Someone told me Jews don’t believe in heaven. I did a quick google search, but was not able to determine which sources were legitimate. Does anyone know if that is true? Do Jews not believe in an afterlife?
If you want to find brief answers to quite a lot of questions about Judaism, the best place to turn to is Judaism 101, here they are on the subject of the afterlife.
I always thought that the Jewish community did believe in heaven?
For much of Jewish history, stretching back to Moses and even beyond, the Jews have never held a definitive belief in heaven. They believed In “Sheol” which was the abode of the dead and was not really a heaven or hell. It was more of an eternal sleeping place for the dead. In fact if you read the Pentateuch (the first five books of the bible, which makes up the torah) there is never a particular mention of heaven. It was only a couple of centuries before Jesus that the Jews started to believe in heaven and the resurrection of the dead. In fact, it was the Pharisees who believed in a heaven: the Sadducees held the traditional belief that there was not really an after life. The Jews, even today, mostly put an emphasis on this life and being as good as possible. They don’t maintain a definite belief in heaven or hell: if there is one, then ok. If there isn’t, then ok.
As the old saying goes, “Two Jews, three opinions.” So don’t make any assumptions about individual Jews’ beliefs until you ask.
Thank you for your post and link. I found that very enlightening.
Great link, thanks!
They don’t maintain a definite belief in heaven or hell: if there is one, then ok. If there isn’t, then ok.
Totally false. Reform Jews can believe whatever they want about heaven and hell just as they do about basically every other fundamental tenet of religion including the existence of God. Conservatives have some kind of semi-dogma that most of their constituency doesn’t even know or care about. Most of them probably hope there is a heaven! Traditional, orthodox Jews certainly believe in Olam Haba, a spiritual reward for the soul after death, and this is a fundamental principle of faith which is all over the place in the Talmud. Anyone claiming ancient Judaism didn’t believe in an afterlife has to explain the Biblical story of Saul raising Samuel’s spirit from the dead to communicate with him. In any case, we believe that it is hinted to pretty openly in the Torah and that it would be patently ludicrous to deny that there is an afterlife. And of course, there is a hell. After all, where is Hitler right now if not there?
If I remember the concept correctly Jews believe in “the world to come”. They believe that at death the person enters a spiritual place of peace OR if they were wicked they enter a not so nice place BUT after a period of time ( where they are purified ) they advance to a state of peace.
Jesus was pretty clear that if you were bad enough to merit hell that’s where you stayed AND when you would be reunited with an eternal body the misery continues IN that body.
It appears to me that you are selling short both Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism to an extent that I must wonder how much you know about each of these Jewish movements. I think you are confusing Reform Jews with secular or cultural Jews: they are NOT the same. Most Reform Jews do believe in heaven and all believe in G-d. Some do not believe in a Messiah or a Messianic era, however. Conservative Jews also believe in heaven, and Conservative Judaism is NOT based on a semi-dogma. It is not simply “in the middle” of Orthodox Judaism and Reform Judaism, but rather has its own basic understanding of Judaism and interpretation of the Torah.
I have heard that a lot of people of the Jewish faith believe in reincarnation. Has anyone else come across this?
Sigh I know plenty. I will concede that more than half of Jews who consider themselves Reform believe in God or think they do. But you can find plenty of backup to the assertion that it’s not all that important. And I’m sure you know synagogue-goers who are ambivalent at best about the existence of God. Here is a quote from Rabbi Andrea Berlin (reformjudaism.org 2013): “I’ve always seen faith as secondary to Judaism. Great if you feel it, irrelevant if you don’t. I can never get too excited about avowed atheist Jews. One doesn’t really need God in order to live a Jewish life. To live a Jewish life, one need only follow mitzvot; doing so with a little compassion is even better.”
Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro of Sinai Temple in Springfield MA sent a computer survey to all his congregants. 40% did not believe in God: “When given the statement, “There is no God,” 60% of the Sinai respondents disagreed. In other words, most people were not comfortable with no God. When asked if the universe reveals evidence that God exists, 45% agreed.” - See more at: reformjudaism.org/god-survey#sthash.1TS1sVYk.dpuf
Still, I found that officially Reform Judaism’s statement of principles affirms the existence of God.
As far as Conservatism, I was actually very precise in my use of the word semi-dogma. The situation is that the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards does provide a set of guidelines as to belief. But they also agree that it’s okay if you don’t ‘really’ believe it because belief is a personal thing…: “Judaism has largely left it to the individual to decide the particular form of belief which he will adopt” (USY document on beliefs of the Conservative Movement). Also, here is the statement of the Conservative #1 “core belief”: “1) There is a God. Most conceive of God as a personal Being, but some refer to a creative force, a moral urge toward the good, the totality of being, or a personification of the powerful and good qualities that we find in life.” (adath-shalom.ca/dorff187.htm)
Sorry, but a moral urge toward the good is not God. This is as fuzzy a theology as I can imagine. Sadly, it’s also largely irrelevant what the Conservative Movement actual says about belief or practice. The Committee says you have to observe (their version of) Jewish law. Go into a C synagogue. Who there is observing Jewish law? When I was a kid the totality of strictures I witnessed people keeping on Shabbat in a Cons. synagogue was that they didn’t use the synagogue telephone. That’s it. The constituency doesn’t really care about Jewish law. The ones who care are the few and the proud who go to USY summer camp or JTS. Most people who go to synagogue just want to feel they’re keeping some kind of connection with their Jewishness. As I said, most probably hope there’s a heaven. I think if you sent an online survey you’d find out that there are plenty who don’t. None of that changes what Judaism, as defined by the Bible, Talmud, rabbinic commentaries and Shulchan Aruch affirm: that there IS an afterlife where the good are rewarded and the bad are punished (for some length of time). I don’t know if “Heaven” is a good word for it because it’s not the same as the Christian concept of heaven.
I don’t know if a lot of Jews believe in reincarnation although some do. This belief is often associated with certain streams of Hasidic Judaism and the Kabbalah. However, the kind of reincarnation involved is not the same as that found in Hinduism or Buddhism, for example. Rather, it is reincarnation for the explicit purpose of accomplishing an important task that was not achieved during one’s earthly life, and often the task involves the study of Torah.
Thank you for your informative response. I realize we can discuss this issue much further, yet I must refrain from doing so because it would take us far afield of the initial question by the OP.
Hi meltzerboy, happy to share my thoughts. BTW, I think if we ever met IRL we would hit it off. Really. I guess you’re right, we’re straying from the original topic.
You obviously didnt read my post thoroughly because in the very beginning I clearly stated that ancient Jews believed in Sheol, which was the abode of the dead. Of course, they also believed in the Bosom of Abraham as well, which was for the righteous people. But beyond these vague beliefs in an afterlife, I dare you to find me one verse in the Torah that explicitly states there is a definite belief in a place called heaven and hell. The Jews are vague about their description of the afterlife. The reform Jews (God help them) may believe in a more defined heaven and hell but not the ancients. If they did they sure didn’t write much about it. And we don’t know if hitler is in hell. We can’t know if he is: that is for God alone to decide. Stop making decisions for Him. He is the ultimate judge and knows mans heart thoroughly
Yes, I read and understood your point, but disagree that the ancient Hebrews believed that the only point of Sheol is for souls to hang out and chill after they die.
Of course, they also believed in the Bosom of Abraham as well, which was for the righteous people.
So you admit that they believed in a special afterlife for the righteous. What exactly are you looking for? The Torah to say the words “they went to Heaven”? there is no word “heaven” in ancient Hebrew, that’s a Christian thing. There is “shamayim” which means “the heavens” in general, the sky, outer space, and the metaphysical higher spheres as well. Afterlife? Sure there was. Ancient Hebrews didn’t believe in the Christian concept of Heaven though and neither do modern Jews. We believe in Olam Haba, literally translated as the World to Come, and it’s a state where souls are connected with God (the only true pleasure and delight in the universe) in a measure corresponding to their righteousness in their mortal life. No angels with wings or pearly gates here.
But beyond these vague beliefs in an afterlife, I dare you to find me one verse in the Torah that explicitly states there is a definite belief in a place called heaven and hell.
As I said, if you’re looking for those names, they’re not there. The concept of reward and punishment is. There are a whole host of sins for which the Torah promises “that soul shall surely be cut off” which is a punishment of divine excision or destruction of the soul. That’s an afterlife punishment. The gentile prophet Balaam says “Tamut nafshi mot yesharim”: “May my soul die the death of the righteous.” What is he talking about? Why is the death of the righteous any better than the deal of the wicked? The last verse of Isaiah says “their worm will not die; their fire will not be extinguished.” That’s only a punishment if their souls can feel pain after death. I could go on. As far as why there is such little emphasis, relatively, in the Torah on the afterlife is a deep theological question that requires an essay to explain and I will not go into it here.
And we don’t know if hitler is in hell. We can’t know if he is: that is for God alone to decide. Stop making decisions for Him. He is the ultimate judge and knows mans heart thoroughly
Your statement is frankly shocking. If that’s your belief, that’s your belief, but I hope it’s not representative of Catholicism. I’m not making decisions for God. He has told us that He punishes those individuals who are outstanding in their wickedness forever and ever. Hitler was among the most evil men to ever walk this Earth. Unless perhaps genocide of the Jews who reject Jesus isn’t so bad after all…?
Do many Orthodox Jews believe that the punishment for those who are “outstanding in their wickedness” is a PHYSICAL torment? I thought that Orthodox Judaism, like Conservative Judaism, believes, for the most part, that separation from G-d in the form of the annihilation of the soul is the ultimate punishment of the truly evil, who cannot even be cleansed by purgatorial Gehinnom, but NOT eternal physical pain.
My understanding concerning the Catholic view is that even a person such as Hitler, if he sincerely repents at the final millisecond of his life, can achieve heaven although probably after a very long state in Purgatory. Judaism would probably respond that he could hardly make up for his past immoral behavior no matter what his atonement and change in beliefs and intentions may be, and even if G-d forgives him, the people whom he murdered are not able to do so. Despite this, however, it is not for us, the living, to judge.
I’d love to hear about this, even if it’s just a sentence.
No. It is not a physical pain. The prophetic verses are metaphorically representing the spiritual agony of separation from God with the physical phenomena of fire and worms. But, the agony of the soul is more acute than the pain of the body. As far as the wicked whose souls are destroyed, I’m not sure if it’s 100% clear that they are condemned to eternal torment of the soul or if at some point their souls are completely annihilated.
My understanding concerning the Catholic view is that even a person such as Hitler, if he sincerely repents at the final millisecond of his life, can achieve heaven although probably after a very long state in Purgatory.
In theory, this might be true, even to some extent in Jewish theology. However, not only do I not believe that Hitler could repent sufficiently - my personal opinion is that it is actually ludicrous to propose that that might have happened. The self-righteous response (as I perceive it) of “don’t tell God what to do” is completely inappropriate in my view. Is there a normal person who is looking to defend Hitler? To close, I will admit that my “proof” of the existence of hell from Hitler was to some degree tongue-in-cheek. I meant to illustrate that I believe it is illogical to posit that ancient Judaism did not have a conception of divine punishment after death for atrocities committed during life. Belief in a God of Justice mandates that appropriate punishment be meted out in this life or the next.