Question abour the afterlife to Jewish friends here

Hello all,

I have a dear friend who is Jewish though I am not sure how observant she is but long story short her father who I believe is the Reformed branch of Judaism has cancer and my friend is having a hard time dealing with this is totally understandable. We were all together Friday night for dinner at my home and my one friend asked her what Jewish people believe about the afterlife. She responded that there was no belief and without thinking at first about the sensitivity of the subject to this particular person at this time I said something like I wonder if it matters which branch as I had always had an understanding from other friends that there was some belief, as in these friends saying a family member was a better place. I also from study of the Catholic Church have come to understand that our traditon of praying for the dead comes originally from Judaism. As a former Methodist I never prayed for those who had passed until this past year. Anyway this friend became upset with me for putting my two cents in which I instantly regretted and trying to to the merciful thing said I was sorry, I must have misunderstood and backed off and said a silent prayer to myself. I have been praying continuously for this friend and her situation on my Rosary in any event as I do all in my circle having a difficult time. I feel badly that I might have offended her and struggle with how to be the most helpful (keeping my foot out of my mouth might help). By background I am a nurse case manager with no issues dealing with end of life in general but from a personal level being a strong believer in the Catholic/Christian view of the afterlife want to be a) knowledgable and b) want to do or say the merciful thing even if all I can do is keep my mouth shut and keep praying.

God Bless and also please keep my friend in prayer,


Needless to say, I extend my prayers regarding your friend’s father and the emotional state of your friend and her family.

In general, the various branches of Judaism do believe in an afterlife. I am certain most, if not all, Orthodox Jews believe in it, as well as many Conservative Jews. In Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism, however, there is more division concerning this belief, and several other issues, of the faith. As a Reform Jew myself, I do believe there is a World to Come, but I know other Reform Jews who do not. The issue of a life to come was a gradual development in Judaism from the beginning according to the Hebrew Scripture, and not regarded at first as an essential tenet of the religion. Most notably, the Sadducees did not believe in an afterlife, while the Pharisees did. Modern Judaism is largely in the Pharisaic tradition and so the belief continues for many. But even today, it is actually forbidden, particularly in the Orthodox community, to speculate too much about it. The focus in Judaism is, and always has been, on the present life here on Earth. Nonetheless, the resurrection of the dead is one of the thirteen basic articles of faith formulated by Maimonides, and thus many Jews are in agreement with this idea. Jews of all branches do pray for departed family members, who they believe are in a state of Purgatory, for a period of eleven months.

Thank you, that was very helpful.


To my understanding, Judaism believes in the resurrection of the dead at some unspecified future time, but has no doctrinal belief in an afterlife, per se.

Jews on the whole, regard death differently that Christians do, and, in my experience, fear it much more than Christians do. Often, mourning at Jewish funerals is much more intense than that which one sees in Catholic ones, and there are strict rules about how corpses are handled. (Members of the priestly tribe are not permitted to attend burials, although this is often honored in the breach.)

That having been said, my parents and grandparents clearly believed in a heavenly afterlife, and frequently said so. How much this was influenced by their close friendships with Catholic is anybody’s guess–my grandparents had more Catholic friends than Jewish ones.

The rules concerning Jewish funerals–including no flowers, no music, no cremation, no embalming of the body, cleansing of the deceased in a ritualistic way (e.g. one must walk around the deceased to pass an instrument, instead of passing it over the body), a religious Jew sitting with the body overnight and reciting prayers, immediate burial, use of a plain pine box or, as in Israel, wrapping the deceased in a prayer shawl, tearing a portion of one’s clothing when a parent dies, sitting shiva for a week (except on the Sabbath or High Holy Days), covering mirrors, and observing the periods of mourning (one month up to the end of the year)–are designed to show respect for the deceased person and ease the emotional turmoil of the survivors, and are all part of the Law.

One more important point relative to the topic: the mourner’s prayer (Kaddish) has no mention of death but rather is a praise and sanctification of G-d.

Thanks again for the information. I think with my friend the issue is her father does not believe in an afterlife per se and she is not observant (actually her mother is Lutheran) and is married to a fallen away Catholic and neither of them are have a formal faith life which no matter what faith that might be has to make this even more difficult. I went through this process with my parents and father in law and having faith myself and in my parents’ case knowing their faith it was easier to accept because I know I will see them again. With my father in law, he was away from the Church but we did bring in a priest for the Sacrament of the Sick when we made the decision it was time for palliative care and he also went peacefully. Interestingly enough it was soon after his death, and as a Protestant I did worry about where he might be going because my father in law expressed a lot of agnostic ideas, that made me dig further into the Catholic understanding of death and dying which was another milestone that led me to the Catholic Church and I do believe I will see him again too. So I guess when I see someone with not much belief no matter what the tradition struggle with what is already so heart wrenching to deal with it seems so sad to me and I guess that is what prayer is for if words and deeds in this situation may not be asked for or appreciated by my friend and her family. I just pray for peace for all of them in this situation.



WOW! I never knew that Judaism held some beliefs in Purgatory.

I always thought this was a uniquely Catholic doctrine. :slight_smile:

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