christine~ (eppylover) wrote,

Life After Death ~ According to Judaism

For her Saturday Jewish shmoozfest, The Shiksa Fabbi yields her podium to Rabbi Joe Blair of's Ask A Rabbi


.... Direct Link to the

Website~ What's the real
Jewish view on life after death?

Dear Rabbi Joe,
There are many different views about this, two of which seem to be inconsistent. I do not know if the two can be reconciled but I sure would love to have your personal opinion on it. I realize of course that we have no way of knowing anything for definite.

First there is the view that upon death we enter a period of examination and purification before being allowed to move on, with only very few being able to skip this step not to exceed 12months. (happens to be my personal view).

Then there is the belief that a resurection will take place with the coming of the moshiach. Now here is where I get confused. If this process takes place imediately after death then who is left to ressurect?

Or are these individuals that have already gone through this process being given back human bodies at that point to return to earth. What is to happen to the people still here if a ressurection did in fact take place?

For myself, I believe that if I behave, G-d will take care of me, and if I do not behave....well...I just plan to behave (better safe than sorry). What is your personal view?



First and foremost, there is NO single Jewish view on afterlife. It is not possible to answer as you ask.

When asked about this I like to quote the lovely midrash (story offering some sort of explanation that may help us understand something, but that is not taken as fact or as authoritative) about what it means that the Torah (5 books of Moses) begin with the letter 'bet' at the start of the word, bereshit - in the beginning. Starting at the dot in the center of the letter bet there are 'walls' on three sides. Hebrew is read from right to left. You cannot move to the right, as there is a 'wall' there, nor can you move up or down for the same reason. The rabbis say that this implies that we cannot know what happened before creation (the beginning), we cannot know what is above us (G-d), and we cannot know what happens when we die (go down, you might say). All we can know is where we are, and what is before us is to be explored and learned as we live. So we don't have any single concept of what occurs after we die.

In fact, there is no agreement at all, and we can never really know, because the dead don't drop in for tea to explain it to us.

So there is no single idea, dogma, belief, concept, or view in Judaism. In fact, there are MANY different ideas, which arose at different times, in different places, and which have changed and merged and evolved over time in reaction to the needs of Jews and the surrounding dominant cultures in which they lived. So there are Jews who believe in nothing at all after death, those who believe in a return of the spirit (the divine breath of life) to G-d, those who beleive in gilgulim (cycles) of the soul in different bodies, those who believe in reincarnation or in return of the soul to live on this earth, those who believe in a heavenly place where the soul reposes, and many other variations.

The period of purification you mention is one such belief, but certainly not universal. It seems to me to be more an adaptation of a belief from outside of Judaism, perhaps Christian, or perhaps one of the pagan religions such as the ancient Greek mythological beliefs, but it sounds a lot to me like reading something from Dante's Inferno. We Jews enact this idea with the recitation of the Mourner's Kaddish (Santification of the Name of G-d) for either one or 11 months after the death of a loved one (depending on the relationship), but there is no theological, philosophical, biblical, reason that I am aware of that one can give for it.

The resurrection at messianic times: note - not with the arrival of a moshiach/messiah, an annointed person, because that person will simply be a descendant of David and the governor who is able to bring about the conditions for G-d to cuase messianic times to begin. This too is one concept among many. Some do not believe in any sort of resurrection. Some believe that this will be a physical resurrection of the body with the soul returned to it; some believe that it is a resurrection of the soul in a new body; some believe it is other things, or none of these. No agreement, and no need for any among Jews. Remember, two Jews, three opinions.

The most important idea about messianic times is that they will occur here, in THIS world, and those alive at the time they begin will still be living after they begin, and all the natural laws will apply. This is NOT some OTHER world or another place. It will simply be THIS world, perfected and in accordance with G-d's desire and plans. The phrase 'The World to Come' is often also translated as 'The World That is Coming' or 'The World that is in the process of coming about'. It does not necessarily mean any different place or situation than that we are in today.

In almost no one's view in the Jewish world is there a hell - that is what this world is like when we act in ungodly ways.

Many Jews do not believe in a Heaven, at least not as a place we go after we die. So that idea is also not widely held. That means we generally don't act here and now to get rewarded by a future promise of good times in the next life.

The bottom line is that we as Jews don't focus much on what will happen after we die. We can't know, and it is not very laudable to live a godly life only out of fear or only for a reward. It is our role, our mission, and our task, to act in godly ways, to live in accordance with G-d's plan, and to make this world as good as we can, to make it ready for messianic times.

We deal with today, here, now. What you do, not what you believe is what counts. If you do the right thing, you are already being rewarded by the results, and by knowing what sort of person you are. If you choose to act in ungodly ways, you are already being punished by the diminishment of your humanity and of the divine spark within you. Your soul, spirit, essence, becomes less human with each ungodly act, until ultimately you are no longer recognizable as human.

There are lots of books and resources out there if you want to read up on this topic. You can also look at the earlier postings in this topic under The After Life and Life After Death for more information and resources.

Hope this helps!

You asked for my opinion, so there you go!

Rabbi Joe Blair

~ Stay tuned tomorrow for The Sunday Sermon,
wherein the eppylover shall spout her
own personal views on this subject ~

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