January 25, 2015
By Tuly Weisz
As a synagogue rabbi attending to the dying and their anxious family members, I often received questions about what happens after death.
Most of us have certainly wondered whether there is life after death or the nature of heaven and hell. In her fascinating and well-researched book, Journey to Heaven: Exploring Jewish Views of the Afterlife, noted scholar Dr. Leila Leah Bronner brings to light the Jewish sources on what happens after we die.
Interested in what Judaism has to say about the afterlife, Bronner begins her in-depth exploration with the Bible. “I have long taken issue with the general consensus among scholars that the Bible does not deal in any significant way with the concept of an afterlife,” writes Bronner in the introduction.
Journey to Heaven starts with the cryptic passage from Genesis, “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, for God took him” (5:24). Where did the Lord take Enoch? Early on, the Bible seems to reject the finality of death and suggests some kind of continuity beyond the grave. Later Biblical prophets including Daniel, Ezekiel and Isaiah also describe the dead returning to life, and resurrection as a reward for the righteous.
Each chapter of Journey to Heaven is devoted to a different time period, demonstrating the progression of Jewish thought on the subject of the afterlife throughout the ages. While the Bible only makes subtle references to life after death, the Talmud explicitly discusses the topic at length. Although she comes from the world of academia, Dr. Bronner explains in an accessible and clear manner the difference between Jewish ideas of the “Garden of Eden,” the “World to Come,” and “Gehinnom.”
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July 24, 2012
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.
July 1, 2012
by Micah D. Halpern
Journey to Heaven: Exploring Jewish Views of the Afterlife surveys Jewish sources and historical periods as they relate to the question of the afterlife. Author Leila Leah Bronner has tackled a difficult and complicated subject. Throughout Jewish history – from the bible up until today – the “afterlife” has meant completely different things.
Bronner explains the difference between nefesh (soul or will), neshama (breath) , and ruach (spirit). While we tend to think of them as synonyms, they are very different terms and concepts and in different periods thinkers referred to them each differently. She describes the term to “take” and explains that in Psalms it may mean much more than simply “to die by God’s hand.”
The author takes on difficult concepts and expounds upon them through clear examples. She cites and explains the traditional Jewish understanding of Psalm 73:24 “You will lead me with your counsel and afterward take me with glory” to mean everlasting life in heaven. This is contrasted with “Sheol” which is some type of hell, as in Psalm 49:16, which reads “But God will redeem my soul from the hand of Sheol, for He will take me.”
Even more poignant is Read the rest of this entry »
May 3, 2012
by Cantor Jonathan L. Friedmann, Ph.D
Judaism is not a religion of dogma. Though there have been times and places where one position on a theological matter has dominated, the history of the Jewish people, with its many migrations and evolutions, reveals a system characterized more by shifting ideas than stable creeds. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in views of the afterlife.
Leila Leah Bronner explores these diverse and sometimes-contradictory ideas in her book Journey to Heaven. A scholar of ancient Semitic languages, Bronner’s aim is not only to assess the textual underpinnings of this often startling subject, but also to show that the hereafter is more prevalent in Jewish thought than most would presume. She presents a chronological overview of the various afterlife teachings, paying close attention to the social contexts and written sources from which they arose. The result is a valuable primer that, in terms of clarity, readability and focus, exceeds Simcha Paull Raphael’s more cumbersome book on the topic, Jewish Views of the Afterlife (1994).
The views Bronner examines can be summarized as follows: Read the rest of this entry »
April 17, 2012
by Batya Medad
It has taken me a long time to read Leila Leah Bronner’s Journey to Heaven, but that’s my fault, not hers. Most of my weekday reading is either on the computer or for my Bible studies.
I was very anxious to get started on Bronner’s book, because I’m very curious about The Next World, our “life” after death. It’s not my specialty. From my limited knowledge I’ve been under the impression that the next world is when we pay the real price for our sins and get proper rewards for our good. I was looking for some confirmation.
Journey to Heaven isn’t that sort of book. Bronner’s book is more academic than spiritual or emotional. She brings all sorts of texts, not all are Jewish, to explain what happens after death according to Judaism. I suggest watching these two youtube videos to hear what Bronner has to say. She really is fascinating.
Bronner’s book is very Read the rest of this entry »
March 30, 2012
by James A. Cox
Journey to Heaven
Leila Leah Bronner
c/o Lambda Publishers
527 Empire Blvd.
Brooklyn, NY 11225
Both Islam and Christianity speak in depth about the after-life, but Judaism is strangely silent. Journey to Heaven: Exploring Jewish Views of the Afterlife is a meeting of many Jewish theologians as they talk about the destination of the soul and fate of the being after death, which traditional Jewish texts do not speak upon. Combing through the writings of many Jewish writers throughout the ages, Journey to Heaven is a fascinating view for any religious thinker or religious scholar of any faith, enthusiastically recommended.
This review appears in the January 2012 issue of Internet Bookwatch, an online book review magazine .
March 26, 2012
by Simon Rocker
We are often told that Judaism is more concerned with this world than what may happen in the next. This is true up to a point. But it is impossible to ignore that the world to come is a central component of rabbinic thinking. The daily Amidah declares a belief in bodily resurrection, while one of the first morning prayers mentions the rewards that good deeds merit in the hereafter.
Leila Leah Bronner’s short book provides an excellent introduction to how ideas of the afterlife took root in Judaism, written for a general readership by a veteran scholar – she was professor of Bible and Jewish history at Witwatersrand University, South Africa.
She moves from the first fleeting references to the revival of the dead in the Bible, to notions of Gan Eden (paradise) and Gehinnom (hell) debated in the Talmud to kabbalistic reincarnation and the transmigration of souls. Not the least of the book’s virtues is extensive quotation from sources probably unfamiliar to most of us, such as extra-canonical ancient texts like Jubilees, Baruch or Enoch.
She goes on to explain how Maimonides reconciled his belief that the world to come was a purely spiritual one with the principle of physical resurrection: those revived at the end of days will die a second time and then rise to an eternal angel-like existence without bodies.
Judaism offers an “array of possibilities” on the afterlife, she concludes, comparing it to the journey of Abraham, who was ordered by God to leave his home for a destination that he could not know in advance.
This post appears in The Jewish Chronicle online.