Judaism and the Afterlife

Insha’Allah this will be a continual WIP

I’ve found some interesting things in Judaic sources on the afterlife.

Mishneh Repentance 8

In the Mishneh Torah, Repentance 8 we find references to Hell and a description of the soul. We also find education on how ephemeral this life is and that the true goal is the afterlife. There are many creedal differences between what we are about to read and Islam. But it is worth noting that he believed in Hell and wrote about it, although the akhira is quite different in Islam compared to the myriad of opinions in Judaism.

The World to Come harbors neither body nor aught of a concrete form, save only the souls of the righteous divested of body as are the ministering angels. Inasmuch as it harbors no concrete forms there is no need there for eating, drinking, or other of the bodily necessities of the sons of man in this world; neither will any of the many things which happen to bodies in this world come to pass there, as, for instance, sitting down, standing up, sleep, death, sadness, mirth or the like. Thus did the ancient sages say: “In the World to Come there is no eating, no drinking, and no family life, save that the righteous are sitting, graced with garlands upon their heads, and indulge in feasting upon the luminousness of the Shekinah (the glory of the divine presence)”.4Berakot, 17a. C. Herefrom, 10, it is clear to you that no body exists there, seeing that there is neither eating nor drinking. That expression of “sitting” herein employed, is figurative, as if saying that they are there without effort or fatigue, and the phrase they employed, saying: “graced with garlands upon their heads”, means that they have conscious knowledge of the reason why they have merited to be in the World to Come, and this is their crown of garlands, as, for example, Solomon said: “The crown wherewith his mother hath crowned him” (Songs. 3.11). Moreover, it was said: “And everlasting shall joy be upon their heads (Is. 35.10); now joy is not a body to rest upon one’s head, even so the crown spoken of by the sages refers to knowledge. But what is the meaning of the phrase, “and indulge in feasting upon the luminousness of the Shekinah”? It is that by which they know and attain part of the Truth of the Holy One, blessed is He! something they do not know while in the dark, low body.

The term soul employed on this subject refers not to the breath of life necessary for the body, but the form of the soul which is the intelligence by which it attained knowledge of the Creator’s Being according to its intellectual power, and by which it attained knowledge of the non-concrete intelligences and other works of God, even it is the form which we have explained in the fourth chapter of the treatise concerning Fundamentals of the Torah, and it is called soul for the purpose of this subject. The life herein spoken of, because there is no death connected with it, seeing that death is only incidental to the happenings which befall a body, and as there exists no body, is called a collection of life, even as it is said: “Yet the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life” (I. Sam. 25.29). And, this reward is such that there is no reward higher than it, and the kind of good after which no other good exists, and it is for it that all of the prophets craved.

And this reward is known by many figurative names: The Lord’s Mountain; His Holy Place; Holy Path; the Lord’s Courts; the Lord’s Graciousness; the Lord’s Tent; the Lord’s Temple; the Lord’s House; and the Lord’s Gate. And the sages, figuratively, named this Good which is in store for the righteous, Banquet. But its universal name is, the World to Come.

The vengeance, than which there is none greater is, that the soul will be cut off and will obtain no share in that life, even as it is said: “That soul shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him” (Num. 15.31). As for hell, it is what the prophets call figuratively by different names, such as, pit of destruction, burning flame, leech, and by every word which means decay and destruction is it called, because it is an expression of terminating decay from which there is no regeneration and a loss which remains forever unreturned.

Peradventure you will consider this Good lightly, and imagine that no reward for observing the precepts and for man to be following wholly the paths of truth is of any worth save if he be eating and drinking good food, enjoying beautiful faces, dressing in garments of embroidered linen, lounging in tents of ivory, being served in dishes of gold or silver, and similar things, as these stupid, silly, licentious Arabs imagine. But scholars and sensible people should know that all such things are idle and vain, wherein there is nothing consequential, and if they are considered of the greatest good by us in this world, it is because we are owners of bodies and concrete forms, and all such things are bodily necessities, and the soul neither craves nor desires for them save because of bodily necessity, so that it may satisfy its desire and remain normal. But when there is no body, all these things are found to be completely nullified. But as to the great Good in which the soul will be in the World to Come, there is no way in this world to attain or know it, for in this world we know of no other good, save that of the body, for which we crave; but that Good is exceedingly exalted and has no estimate alongside the good of this world save as a figure of speech; but by the way of truth to draw a comparison between the Good in store for the soul in the World to Come and the good of the body by eating and drinking in this world is impossible. Forsooth, that Good is so great that by no search can it be attained, and by no form of estimate and comparison can it be comprehended, even as David said: “Oh how great is Thy goodness which Thou hast treasured up for those that fear Thee” (Ps. 31.19).


Now I wonder why Maimonides wrote such a line about Arabs. Perhaps he desired to lie about Muslims as being people of worldly desires to turn Jews away from Islam? Or maybe he was referring to the pre-Islamic Arabs, like those mentioned in the Torah, who were polytheists. Allahu ‘alam.

Heaven, Hell, and The Day of Judgement

The clear references to Heaven and Hell are peculiar as well. MyJewishLearning says: “While in traditional Jewish thought the subjects of heaven and hell were treated extensively, most modern Jewish thinkers have shied away from this topic, preferring to follow the biblical model, which focuses on life on earth.”

In the book of Daniel we find clear references to hell and the Day of Judgement: Daniel 12:2 — “Many of those that sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to eternal life, others to reproaches, to everlasting abhorrence” — MyJewishlearning adds that this implies that resurrection will be followed by a day of judgment. Those judged favorably will live forever and those judged to be wicked will be punished.


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