquired of Y*H*V*H, but Y*H*V*H did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets.
Saul then said to his attendants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.” “There is one in Endor,” they said. So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. “Consult a spirit for me,” he said , “and bring up for me the one I name.” But the woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land . Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?” Saul swore to her by Y*H*V*H, “As surely as Y*H*V*H lives, you will not be punished for this.”
Then the woman asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” “Bring up Samuel,” he said. When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!” The king said to her, “Don’t be afraid. What do you see?” The woman said, “I see a spirit coming up out of the ground.” “What does he look like?” he asked. “An old man wearing a robe is coming up,” she said. Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself… face to the ground. (I Samuel 28:3-14).
AFTERLIFE IN RABBINIC JUDAISM
OLAM HABA – POST-MORTEM OR MESSIANIC?
Not like this world will be the WORLD TO COME [Olam Haba]. In this world one has the trouble to harvest grapes and press them; but in the World to Come a person will bring a single grape in a wagon or a ship, store it in the corner of his house, and draw from it enough wine to fill it a large flagon… There will not be a grape which will not yield thirty measures of wine (Keth. 111b).
My Torah will guide you in your path in this world, it will watch over you in your sleep, at the hour of death, and when you wake in OLAM HABA [the World to Come] (Sifre, Lev. 18:4).
AFTERLIFE IN MEDIEVAL PHILOSOPHY
MAIMONIDES ON OLAM HABA
As to the blissful state of the soul in the OLAM HABA [the World to Come] , there is no way on earth in which we can comprehend or know it. For in this earthly existence we only have knowledge of physical pleasure…But the bliss of the life hereafter is exceedingly great…That spiritual bliss [of the World to Come] is unsearchable and beyond compare. [Mishneh Torah , Vol. I, 91a]
OLAM NESHAMOT – THE WORLD OF SOULS:
In any case, concerning the meaning of OLAM HABA [the World to Come] , we have learned that is a world in which the body, the Sanctuary, and its vessels will be present; it is not OLAM HANESHAMOT [the World of Souls] in which every man receives his due immediately after death. (Nahmanides, The Gate of Reward, p. 107).
AFTERLIFE IN MEDIEVAL JEWISH MYSTICISM
HIBBUT HA-KEVER/PANGS OF THE GRAVE:
Rabbi Yehuda said: “for seven days the soul goes to and fro from his house to his grave from his grave to his house, mourning for the body” [Zohar I, 218b-219a}.
ANCESTRAL GUIDES – ARCHETYPAL BEINGS OF LIGHT:
No man dies before he sees the Shekhina, and because of its deep yearning for the Shekhina the soul departs in order to see her. (Zohar III, 88a)… And with the Shekhina there come three ministering angels to receive the soul of the righteous (Zohar I, 98a Midrash ha-Ne’elam).
ANCESTRAL GUIDES – FAMILIAL BEINGS:
Rabbi Shimon said: ‘Have you seen today the image of your father? For so we have learnt, that at the hour of a man’s departure from the world, his father and his relatives gather round him, and he sees them and recognizes them, and likewise all with whom he associated in this world, and they accompany his soul to the place where it is to abide (Zohar I, 217b).
We have further learnt that at the time of a man’s death he is allowed to see his relatives and companions from the other world (Zohar I, 219a).
LIFE REVIEW :
When a [person] departs this world [s/he] goes to give an account of all his [her] actions in this world while body and soul were still joined together. (Zohar I, 65b)
There are five kinds of punishments in Gehenna , and Isaiah saw them all…. He entered the second compartment , and he saw two men hanging by their tongues; and he said, “O You who unveils the hidden, reveal to me the secret of this.” He answered, “These are the men who slandered, therefore they are thus punished.” He entered the third compartment , and he saw there men hanging by their organs. He said, “O You who unveils the hidden, reveal to me the secret of this.” And He answered, “These are the men who neglected their own wives, and committed adultery with the daughters of Israel.” (Keitzad Din Ha-Kever, 1-3).
Gan Eden has two gates of carbuncle, and sixty myriads of ministering angels keep watch. Each of these angels shine like the radiance of the heavens . When the righteous person approaches, angels remove from him the clothes in which he had been buried, and clothe him with eight robes of the clouds of glory, and place upon his head two crowns, one of precious stones and pearls, and the other of gold, and they place eight myrtles in his hand and praise him. And they lead him to a place full of waters surrounded by 800 species of roses and myrtles. ( Masekhet Gan Eden, 1-2)
TZROR HA-HAYYIM – “RETURN TO SOURCE”:
…in the same way as the soul has to be clothed in a bodily garment in order to exist in this world, so is she given an ethereal supernal garment wherewith to exist in the other world, and to be enabled to gaze at the effulgence of life radiating from that “land of the living” [tzror ha-hayyim] (Zohar I, 66a).
The primal shape of humanity corresponds to the mystical shape of the Godhead … Everything in [the hu]man, each of his 248 limbs and 365 sinews , corresponds to one of the supernal lights, as these are arranged in the structure of the Shi’ur Komah, the primal shape of the highest manifestation of God. Man’s task is to bring his own true shape to its spiritual perfection, to develop the divine image within. This is done by observing the 248 positive and 365 negative commandments of the Torah , each one of which is linked to one of the organs of the human body, and hence of one of those supernal lights. Whoever fulfills the Torah properly makes his body into a dwelling place for the Shekhina. But a person must undergo gilgul for every limb that does not become a ‘Throne for the Shekhina’ – i.e., for every commandment that a [hu]man fails to observe or prohibition that [s]he transgresses – until he has carried out his original task. (G. Scholem, On Nature of the Godhead, p. 219)
Texts are found in Simcha Paull Raphael, JEWISH VIEWS OF THE AFTERLIFE 2nd edition, Rowman and Littlefield, 2009.