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There Are Seven Different Jewish Views Or Options For Your Afterlife – OpEd

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Your actions and your beliefs strongly influence your fate in the afterlife. Choose carefully!

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1- Humans are not different from animals. All end up in the same place. Hebrew Bible, Ecclesiastes 3:19-21

2- Sheol; the big question. There is something, but no one knows what it is: it is not heaven or hell. Hebrew Bible, Psalms 6:5, 88:10 and 115:17.

3- Resurrection during the Messianic Age as part of God’s Final Judgement. Good people live again on earth for a long time, evil people die quickly. Hebrew Bible, Daniel 12:1-4 and Isaiah 26:19-21, 17:15. Ideas #1-3 are Biblical ideas The following four views, #4-7 are post Biblical rabbinic ideas.

4- Postmortem reward and punishment for individuals: between death and resurrection everyone, except saints, goes to Gehenom purgatory for 1-12 months to atone for their sins. Most people, including non Jewish good people, then go to Gan Eden, a good place since it is populated by good people.

Evil people who are still unrepentant after 12 months of painful confrontation with their sins are extinguished (avadon). The great majority of people are basically good (that is why Jewish custom is to say the Kaddish prayer for the dead for only 11 and not 12 months) and only really evil people do not enter the spiritual world to come.

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5- Immortality: Based on the laws of Physics that matter and energy are never destroyed but only transformed. Thus just as the body disorganizes into its basic molecules and is recycled in the ground; so does the soul lose it’s personal memories and yet its basic energy becomes part of the cosmic energy of the universe. This view was popular among Jews in the Greek/Roman Empire and was revived by many Reform Progressive Jews in the 19th century.

6- Gilgul- Recycling: Reincarnation is a Kabbalistic concept that arose in Spain in the 12th century and became popular in 18-19th century Eastern Europe through Hassidism. Unlike Indian concepts, gilgul is limited to humans and does not occur to everyone. There are new souls born all the time. Most current living souls do not return. Some of those who return, do so as a punishment but for most souls it is a second chance to improve themselves.

Female souls return to help their husbands live a better life. Souls of Jews who were cut off from the Jewish people violently or voluntarily are reborn in a non-Jewish descendent and return to the Jewish people through conversion/reversion to Judaism.

7- Some of these concepts are not mutually exclusive. Most Kabbalists and Hassidim believed in #3 and #4 and #6 Many Jews today believe in #5 and #6. For most of the 20th century most non-Orthodox Jews believed in #1 and #2.

I think what happens to you depends partly on what you believe will happen to you #7. If you believe in Gilgul you become a gilgul. If not, you don’t. So what you believe is important. However, if you do not believe in a reward and you deserve it you will still receive it; and it does not matter what Hitler or Stalin believed: there is a judge and there is judgement. Genesis 18:25.

For more information about the after-life see my book: WHICH RELIGION IS RIGHT FOR YOU?

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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