The belief in afterlife spans across many cultures, with most of them agreeing that death is not the end of human life instead there is life after death. While many cultures present an array of beliefs on the afterlife topic, the Jewish beliefs on the same outlines a perfect cosmology which provides an in-depth explanation worth looking at.
Afterlife in Jewish Perspective
Most of the Jewish thoughts begin with the Torah. In the Jewish perspective, the Torah directly expresses God’s will as it was revealed to Moses. The afterlife according to the Torah is represented in two distinct forms where one is going down to Sheol (Gen, 37:35) and the other being gathered to one’s kin (Gen 35:29). According to the Jews, death is regarded as the going out of the ruah or similarly going out of the nefesh. The difference between life and death is hereby established to be the nefesh as it is God who gives the nefesh and takes it (Sumegi, 2014, pg. 80). But the question is where do human beings go after the nefesh is taken out?
From the expressions of gathering with the kin and going to Sheol we learn that afterlife in the Jewish perspective is most likely social. That is, one is never alone in death but instead forms a family. Additionally, the afterlife is experienced down somewhere below the earth in a place named Sheol. That said, the universe is described as triple-decker where we have the Heaven, earth and the Sheol. God(the giver of ruah), whose abode is the heaven, makes a man come to earth. Since He is immortal, He further takes the ruah out of the man, and thus man proceeds to the next world (Sheol) where he experiences the afterlife (Sumegi, 2014, pg. 80). In this description of the Torah, the universe system perfectly matches with most of the other ancient cosmologies.
In this tripartite cosmology of the upper, middle and lower worlds, the Jewish system agrees with an array of the surrounding cultures. God is linked with the upper world of the sky while humans dwell in the middle of the world. The underworld which is the land of the dead is completely delineated from God and men (Sumegi, 2014. Pg 82). This is proven in Psalms 115: 16-18, where the dead are regarded as individuals who cannot praise the Lord but the living have this capability. The Jewish perspective as captured in many scriptures is that the afterlife is a peaceful rest after death and it’s a natural order of things. After a long and fruitful life, one is gathered to his kin. From the Jewish perspective, life on earth is regarded as a gift given by God thus all the blessings and rewards are to be enjoyed in life and not after death (Sumegi, 2014, pg. 82). This backs the Jewish belief that there is no punishment or joy in the afterlife instead it’s eternal rest.
Reflection on the Jewish Afterlife Belief
The concept of the afterlife, when viewed from the Jewish perspective, is very challenging to me. The Torah which is the basis for these Jewish beliefs spells out facts concerning afterlife which I had not thought of. In the Christian mainframe, most of us believers have the faith that there is life after physical death on earth. This life will be joyous or bad depending on how you treated yourself and others on earth. Those who led a righteous life are expected to join the Father in heaven and sing praises for eternity while those who lived a rogue life will be waited in the lake of fire where they will burn in eternal fire. This mostly held belief is though challenged as the righteous in Jewish perspective will rest in Sheol while the wicked in Gehenna (De Lange, 2000, pg. 210). However, joy and punishment conspicuously miss in these two areas than I previously thought.
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A huge contradiction on the beliefs I had about the Jewish culture as well as my personal beliefs exist. I admit that this finding has developed in me a reaction on the need to properly analyze the scriptures and compare to have a detailed understanding. It’s unfortunate that in most of my life I have relied on the teachings to understand the concept of the afterlife, but I haven’t made any effort to analyze these scriptures. An analysis of the same helps reveals some of the areas where I may be misunderstanding the scriptures. The afterlife belief is one of the greatly contested topic and through the look of the Jews beliefs, it helps in answering some of the questions we raise concerning the subject (De Lange, 2000, pg. 210). From the tripartite cosmology which is agreed in many cultures and some subsets of philosophy, the Jewish perception on life after death may be accurate to some extent.
In conclusion, there is a general agreement that the universe is composed of the heavens, the earth, and the underworld. While there is an established link between the earthly beings and the heavenly father there exist no connection of the dead and the men or God; thus, we can conclude that the Jewish belief on the afterlife is true and that in death we rest to eternity.
- De Lange, Nicholas. An Introduction to Judaism. Cambridge University Press, 2000
- Sumegi, Angela. Understanding Death: An Introduction to Ideas of Self and the Afterlife in World Religions. Wiley Blackwell, 2014