What Do Jews Believe About Resurrection, the Messiah and the Afterlife?

January 25, 2015

By Tuly Weisz Journey to Heaven

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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Jewish Views of the Afterlife

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.