Jour­ney to Heav­en: Explor­ing Jew­ish Views of the Afterlife

Leila Leah Bronner
  • Review
By – June 27, 2012

Jour­ney to Heav­en: Explor­ing Jew­ish Views of the After­life sur­veys Jew­ish sources and his­tor­i­cal peri­ods as they relate to the ques­tion of the after­life. Author Leila Leah Bron­ner has tack­led a dif­fi­cult and com­pli­cat­ed sub­ject. Through­out Jew­ish his­to­ry — from the bible up until today — the after­life” has meant com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent things.

Bron­ner explains the dif­fer­ence between nefesh (soul or will), neshama (breath), and ruach (spir­it). While we tend to think of them as syn­onyms, they are very dif­fer­ent terms and con­cepts and in dif­fer­ent peri­ods thinkers referred to them each dif­fer­ent­ly. She describes the term to take” and explains that in Psalms it may mean much more than sim­ply to die by God’s hand.” 

The author takes on dif­fi­cult con­cepts and expounds upon them through clear exam­ples. She cites and explains the tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish under­stand­ing of Psalm 73:24 You will lead me with your coun­sel and after­ward take me with glo­ry” to mean ever­last­ing life in heav­en. This is con­trast­ed with She­ol” which is some type of hell, as in Psalm 49:16, which reads But God will redeem my soul from the hand of She­ol, for He will take me.”

Even more poignant is the dif­fer­ence between Olam Haba (the world to come), Gan Eden (par­adise), Gahenom (a type of hell), and Tichy­at Hamay­tim (the res­ur­rec­tion of the dead). A major divi­sion erupt­ed in the days of the Tal­mud between the Sad­ducees and the Phar­isees, and one of the major issues that divid­ed them was the res­ur­rec­tion of the dead. The Sad­ducees said there was no such thing while the Phar­isees dis­agreed and said yes, there was.

Bron­ner shows how these terms and ideas evolved inde­pen­dent­ly of one anoth­er. She also points out how they emerged at dif­fer­ent points in Jew­ish thought — but that the real dis­cus­sion begins with the medieval­ists Yehu­dah Hale­vi, Mai­monides, Nacho­min­des, Albo, and Cres­cus.

Kab­bal­ah (mys­ti­cism) and Has­sidut, as evi­denced in this work, have added an entire­ly new dimen­sion to Jew­ish under­stand­ing of the afterlife.

Mic­ah D. Halpern is a colum­nist and a social and polit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor. He is the author of What You Need To Know About: Ter­ror, and main­tains The Mic­ah Report at www​.mic​ah​halpern​.com.

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