Life After Death

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The Daniel text probably dates to the second century BCE, and at some point during the two centuries that followed, another afterlife idea entered Judaism: the immortality of the soul, the notion that the human soul lives on even after the death of the body. In the Middle Ages, Jewish mystics expanded this idea, developing theories about reincarnation--the transmigration of the soul.

The World to Come (olam haba) is the most ubiquitous Jewish eschatological idea (i.e. idea related to the end of days). It appears in early rabbinic sources as the ultimate reward of the individual Jew (and possibly the righteous gentile). The Talmud contains scattered descriptions of the World to Come, sometimes comparing it to spiritual things such as studying Torah, other times comparing it to physical pleasures, such as sex.

However, not surprisingly, it is not obvious what exactly the "World to Come" is and when it will exist. According to Nahmanides, among others, the World to Come is the era that will be ushered in by the resurrection of the dead, the world that will be enjoyed by the righteous who have merited additional life. According to Maimonides, the World to Come refers to a time even beyond the world of the resurrected. He believed that the resurrected will eventually die a second death, at which point the souls of the righteous will enjoy a spiritual, bodiless existence in the presence of God.

life after death

Still, in other sources, the World to Come refers to the world inhabited by the righteous immediately following death--i.e. heaven, Gan Eden. In this view, the World to Come exists now, in some parallel universe.

Indeed, the notion of heaven and hell may be the most ambiguous of all Jewish afterlife ideas. References to Gehinnom as a fiery place of judgment can be found in the apocalyptic literature of the Second Temple period. The Talmud embellished this idea, claiming that Gehinnom is 60 times hotter than earthly fire (Berakhot 57b).

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