Jewish Resurrection of the Dead

When and how will the dead will be resurrected? The debate is old, but it has not been entirely resolved.

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Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Religion: A Companion, published by Oxford University Press.

Resurrection is the doctrine that in a future age the dead will rise from their graves to live again. This doctrine appears frequently in Jewish eschatology, where it is associated with the doctrine of the Messiah and the immortality of the soul. 

Waking the Dead: Biblical and Rabbinic Sources

There are only two biblical references to the resurrection of the dead, in passages generally held by biblical scholars to be of late date, so that it has been conjectured that the doctrine owes something to Persian influence. The first is: "Thy dead shall live, my dead bodies shall arise, awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust, for thy dew is as the dew of light, and the earth shall bring to life the shades" (Isaiah 26:19); and the second: "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence" (Daniel 12:2).

jewish resurrectionThere is no systematic treatment in the Rabbinic literature of the doctrine of the resurrection, any more than there is of any other theological topic. The ancient Rabbis were organic rather than systematic thinkers. Nevertheless, the picture which emerges from the numerous eschatological thoughts in this literature is of a three‑staged series of events.

The first of these is the state of the soul in heaven after the death of the body. The second stage is the Messianic age here on earth "at the end of days." The third stage is that of the resurrection of the dead. Unlike the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, the belief in the resurrection was nationalistic rather than individualistic. It was the hope of national revival that came to the fore and this embraced the resurrection.

After the restoration of the Jewish people to its homeland in the days of the Messiah, it was believed, the resurrection of the dead would take place.

Rabbinic Fusion: Immortality, Resurrection, and Judgment

While there is no necessary contradiction between belief in the immortality of the soul and belief in the resurrection, there is some incompatibility between the idea of a great judgment day to take place after the resurrection of the dead and the judgment of each individual soul after the death of the body. When, as eventually happened, the two beliefs were fused together, there was bound to be some confusion on this matter and a large variety of views on how the two beliefs could both be true.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.