The World to Come

It's an individual Jew's ultimate reward, but the nature of the World to Come has always been disputed.

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Luzzatto concludes this section of his work by saying that man is tempted in this life both by prosperity and by adversity and adds: "If he is valorous and wins the battle from every side, he becomes the perfect man who will have the merit of becoming attached to his Creator. Then he will emerge from the vestibule of this world to enjoy the Light of Life."

Luzzatto here seems to identify the World to Come, partly at least, with the fate of the soul after death [i.e. heaven, Gan Eden], though it is clear from the work as a whole that Luzzatto believes in the final resurrection.

A Hasidic View

In Hasidism and the Musar movement, the World to Come is conceived of partly in terms of spiritual bliss of the soul after the death of the body. It is not that the doctrine of resurrection is denied in these movements, but it is treated as a mystery so far beyond human apprehension that speculation on it is futile. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liady follows the intellectual thrust of the Habad movement, of which he was the founder, when he writes (at the beginning of his Likkutey Torah):

"It is well known that the concept 'the World to Come' means that souls enjoy the radiance of the Shekhinah and this delight that the soul enjoys is nothing other than comprehension of the divine. For we know from experience that there is no enjoyment and no delight whatsoever unless the thing enjoyed has been grasped in the mind. It follows that delight in the divine must first become substantial and have a separate identity in the process of the soul's enjoyment before the soul can enjoy it."

The idea is also found in Hasidic works that the saints can enjoy the bliss of the World to Come even while on earth. […]

Contemporary Views

Reform Judaism, following to some extent Philo and Maimonides, does preserve the concept [of the World to Come] but identifies the World to Come with the immortality of the soul.

Conservative Judaism, too, generally follows the Reform line, though both Reform and Conservative Judaism tend to veer towards the naturalistic understanding of the doctrine. This cannot be stated too categorically, however, and many Reform and Conservative Jews still accept the doctrine of the World to Come in its traditional formulation, at least in terms of the immortality of the soul.

Some of the Orthodox as well place the emphasis on the immortality of the soul but, if it is possible to speak of the official Orthodox position in these matters, it obviously includes the resurrection of the dead after the age of the Messiah in its doctrine of the World to Come.

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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.