Is There Life After Death? Jewish Thinking on the Afterlife

By | Jul 17, 2011
Dying by Alex Grey

Ask Jews what happens after death, and many will respond that the Jewish tradition doesn’t say or doesn’t care, that Jews believe life is for the living and that Judaism focuses on what people can and should do in this world. But not so fast. If anything is less Jewish than belief in heaven and hell, it’s Jews agreeing on an official theological party line. And after 4,000 years of discussion, you’d expect considerable variation. Sure enough, when Moment asked an array of prominent Jewish thinkers, artists, writers and other doers to tell us what they think they’re headed for, the range was extraordinary. In the following ruminations you’ll find ghosts, zombies, animal souls and reincarnation, along with more familiar discussions of memory, legacy and divine judgment. And, of course, disagreements. As they say: two Jews, three afterlives.

An Imaginary Sphere

I think everybody thinks about it. The afterlife is the principal preoccupation of anyone who’s going to die, regardless of religion. Judaism has never decided on a formal approach to the afterlife. It’s never had a formal approach to eschatology, either—what’s going to happen at the end of the world. We’re left with a typically practical, or provisional, interest in the world as it is—a regulation of the mundane, the here and now, rather than a pondering of the celestial.

I’ve always felt the afterlife exists in relation to life in the same way literature exists in relation to life. It’s an imaginary sphere, in which one can play out one’s fears, neuroses, desires and pains, but it’s still a terrain strictly for the living. Only the living can play, or imagine—or read. Once a man dies, his afterlife ceases to exist.

Jews, if not Judaism, regard death as a great injustice. Everything I’ve read tells me that Judaism is loath to encourage a positive view of the afterlife, because it might encourage a more positive attitude toward death. Anything that would see death as a salvation risks encouraging the believer to shirk his job on earth, or opt for thoughtless martyrdom. The classic refusal of salvation is the Mourner’s Kaddish, which says nothing about death, or about life after death. I have always read the Mourner’s Kaddish as a unique provocation to God. “Magnified and sanctified is God, Who brought us all here to the graveside to suffer and yet Who still hasn’t offered any reward.” It verges on gallows humor. I’ve never subscribed to the myth that the Kaddish can be used to spring one’s parents from purgatory. It’s merely a call to duty. I remember as a kid thinking, “Yes, yes—that’s a very effective way of getting me to shul.”

Joshua Cohen is the author of A Heaven of Others and Witz

Beyond Bodily Death

Maybe most Jews haven’t, but Judaism has absolutely always had a view of the afterlife. From the 14th century on, a belief in gilgul, reincarnation, was as kosher as Manischewitz. In the Artscroll prayer book, there’s a line in the bedtime Shema, “Forgive anyone who has harmed me in this incarnation or any other incarnation.” Even in the Bible, Saul goes to the Witch of Endor to raise up the spirit of Samuel from the dead. It’s forbidden, but it’s practiced.

Most Jews today see the Jewish tradition through the lens of 20th-century rationality, so they don’t see those aspects. The collective shock of losing so many people in the Holocaust was just too great. We had to move ahead, found the State of Israel, deal with the devastation and the trauma—no one could afford to think about six million souls. And then the culture was increasingly secular. Rabbis didn’t talk about God and spirituality from the pulpit, they preached about Israel and anti-Semitism.

But now we’re really on a quest for spirituality. Young people are saturated with material things. They want some kind of connection with nature and the universe, not just with the next iPod. And an interest in the afterlife emerges from that. You see it in popular culture as well: movies about the supernatural, a cop show where a medium is the protagonist. No one would have touched that 20 years ago.

How do we evolve a different pastoral approach based on the idea that consciousness survives bodily death? How does it change the way we think of Kaddish, of caring for the dead, of sitting shiva? There are long-term implications that we haven’t even begun to investigate. I’ve done a lot of work in hospice, and my sense is that with all our science, we really can’t comprehend the subtlety of what happens when we die.

Simcha Paull Raphael is the author of Jewish Views of the Afterlife and specializes in bereavement in his private psychotherapy practice.

Related story: Do we need to revise the 10 commandments?

Love is Immortal

To me, the afterlife consists of the memories that we leave in the minds and hearts of the people we love. Obviously, we all want to leave a heritage for the world, but it’s given to very few of us to do that. But what one has been to one’s spouse and one’s children, and perhaps one’s students, carries through to countless generations. I don’t believe in immortality except in that sense. My sense of religion has to do with community, with continuity, with going to synagogue and identifying publicly with the Jewish people. Continuity doesn’t mean some shadowy figure of your individual self goes on. It means your work and your love go on.

Nature is cyclical. Just look—in the last few months all the green stuff has come out, birds are chirping, everything is renewed. Nature is an environment in which we die so others may live, so that our civilization can expand, so new ideas and experiences can be promulgated. Why should human beings be an exception to all the other biological phenomena?

Sherwin B. Nuland, a retired professor of surgery, teaches bioethics and medical history at Yale University. He is the author of How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter.

Heaven is for Everyone

Jewish and Christian views of the afterlife differ less than many might think. But misunderstandings are common. Many Christians think Jews follow Torah in order to earn a spot in heaven (this is known as “works righteousness”); they are unaware that Jewish tradition teaches that all Israel has a share in the world to come, save for apostates and a few other miscreants. Other Christians think that Jews believe heaven is exclusively for Jews; to the contrary, in traditional Judaism, heaven is not a gated community (pearly or otherwise), and righteous gentiles also participate in eternal life. In turn, many Jews think that all Christians believe actions are unimportant and that one only needs to worship Jesus to gain heavenly entry. The New Testament, however, makes clear that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26) and that those who enter the kingdom are those who engage in works of compassion for others (Matthew 25:31-46).

Jewish and Christian views developed in dialogue and debate with each other. Many Jews in Hellenistic and early Roman times had quite robust views of the afterlife—of heavenly realms and places of torment, resurrection of the dead or immortality of the soul, and even the idea of reincarnation. However, the more the Church emphasized salvation and damnation, the more the Jewish community emphasized sanctification of daily life.

Jewish beliefs in the afterlife are as diverse as Judaism itself, from the traditional view expecting the unity of flesh and spirit in a resurrected body, to the idea that we live on in our children and grandchildren, to a sense of heaven (perhaps with lox and bagels rather than harps and haloes). Belief in an afterlife typically correlates with our theology. If we believe in a just and compassionate living G-d, faithful to the promises made to Israel, we may well also believe in resurrection in the Messianic age, when justice and compassion will prevail over sin, evil and death.

Perhaps what sparks belief today is less traditional teaching than personal experience. I was by my mother’s bedside in the local hospital; she was 80, and her body was failing. Late in the evening she woke from her sleep, opened her eyes, and asked me, “What will happen to me when I die?”

I immediately answered, “You’ll see Daddy.” My father had died decades earlier.

She replied, “I look like hell.”

“Well, Mom, you’ve looked better, but when you see Daddy, you’ll look as beautiful as you looked the day you got married.”

“How do you know this?”

“Mom, I’ve got a Ph.D. in religion; I know these things.”

She smiled. I began to cry; my husband took my place by my mother’s bedside and held her hand as she died. Afterward, my husband looked at me and said something to the effect of, “I’ve never heard you say anything like that before. You don’t believe in an afterlife.” But when I was talking to my mom, I believed every word.

Amy-Jill Levine is University Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School and College of Arts and Science.

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A Sense of Soul

There’s a story told about Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav: He’s walking in the village and some dogs approach, barking, and he says to them, “I know, I know, I know.” What he knows is that they are humans in dog bodies, and he has the capacity to redeem them from this. Some Hasidim believed in gilgul, the process of rebirth. The soul keeps returning, and certain souls come back to complete their mission. Most contemporary Jews don’t feel comfortable with the concept of “soul,” let alone the concept of rebirth. That speaks to a lack of imagination in Jewish spiritual life. We are radically rationalist, to the point where we’ve cut our heads off and left the body behind. People confuse belief and imagination. They think, it’s either true or it’s not true, and if it’s not true we can’t believe it, end of story. They don’t understand that imagination is what’s needed to understand the soul.

After Allen Ginsberg died I wrote a poem called “Allen Ginsberg Forgives Ezra Pound on Behalf of Jews.” In a sense the poem is addressed to Allen in the beyond. Just recently I was speaking in the Newark Museum and it occurred to me that Allen had both been born and buried in Newark. We went to his grave and I recited Kaddish—his poem “Kaddish.” I felt a powerful presence. This touches on another aspect of the question: So many people report very powerful dreams of their dead loved ones. It certainly makes you wonder, What is this? How can this be?

Rodger Kamenetz is the author of The Jew in the Lotus, Burnt Books and The History of Last Night’s Dream: Discovering the Hidden Path to the Soul.

Plato and the Maccabees

Why are Jewish notions of the afterlife so indistinct when both Christian and Muslim views of the afterlife, which come originally from Judaism, have attained remarkable specificity?

The doctrine of bodily resurrection is based on apocalyptic Judaism, as expressed in Daniel 12, datable to 165 BCE, a blink of the eye before Christianity: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth will wake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” In this time of unprecedented, terrible tribulation, the Maccabean revolt, Jews were being martyred for practicing their religion. We do not get an extended explication of why the dead, who used to dwell underground in a place called Sheol in the Hebrew Bible, are now going to heaven. Instead, the passage is framed as a prophetic dream, a direct communication from God.

Immortality of the soul entered Jewish thought at about the same time, from Greek philosophy—in particular, Platonic notions of the immortal soul. The soul turns from the impermanence and corruption of this world to return to its original home, the stars. This notion is the ancestor of all modern notions that we separate from our body and go to heaven when we die. It is, however, in total contradiction with the notion of resurrection, where we stay in our graves until the last days, when God will raise us up to eternal life. The contrast in social class is evident: Whereas self-sacrificing youth may want complete restoration of their bodies, intellectuals want continuity of consciousness.

It would be a mistake to think that the moment resurrection and immortality of the soul arrived on the Jewish scene, they were accepted. The Gospel of Luke tells us that the Sanhedrin of the first century was deeply divided on the issue. The Wisdom of Ben Sira in the second century BCE says a person outlasts death through children and by means of a lasting good reputation.

Christianity, by contrast, believing fervently in bodily resurrection, had a great deal of trouble reconciling it with the soul’s trip to heaven. It took until Augustine in the fourth century to find exactly the right philosophical formulation: Our souls are immortal and go to their rewards at death, but the faithful shall recover their bodies at the last judgment when sinners will be punished.

How different are the rabbis! The rabbinic term for the afterlife, Tehiat ha-metim, usually translated as “resurrection of the body,” literally means “the vivification of the dead.” It comes from Isaiah 26: “Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy.” The rabbis use the ambiguous rather than the exact terminology, which allows them wiggle room as to whether God promises bodily resurrection, the world to come, the days of the Messiah, or even immortality of the soul. This allowed Jews to live among Christians and Muslims, who all had more specific ideas of resurrection and who might have held the Jews responsible for heresy.

The rabbis also believed that the righteous of all nations have a place in the world to come, thus giving their hosts an equal chance at heavenly rewards. This was an earthly as well as a heavenly strategy. It laid the basis for cultural pluralism.

Alan Segal was Professor of Jewish Studies at Barnard College and author of Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion. This excerpt is from an unpublished article Dr. Segal wrote for Moment before his death in February.

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All Cats Go to Heaven

I don’t believe in an afterlife. To me that unnecessarily clutters up expectations of life and death, because if you expect to be rewarded or punished, you are not behaving according to what you truly believe you ought to be doing in the situation. You’re expecting someone else is going to give you goodies at the end. What you’ve got is what you’ve got. It increases the poignancy. You’re given a life, you do the best you can, you do what you must do, what’s right for you, and then you wear out and you’re done.

I simply can’t imagine wanting to live forever. I’m 75, I still enjoy my life, but I can imagine a time when I wouldn’t. Why would I want to live on after losing so many people who are dear to me? Because even if they lived on, too, you can’t assume they’d be with you, can you? And I’m very attached to animals as well as people. So where would I be in the afterlife—with a bunch of dead boyfriends, plus my husband, and about 30 cats demanding attention? Would my cats be in the afterlife? Why wouldn’t they have an afterlife if I do? They’re better behaved than I am.

Marge Piercy is a novelist and poet. Her most recent collection is The Hunger Moon: New and Selected Poems 1980-2010.

A Zombie Life

I have no idea if there’s an afterlife. I’d like there to be. I’d like to think that when I said goodbye to my mom, it wasn’t forever. But how would I know? Because some guy in the desert wrote a book and told me so? I don’t go in for that stuff. I wonder about it a lot, but there’s no proof. I’ll have to wait and see.

I’ve always considered myself not Jewish enough for Israel, but Jewish enough for Auschwitz. I write about zombies. I try not to get into the spiritual aspect. I focus on the concrete: How do you not die when you’re supposed to? I grew up in California, so it’s all about disaster preparedness for me. We had earthquake drills; nuclear war drills, because it was the Reagan era; and then we had real disasters, we had fires, we had the Rodney King riots. L. A. was never safe. And now it’s even worse—9/11, global warming. So I took that mindset of disaster preparedness and applied it to a science fiction concept. Zombie culture has really taken off in the last decade and it’s because of the times we’re living in. The world hasn’t been this inside-out since the 1970s, and that was the last time zombies were popular.

There’s always a rise in spirituality when there’s a decline in the physical comfort of the world. Imagine if you lived in some village in Gaul, in the late Roman Empire, and the sewer system had collapsed and the barbarians were everywhere, and you were hungry and poor and terrified, and then along comes some pilgrim from Italy with that Christian glow, and he says, “Don’t worry, after you die it’s all going to be OK.”

I think Jews are probably too neurotic to believe that. I know I am. We think too much, that’s our problem. We sit around and debate, and wonder about the nature of reality, what is justifiable, what is not, what is sin, what does it all mean? Any good Jew by nature has to be a little bit conflicted. Being a good Jew means you don’t sleep well, and you don’t take your rabbi’s view as gospel. We’re questioners. So I don’t think the answer for Jews is heaven. I think the answer is Ambien.

Max Brooks is the author of The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, which is being adapted into a film by Paramount Pictures.

The Spirit’s Presence

Years ago, people would say, Oh, Jews don’t believe in the afterlife. It may be true—in the modern age, the whole world underwent an alienation from faith, and the Jews went along. But if you go through the Bible, there’s a fascinating variety of views. My father was a Hasidic rabbi and the son-in-law of a Lurianic Kabbalist. I grew up hearing it talked about as in Fiddler on the Roof—from heaven they’re all sitting there watching us, seeing what’s going on downstairs—and hearing about the rebbes at Auschwitz who went to their deaths with such faith. When they were digging their own graves, they would say to their followers, “It’s all right, we’re going to a better world beyond this one.” Then I became a Bible scholar and encountered all the scientific criticism. In my book I try to show that the idea of the life hereafter comes from the Bible—from Isaiah, and from Daniel, who is its most famous proponent, saying some go to everlasting life and some to everlasting damnation.

Some Talmudic rabbis say that God can do anything, that if He can make a man from “water”—that is, semen—then He’ll do it again at the Resurrection. Maimonides in the Middle Ages takes a much more spiritual view of the afterlife: “The righteous sit with crowns of glory on their heads, and they look at God.”

In Ugaritic literature, there is a belief in reviving the dead, and there are parallels to that in the Bible, in the stories of Elijah and Elisha. Both of them revive a child. Some people think it is resuscitation, but I don’t think so. I think it is meant to show that God resurrects.

And in certain places, like in the Cave of Machpelah where the Patriarchs are buried, for example, you really get the feeling that they might be alive in there, listening to what we have to say. Not everyone feels it. Maybe I’m just attuned to those things.

Leila Leah Bronner is the author of Journey to Heaven: Exploring Jewish Views of the Afterlife

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Perplexing Mystery

I think about it a lot, because I’m a specialist in blood cancer, and I used to work with people with AIDS before it was treatable, people who had only a short time to live. I was brought up in a very traditional family. My mother’s extended family were Satmar, and my father’s family were from Vilna, Orthodox but more of the rational Orthodox, the mitnagdim, in opposition to the Hasidim, so I have both the rationalist and the mystical tradition. I used to ask my father: Do you think there’s an afterlife? And he would shrug without an answer because it’s an unanswerable question. And he said at the very least, there’s a sense that people live within memory. And this is something that is clearly very central.

Four times a year I go to yizkor and I observe my parents’ yahrtzeit, so do they exist in some dimension, as souls? I would like it to be true. Sometimes I believe it, sometimes I don’t. But I do know I feel their presence, and I feel their spirit within myself. I’m going to be 60 next year, so it’s the time of life when you think about these things. And I’m still torn.

You’re confronted with mystery. In the same way you have the mystery and marvel of birth, where all of a sudden a life appears, here you have loved ones, parents, who have been part of your existence from the moment of awareness, and they disappear. It’s confounding, it’s perplexing, you strain to make sense of it.

Jerome Groopman is the Dina and Raphael Recanati Chair of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and the author of The Measure of Our Days: A Spiritual Exploration of Illness.

Genes Are Forever

We think of belief in a supernatural afterlife as being incompatible with a rational, scientific view of life. But you could also understand the world to come as just what it literally sounds like—the world in the future. Whether we merit a place in that world depends on how much influence we have on others during our lives.

In my novel, I imagined a kind of supernatural world to come based on a midrash about how, when a child is in his mother’s womb, he’s taught all the secrets of the Torah, and then when he’s born the angel hits him on the face and the child forgets everything, but spends the rest of his life trying to remember it. The way I envisioned it, the child in the womb is being taught secrets about how to live one’s life. There’s a whole society based on teaching these not-yet-borns everything they need to know. There are bars where the drinks are bottled books, there are spas where they bathe in emotions, they sleep on beds made of music, and so forth. And their teachers are the people in their family who have passed away.

I saw this as a way of saying our genes are expressed in our lives, that every ancestor is alive within us. At the end of my novel, when this child is about to be born, he is told that this “world to come” is just a fake—the real “world to come” is his life, the world he’s being born into. And in one sense it’s just a rational fact: The dead live in us genetically; we are carrying the dead into the future, even if their names are not remembered.

And it’s not just biologically that you are carried forward. My mother came from a very assimilated family, not very involved in the Jewish community. But they sent her to Hebrew school, and she had a teacher who had a tremendous impact on her. He ended up a professor at NYU and she did a Ph.D. with him. I’m as involved as I am in Judaism, and teaching my own children Hebrew, because of this man’s influence, even though I’m not biologically related to him. And as a teenager I had a teacher for one class, and something he said made me study one field and not another. I ran into him recently, and he didn’t even remember saying it. So you never know what impact you’re having on people. That’s your place in the world to come.

Dara Horn is a scholar of Yiddish literature and the author of three novels, including The World to Come.

Rolling to Jerusalem

You always have to make a distinction between high Judaism, the Judaism of the great rabbis and scholars, and popular Judaism, full of local beliefs and superstitions. One very widely-held belief was gilgul, which at the popular level was taken to mean the act of rolling in underground passages from wherever you died—let’s say you died in Manchester—until you got to Jerusalem. This “rolling” was accompanied by hibbut ha-kever—the beating of the grave. You’re beaten to a pulp as you go, by the demons who live in the tunnels. And the point was that the resurrection of the dead would happen when the Messiah comes to Jerusalem, so that’s where dead bodies and souls should go.

A lot of Jews would try to avoid this by going to Jerusalem when they knew they were about to die. This belief was very widely attested up through the 19th century. There are passes and passports, there are reports from seafaring folks who said there are Jews on board ship, very very ill, and they’re trying to get to Jerusalem to die.

It’s not Christianizing exactly, because Christianity doesn’t have this idea of a storehouse of souls waiting somewhere specific. The afterlife in folk Judaism does take on some aspects of Christian theology, but it’s very much more of a real place, down to earth, literally under the earth. A tribe I study, the Lemba in Africa, rose to some prominence 10 years ago when it was shown that their DNA was very similar to that of other Jews, particularly the famous Cohen gene found in their priestly clan, so it looks very much as if their ancestors were Jews. It’s very difficult to reconstruct the religion of this group, because with the arrival of colonialism in Africa their practices were pretty much destroyed, but some things have come through. One is the idea of returning to a place called Senna, which could have something to do with Zion: They think they came from a place on Earth, and when they die, they will return to that specific place. It’s interesting the way Jews are so rooted. I think it’s one of the ways Jews are most different from others.

Tudor Parfitt is professor of modern Jewish history at the University of London, where he founded the Centre for Jewish Studies.

Kabbalah’s Ghosts

In Kabbalah there is a tradition of ibburs—I guess you’d call them ghosts—and dybbuks and souls that remain on the earth for various reasons. It can be for having slept with Lilith, queen of the demons, or any number of mishaps in life. There’s also a curious tradition that a soul can stay in our world if it, he or she still has a mitzvah to fulfill. My novel is about an ibbur from the Warsaw Ghetto who remains on the planet, but doesn’t know what purpose he’s still here to fulfill. I tried to capture it in a haiku:

Entering the first gate
I learned that the world to come
is already here.

Maybe my friendships with Jews are skewed in the sense that I know mostly secular Jews, but I can’t think of a single friend who thinks about angels or afterlife. I just finished reading Marilynne Robinson’s novels Gilead and Home, and the books are filled with heaven talk: What’s it going to be like, can we imagine it? It’s a huge topic for Christian theologians, but not for Jewish theologians. The dominant culture doesn’t seem to have rubbed off on us all these years.

Richard Zimler is the author of The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon and the recently published 72 Kabbalist Haiku.

More Than We Can See

I’ve thought about this for years. The question of whether someone believes there is an afterlife is relevant to me personally as a religiously observant physician and scientist, because it highlights the distinction between science and faith. If I hypothesize something and say by definition it cannot be refuted, then it is no longer in the domain of science. If someone comes by and says, “I’ve done this experiment and it refutes the idea of an afterlife,” then the response, “I don’t consider that a reliable experiment, and I stick with the belief,” takes the question out of the domain of science and places it squarely in the realm of faith.

What do I believe? I believe there is more than meets the eye, more than we can see, feel and measure scientifically, and I believe that as an article of faith. I don’t believe it’s a testable hypothesis, but my belief doesn’t emanate from a vacuum. First, it derives from one of the 13 articles of faith of Maimonides. Second, another of Maimonides’ articles of faith is the idea of reward and punishment. But if you look just at the world, it’s pretty difficult to see the reward and punishment article of faith before our eyes. So you might say there must be an afterlife where it’s all worked out. “Afterlife” is just a convenient word for “more than meets the eye”—it could be after life, it could be before life, but in Hebrew it’s olam haba, the world to come, so time becomes irrelevant. So somewhere, beyond what meets the eye, there is reward and punishment. Can I prove it? No.

I do research on genetics, but the idea of genes being a kind of immortality, of memory, doesn’t satisfy me. Let’s take a very tangible example, the Holocaust. We often think about the number of individuals lost. I’m the only child of Holocaust survivors, and it’s difficult for me to talk about. We often think, appropriately, about the horror and suffering of many individuals, and we should honor their memory, but there’s another level—we know very well that entire branches and lineages were completely eradicated, including their entire genealogy. Everything they brought with them from many generations, traditions, cultures and DNA—sometimes one leaf on a twig was left and then sprouted anew, but sometimes a whole branch was irrevocably cut off. So where is the afterlife there? If it’s only in the continuity of future generations, it’s gone, it’s not there, so where is justice? Where is reward and punishment? So for me that can’t be the whole answer.

Karl Skorecki is Director of Nephrology and Molecular Medicine at Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology. His research team discovered the “Kohen gene,” the set of genetic markers indicating that the majority of Jewish males named Cohen are descended from a single ancestor.

36 thoughts on “Is There Life After Death? Jewish Thinking on the Afterlife

  1. Shorya Bist says:

    Hi Amy,
    I didnt know about jewish thinking i just got to know now.
    I also didnt believe in all these life after death theories but it all changed with one incident happened to me.From then i started believing that there is life after death.

    Check out my experience in the article link below.

    1. Steve says:

      Following the link you gave leads to a page with a warning that, for me, is too obscure and threatening to continue. Why don’t you just summarize here?

  2. Ben says:

    The Jews once knew what happened after death. It is written in the Bible, the old testament. They have just forgotten.

    1. Steve says:

      Ben, just because a Jew read in the Hebrew Scriptures what different Israelite writers had to say about death and the afterlife does not mean that what the writers were writing was true knowledge and that, once a Jew read it, he or she knew what happened after death. They have not forgotten; they have simply continued to evolve, even as they were doing back then from primitive Hebrew religion, into First Temple Judaism, then Second Temple Judaism, to post-Temple Judaism–that is, Rabbinic Judaism.

  3. sharon starr says:

    I, too, believe that there is more that meets the eye. I am a nurse and my husband a physician and having dealt with life and death quite often and have seen and heard circumstances that make me wonder about the coincidence of it all, and ponder the question of other realities, dimensions, etc. My mother recently died suddenly at the age of 88 years old, who was very independent, lucid and lived in her own home. She was a big part of my life. I always try to explain things in a rational manner, but I wonder if that there really is a design in the world larger than ourselves and that human beings are maybe too arrogant to think that they are only a small part of this unexplained universe.

    1. Anita says:

      As a doctor as or nurse you should know that when a person dies the brain releases a chemical called DMT. This chemical is a hallucinogen. if a person has a near death experience and wakes up saying they saw what’s going to happen when a person dies it is this chemical making them hallucinate. The old testament tells you what will happen when you die. It’s all explained. A higher power made this earth and everything in it. There’s no way all these THEORIES are correct (big bang theory, evolving from monkey’s or fish etc..) You can call this higher power whatever you want (God, jehovah, jesus etc..) so if someone tells me they saw God or Jesus after they had a near death experience, I believe that over other things I’ve heard. Read about DMT being released in the brain when someone has a near death experience, almost dies or does die.

      1. Steve says:

        I don’t understand your point. You seem to be saying that DMT is responsible for spiritual experiences and that “The old testament tells you what will happen when you die. It’s all explained. A higher power made this earth and everything in it.” If you mean the latter, I don’t know why you would give so much authority to the expressions of belief by the writers of the “Old” Testament, as Christians call it. These were Israelites expressing their thoughts. If you believe they were expressing THE truth as God whispered it in their ears or hearts, the burden is on you to show that was the case.

  4. Jon Krüger says:

    Here are a few relevant Tanach quotes.
    Life after death wherever God lives – Ecclesiastes 12:7-8. “And the dust returns to the earth as it was; and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities..all is vanity.”

    Life after death on Earth – Daniel 12: 1-2. “..people shall be saved, every one whose name shall be found written in the book..many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”

    Life after death possibly “upward”, but who knows? – Ecclesiastes 3:21 “Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward, and the spirit of the beast goes downward to the earth?”

  5. Jon Krüger says:

    This expands on an earlier comment I made here…

    The Jewish Bible supports the idea life after death, but gives contradictory answers to the question of where it happens…
    ● Life after death wherever God lives –
    Ecclesiastes 12:7-8 (read on Sukkot) . “And the dust returns to the earth as it was; and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities..all is vanity.”
    ● Life after death(both heaven and hell) here on Earth –
    Daniel 12: 1-2. “..people shall be saved, every one whose name shall be found written in the book..many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
    ● Life after death possibly “upward” somewhere, but who knows? –
    Ecclesiastes 3:21 “Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward, and the spirit of the beast goes downward to the earth?”

    The contradictory answers are due to different books of the Tanakh being written by different authors at different times. The fact that 2 of the 3 quotes above are both from Ecclesiastes, yet give different answers, just goes to show you: the last verse(12) of Ecclesiastes was added by a later editor to make it politically correct. However, both those Eccllesiastes verses do agree on the name of the entity that (possibly) survives death: “spirit” (רוּחַ ruach). But note that Ecclesiastes 3 says that man has no more claim to it than the beast

  6. Woody says:

    So it would appear that the Jews are just as confused about life after death as are the Christians?

    1. Miriam Neustein says:

      Judaism believes in a heaven and a hell. The first year after death the soul is on trial and pays for its sins. Some get he’ll for eternity.The pure soul goles straight to paradise. other souls get paradise after a year,when their souls are cleansed. There are seven levels where the soul resides. Each level is holier than the next. Abraham.Isaac and Jacob. Plus others are on the highest level. They spoke with G-d even Moses too. On the Sabbath the soul rests from being punished and stays in Gan Eden.

      1. Melissa says:

        Can you point me to where it tells us this specifically in the Bible? Thanks!

      2. HR SINGH says:

        there are heavens and hell. you will get the same depending upon your deeds in this world

      3. Steve says:

        You are mistaking a certain set of a particular form of Judaism for the beliefs of Jews generally. Jews have different beliefs about the afterlife and some have none at all. There is no requirement, no dogma in Judaism about what a Jew must believe about an afterlife.

    2. catherine holland says:

      Woody, Christians are not confused about life after death. If you accept the free gift of salvation from Jesus who paid for your sin then you will be in Heaven with Him but if you say,’ No thanks’, then you will go to Hell. If you don’t want God in your life now why would you want Him after death? It’s your choice.

      1. Steve says:

        Give us a break. Christian salvation is unnecessary. We are not fallen and the New Testament has dramatically exaggerated views of the consequences of having sinned. The Hebrew Scriptures tell what a Jew should do when he sins. Believing something fixes nothing.

    3. Steve says:

      Woody, Jews have many differing thoughts about an afterlife but, as a group, they aren’t confused. There is requirement to have a view or to seek the truth about an afterlife or to find the truth about it. They’re not being confused, just being Jewish.

  7. Andrew silvestri says:

    What confusing we have relationship on earth a wife paases away we have another wife or husband what happens to does people in heaven do we have the same closeness committed to to them

    1. catherine holland says:

      Andrew, people in Heaven have a deep love for each other because God has deep love for them. The physical, imperfect love we have here doesn’t compare so no problem.

      1. Steve says:

        “People in Heaven”? You don’t know all these things you claim to know, however much you feel you know them. Feeling isn’t knowing.

      2. Eric Breaux says:

        That doesn’t fulfill the same desire as marriage and sexual intimacy and eliminating that from people who don’t want to be without that desire is manipulation of free will. Adam already had that incomparable relationship with God before humans sinned and God said it’s not good to be alone and made Eve and marriage to eliminate the problem. He’s not going leave the problem there for eternity because he doesn’t change. Heaven isn’t the final destination anyway, it’s the new earth.

  8. Robert says:

    well the bible states what will happen to you when you die. so acts 2;38 simply says to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remision/ forgeivness of all your sins .and you shall recieve the gift of Holly Ghost for this promise is for you and your children even as manny as the Lord our God shall call. you need tou be baptized i Gods name Jesus Christ. and filled with his Holly spirit . where does it say that in the bible you say . Well good im not going to put each one down in wrighting so ill give you the scriptures and you will see that what i m telling you is the truth.JOHN Chapter 3 verse 3-7 Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. Also look in Phillipians chapter 2 verse 10 says that Jesus is Lord.In Deuternomonomy chapter 4 verse 35 -39 talks bout the Lord he is if Jesus is Lord and God is lord that makes the two one .cause in Ephesians chapter 4 verse 4-6 says there is only one Lord One God One Spirit ONe baptisim one faith .not in all that order but.and if there is only one Lord and one God that makes the two one the bible also says there is only one Spirit .John chapter 4 verse 24 says God is a spirit and they worship him must worship him in Spirit and truth. so if there is only one Spirit and only one God that makes the two one.also in phillipians chapter 2 verse 10 says Jesus Christ is lord and every knee will bow and every toung will confess that he is Lord so if if Jesus Christ is Lord and God Is Lord That makes the two one . wich means all three is one Father Son and Holly Spirit One. cause remember Ephesians ch 4 verse 4 – 6 says one LORD , one GOD , one SPIRIT one BAPTISIM one FAITH. Also read JOHN chapter 14 verse 6 – 10. We only have One God and he has a name . Ok my name is Robert. so im a son why cause i have or had parents. Im a brother cause i have other brother and sisters. im an uncle cause i have nieces and nephews and if i were married that would make me a husband.but thease are just titles my name is not brother uncle or have you i have a name and that is Robert. same goes or our God he has a name.yes we call him alpha omega . and yes he is God, Lord.father in heaven.and so on and so on. butthease are just titles that he holds yes he is all these things and more but our GOD has a name and that is JESUS CHRIST. so just a little bit to think about. i know it may seem like alot but read these scriptures wright them down, study them dont take my word . this is what the bible says and GOD did write the bible so its what he says.yo can not enter or see th kingdom of GOD unless you are baptised ACTS 2 and 38. this is savation.

    1. Steve says:

      You say all this as though it were divine truth but the Bible never claims to be the Word of God, without error or contradiction or that it should be understood literally. All those claims are made by people, not by God. And using 2 Timothy 3:16, as so many Christians do, to prove the Bible is the Word of God is a circular argument that assumes the truth of what it is trying to prove before it even gets going; otherwise, why would you take Timothy as authoritative?

  9. Robert says:

    Also you need to find a good Apostolic Pentacostal church. that preaches salvation ACTS 2@ 38. find a church and stay in it and you are on your way to heaven. find a church and GOD will do the rest . Night and GOD bless

  10. jim creech says:

    I write essays attempting to explain in a common sense language (after David in the Psalms has stated; come let us reason together), basic questions that ordinary people encounter in their everyday living. Every person has questions regarding the issue of “Life after Death”. It is necessary that every person have a view of God’s purpose for their individual lives! To begin the exploration of God’s purpose for one’s life, one must have some knowledge or vision of God! As a way of introduction, I have been trained as a scientist with a vast background in Chemistry, Physics, and Thermodynamics. My specialty has been in molecular Chemistry and molecular Physics. I am now retired and spend my time researching and defining various spiritual issues.

    Who is God. We know He is eternal and has NO beginning! This concept is impossible for the human mind to grasp in its entirety. Therefore, we must deal with the issue of verified history and experience. One must attempt to visualize and understand the purpose of God’s Law and God’s actions of creation. One principal of God’s existence is that He is perfect in all ways because imperfection cannot exist with perfection. Therefore, (after some exploration and debate) His creations are perfect. At this point, one could ask; “How was Lucifer imperfect that he would or could question God”? “What was the purpose for the creation of Man”? “What was the need for the creation of substance, since God was Spirit” (In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth–Genesis 1:1)? “How does God create miracles”? “What is the significance of God’s command to Adam and Eve; ‘In the day you eat (of this fruit), you shall surely die’? There are many questions which come to one’s mind concerning man’s involvement and dependency with God. If you contact me at my Email with any question you may have regarding God’s plan of Salvation, Life after Death, or any other question or doubt you may encounter, I will make your answers available, and will post basic information at this website which we are visiting.

    1. jim creech says:

      I was asked, “How do I know that God exists? I replied, you are living, and you are thinking. How do you understand your origin? I could not get an answer..To answer the question, however, if we simply use our ability to rationalize and use available scientific principles, we come to a dead ending because the substance of which we are constructed must obey certain thermodynamic laws regarding the energies within the atomic structures of our physical bodies. To have evolved from some finite substance, requires the existence of that substance at the beginning of creation. At this point, one must comprehend that “out of nothing” came a substance that must have an original source of energy to even exist. Unless there is an eternal being that can physically create the initial substance, and supply the necessary components along with the required energy source, there cannot be a “creation”. The real question is why does God create anything!

      If you have a spiritual or creation generated question you may contact me at email I will answer your questions and post them on this website.

    2. Steve says:

      Wow, what a bunch of hooey. Who are you to declare that one must ask these questions or that everyone has them or that one must seek God or any of this stuff. This is just you and your imagination pontificating. No authority behind any of it except what you declare to be authoritative. Stick to molecular Chemistry and molecular Physics

      1. Robert says:

        I think what he is saying is that through all his scientific exploration he has come to a conclusion that there is a Creator, There is a Christ whom came to earth as Jesus 100% man and 100% God. There is a Holy Spirit and truth to 2 Peter 1: 20-21
        Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

        The New Testament is more an invitation than dogma. Why so defensive?

  11. Hazel says:

    There is no unified Jewish understanding of life after death because that way was not opened or revealed to them at that time (in Scripture). Consider this: before Messiah, death did simply lead to oblivion. Those who died, righteous and unrighteous, simply went back to the earth, ‘on hold’ as it were, for a redemption that could only come from God Himself. Resurrection only became possible at the coming of Messiah when the way to eternal life was opened. The redemption of our bodies and our souls, only made possible by the ultimate sacrifice – the Messiah, the lamb that was slain for the sins of the world. Now those who have accepted that salvation – who have had the blood stained on the door post of their lives, so to speak, will arise after death to eternal life. Those who have not accepted that salvation by believing in Messiah will arise also, but to judgment. God always had a plan, but unfortunately as Isaiah said (Isaiah 6:10-12), until the desolation (consider the fall of the temple and the end of the fleshly sacrifices) they will have eyes but will not see and ears but will not hear, lest they see with their eyes, hear with their ears and understand, and convert and be healed…. Selah.

  12. Helena says:

    The article is very long and interesting. I don’t have time to read the whole thing now but I will later. Two points that I want to start with are:
    1. I was shocked to find out that so many jews do not believe in the afterlife and that it is not even mentioned in the theology. What is the purpose of THIS life which is only temporary , if there is NOTHING afterwards? I find that a very materialistic way of thinking.Why would God even exist and do we have a belief in him?
    2. Most Jews think that Christians are judged on their faith and not on their good works. The Catholic Church which is the mother church of Christianity , does not believe that at all and you rightly showed that in the scripture. The Protestants who split with us think that and it is one of our several differences. Not all Christians are Protestants ,therefore it would be good to know the differences because there are more.

  13. Helena says:

    Beautiful answer and as far as I am concerned , it is the Truth.

  14. Eric Breaux says:

    People who claim there is no life after death don’t realize that the only way having had anything can be beneficial is if there is a future for anything to hope for. No more existence would make everything irrelevant that ever happened.

  15. Codie Mallyn says:

    I have no specific idea of the afterlife or lack thereof. My philosophy is simply to trust. To trust myself to do what is best and to trust God to be just in His action.

    1. Dave says:

      Your comment makes perfect sense. More than any I have heard in long time. Truly profound.

      1. Dave says:

        It’s Dave again. I’ve been thinking about Codie Mallyn’s comment since last night; can’t get it out of my head.

        I’ve been a cynic and scoffer about God for most of my adult life. I was proud that I was so intelligent and so informed, that I was superior to anyone who believed in religious nonsense. Through reading, listening, and reflection over the last couple years, I realized how little I knew. My foolishness is embarrassing.

        Codie’s philosophy makes sense. Try your best to be a good person and trust that God will do right thing, for everyone, now and after we die.

  16. Mark Raymond Courterier says:

    The questions postulated in this thread, run the entire gambit of Gods presupposed knowledge of all things, including His Love for the individual and others, collectively, as being equally important in our being able to both understand and accept another’s predisposed answers as Truths. But is theology, as taught by a Jewish-or a Christian-theologist and their theologians, all that important to ourselves, in the knowledge of ourselves knowing these things definitively or assuredly as unswervingly true or truth. And other than for arguments sake, do we presuppose (or should we?) that all things become absolutely important, to understanding such knowledge as a prerequisite to any relationship with God or Christ or the Holy Spirit, then?

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