Jewish Views of the Afterlife

Throughout the ages, what happens after we die has been a source of discussion, debate and dissertation by persons of all religions and backgrounds throughout the world. Despite the thousands of texts written on the subject, there is no official Jewish position on life after death, although most scholars agree the soul lives on in some form after the physical body dies.

Most Jewish spiritual leaders believe the focus should be on living righteously on Earth rather than putting emphasis on the afterlife.

The idea of life after death, including reincarnation, is supported by many of today’s scholars as well as centuries-old Jewish texts.

In her book Journey to Heaven: Exploring Jewish Views of the Afterlife (Urim Publications; 2011), author and biblical scholar Leila Leah Bronner of Los Angeles writes that the Hebrew word gilgul, which means circularity and refers to the actual transmigration of souls, first appears in the Zohar, the 13th-century foundational literary work on Jewish mysticism. Several passages in the Zohar allude to the idea that one’s conduct on Earth determines his or her fate after death, says Bronner, an early member of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. The text includes vivid descriptions of a place called Gehinnom (Hell), where all but the most righteous souls go for purification before they can ascend to higher levels.

The review above is excerpted from an article in the Detroit Jewish News. The full article can be read here.

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