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Jewish eschatology is concerned with the Jewish Messiah, afterlife, and the revival of the dead. Eschatology, generically, is the area of theology and philosophy concerned with the final events in the history of the world, the ultimate destiny of humanity, and related concepts.

The Messiah

The Hebrew word Mashiach (or Moshiach) means anointed one, and refers to a human being who will usher in a messianic era of peace and prosperity for both the living and the deceased :

Judaism has taught that a mashiach ("messiah") will bring about a revival of both the ancient united Kingdom of Israel and its ancient form of sacrificial worship in the Temple in Jerusalemmarker.

In the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible)

Most of the textual requirements concerning the messiah, what he will do, and what will be done during his reign are located within the Book of Isaiah, although requirements are mentioned in other prophets as well.
  • The Sanhedrin will be re-established (Isaiah 1:26)
  • Once he is King, leaders of other nations will look to him for guidance (Isaiah 2:4)
  • The whole world will worship the One God of Israel (Isaiah 2:17)
  • He will be descended from King David (Isaiah 11:1) via King Solomon (1 Chron. 22:8–10)
  • The Moshiach will be a man of this world, an observant Jew with "fear of God" (Isaiah 11:2)
  • Evil and tyranny will not be able to stand before his leadership (Isaiah 11:4)
  • Knowledge of God will fill the world (Isaiah 11:9)
  • He will include and attract people from all cultures and nations (Isaiah 11:10)
  • All Israelites will be returned to their homeland (Isaiah 11:12)
  • Death will be swallowed up forever (Isaiah 25:8)
  • There will be no more hunger or illness, and death will cease (Isaiah 25:8)
  • All of the dead will rise again (Isaiah 26:19)
  • The Jewish people will experience eternal joy and gladness (Isaiah 51:11)
  • He will be a messenger of peace (Isaiah 53:7)
  • Nations will recognize the wrongs they did Israel (Isaiah 52:13–53:5)
  • The peoples of the world will turn to the Jews for spiritual guidance (Zechariah 8:23)
  • The ruined cities of Israel will be restored (Ezekiel 16:55)
  • Weapons of war will be destroyed (Ezekiel 39:9)
  • The Temple will be rebuilt (Ezekiel 40) resuming many of the suspended mitzvot
  • He will then perfect the entire world to serve God together (Zephaniah 3:9)
  • Jews will know the Torah without Study (Jeremiah 31:33)
  • He will take the barren land and make it abundant and fruitful (Isaiah 51:3, Amos 9:13–15, Ezekiel 36:29–30, Isaiah 11:6–9)


In the Talmud

The Babylonian Talmud, tractate Sanhedrin, contains a long discussion of the events leading to the coming of the Messiah, for example:

Throughout Jewish history Jews have compared these passages (and others) to contemporary events in search of signs of the Messiah's imminent arrival, continuing into present times. For example, many Orthodox Jewish leaders , have suggested that the devastation among Jews wrought by the Holocaust may represent a sign of hope for the Messiah's present imminent arrival.

The Talmud tells many stories about the Messiah, some of which represent famous Talmudic rabbis as receiving personal visitations from Elijah the Prophet and the Messiah. For example:

In Rabbinic Commentaries

The Medieval rabbinic figure Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon), also known as the Rambam, wrote a commentary to tractate Sanhedrin stressing a relatively naturalistic interpretation of the Messiah and de-emphasizing miraculous elements. His commentary became widely (although not universally) accepted in the non- or less-mystical branches of Orthodox Judaism:

Orthodox Judaism

The belief in a personal messiah of the Davidic line is a universal tenet of faith among Orthodox Jews and one of Maimonides' thirteen principles of faith.

Some authorities in Orthodox Judaism believe that this era will lead to supernatural events culminating in a bodily resurrection of the dead. Maimonides, on the other hand, holds that the events of the messianic era are not specifically connected with the resurrection. (See the Maimonides article.)

Conservative Judaism

Conservative Judaism varies in its teachings. While it retains traditional references to a personal redeemer and prayers for the restoration of the Davidic line in the liturgy, Conservative Jews are more inclined to accept the idea of a messianic era:

Reform Judaism

Reform Judaism generally concurs with the more liberal Conservative perspective of a future messianic era rather than a personal messiah. Reflecting its philosophical position, Reform Judaism, unlike Conservative Judaism, has altered the traditional prayers to refer to "Redemption" rather than "a Redeemer" and removed petitions for restoration of the House of David.

Reconstructionist Judaism

Reconstructionist Judaism rejects the ideas of both a personal messiah and a divinely instituted messianic age. It does teach that human beings can help bring about a better future world. Like Reform Judaism, Reconstructionist Judaism has also altered traditional prayers so that they no longer refer to a personal Messiah.

Olam Haba - the afterlife and the world to come

Although Judaism concentrates on the importance of the Earthly world (Olam Ha'zeh — "this world"), all of classical Judaism posits an afterlife. Jewish tradition affirms that the human soul is immortal and thus survives the physical death of the body. The Hereafter is known as Olam Haba (the "world to come"), Gan Eden (the Heavenly "Garden of Eden", or Paradise) and Gehinom ("Purgatory").

Talmudic views

The Mishnah (c. 200) lists belief in the resurrection as one of three essential beliefs necessary for a Jew to participate in it:

All Israel have a portion in the world to come, for it is written: Thy people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified.' But the following have no portion therein: one who maintains that resurrection is not a biblical doctrine, the Torah was not divinely revealed, and an Apikoros ("Epicurean, apostate"). Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:1, Talmud Sanhedrin 90a.


The Gemara (Berachos 18b) relates several stories of people who visited cemeteries and either overheard conversations among dead people or actually conversed with the dead themselves, and received information that was later verified as factually correct.

The Shem HaGedolim by the Chida, (entry on Rebbe Eliezer bar Nosson), relates and discusses several incidents of dead Sages returning to our world to visit their families and friends.

Medieval rabbinical views

While all classic rabbinic sources discuss the afterlife, the classic Medieval scholars dispute the nature of existence in the "End of Days" after the messianic period. While Maimonides describes an entirely spiritual existence for souls, which he calls "disembodied intellects," Nahmanides discusses an intensely spiritual existence on Earth, where spirituality and physicality are merged. Both agree that life after death is as Maimonides describes the "End of Days." This existence entails an extremely heightened understanding of and connection to the Divine Presence. This view is shared by all classic rabbinic scholars.

There is much rabbinic material on what happens to the soul of the deceased after death, what it experiences, and where it goes. At various points in the afterlife journey, the soul may encounter: Hibbut ha-kever, the pains of the grave; Dumah, the angel of silence; Satan as the angel of death; the Kaf ha-Kela, the catapult of the soul; Gehinom (purgatory); and Gan Eden (heaven or paradise). All classic rabbinic scholars agree that these concepts are beyond typical human understanding. Therefore, these ideas are expressed throughout rabbinic literature through many varied parables and analogies.

Gehinom is fairly well defined in rabbinic literature. It is sometimes translated as "hell", but one should note that the Christian view of hell differs greatly from the classical Jewish view. In Judaism, gehinom — while certainly a terribly unpleasant place or state — is not hell. The overwhelming majority of rabbinic thought maintains that souls are not tortured in gehinom forever; the longest that one can be there is said to be twelve months, with extremely rare exception. This is the reason that even when in mourning for near relatives, Jews will not recite mourner's kaddish for longer than an eleven month period. Gehinom is considered a spiritual forge where the soul is purified for its eventual ascent to Gan Eden ("Garden of Eden").

In Orthodox Judaism

Orthodox Judaism maintains the tenet of the bodily resurrection of the dead, including traditional references to it in the liturgy.

In Conservative Judaism

Conservative Judaism has generally retained the tenet of the bodily resurrection of the dead, including traditional references to it in the liturgy. However, many Conservative Jews interpret the tenet metaphorically rather than literally.

Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism have altered traditional references to the resurrection of the dead ("who gives life to the dead") to refer to "who gives life to all". Conservative Judaism has retained the traditional language although some interpret it non-literally.

Reincarnation

The notion of reincarnation, while held as a mystical belief by some, is not an essential tenent of traditional Judaism. It is not mentioned in traditional classical sources such as the Tanakh ("Hebrew Bible"), the classical rabbinic works (Mishnah and Talmud), or Maimonides' 13 Principles of Faith. However, books of Kabbalah — Jewish mysticism — teach a belief in gilgul, transmigration of souls, and hence the belief is universal in Hasidic Judaism, which regards the Kabbalah as sacred and authoritative.

Among well known Rabbis who rejected the idea of reincarnation are Saadia Gaon, David Kimhi, Hasdai Crescas, Yedayah Bedershi (early 14th century), Joseph Albo, Abraham ibn Daud and Leon de Modena. Among the Geonim, Hai Gaon argued with Saadia Gaon in favour of gilgulim.

Rabbis who accepted the idea of reincarnation include, from Medieval times: the mystical leaders Nahmanides (the Ramban) and Rabbenu Bahya ben Asher; from the 16th-century: Levi ibn Habib (the Ralbah), and from the mystical school of Safed Shelomoh Alkabez, Isaac Luria (the Ari) and his exponent Hayyim Vital; and from the 18th-century: the founder of Hasidism Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, later Hasidic Masters, and the Lithuanian Jewish Orthodox leader and Kabbalist the Vilna Gaon.

With the 16th-century rational systemisation of Cordoveran Kabbalah by the Ramak, and the subsequent new paradigm of Lurianic Kabbalah by the Ari, Kabbalah replaced "Hakirah" (Rationalistic Medieval Jewish Philosophy) as the mainstream traditional Jewish theology, both in scholarly circles and in the popular imagination. Isaac Luria taught new explanations of the process of gilgul, and identification of the reincarnations of historic Jewish figures, which were copiled by Haim Vital in his Shaar HaGilgulim.

In Kabbalistic understanding of gilgul, which differs from many Eastern-religious views, reincarnation is not fatalistic or automatic, nor is it essentially a punishment of sin, or reward of virtue. In Judaism, the Heavenly realms could fulfill Maimonides' Principle of faith in Reward and Punishment. Rather, it is concerned with the process of individual Tikkun (Rectification) of the soul. In Kabbalistic interpretation, each Jewish soul is reincarnated enough times only in order to fulfil each of the 613 Mitzvot. The souls of the righteous among the Nations may be assisted through gilgulim to fulfil their Seven Laws of Noah. As such gilgul is an expression of Divine compassion, and is seen as a Heavenly agreement with the individual soul to descend again. This stress on physical performance and perfection of each Mitzvah, is tied to the Lurianic doctrine of Cosmic Tikkun of Creation. In these new teachings, a Cosmic catastrophe occured at the beginning of Creation called the "Shattering of the Vessels" of the Sephirot in the "World of Tohu (Chaos)". The vessels of the Sephirot broke and fell down through the spiritual Worlds until they were embedded in our physical realm as "sparks of holiness" (Nitzutzot). The reason in Lurianic Kabbalah that almost all Mitzvot involve physical action, is that through their performance, they elevate each particular Spark of holiness associated with that commandment. Once all the Sparks are redeemed to their spiritual source, the Messianic Era begins. This metaphysical theology gives cosmic significance to the life of each person, as each individual has particular tasks that only they can fulfil. Therefore, gilgulim assist the individual soul in this cosmic plan. This also explains the Kabbalistic reason why the future eschatological Utopia will be in this World, as only in the lowest, Physical realm is the purpose of Creation fulfilled.

The idea of gilgul became popular in folk belief, and is found in much Yiddish literature among Ashkenazi Jews.

See also



References

  1. Jewish Afterlife Beliefs at SimpleToRemember.com
  2. Afterlife at JewishVirtualLibrary.org
  3. Olam Ha-Ba: The Afterlife at JewFAQ.org
  4. soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Jewish Thought (6/12)
  5. Emet Ve-Emunah: Statement of Principles of Conservative Judaism.


References

  • Sanders, E.P. "Paul and Palestinian Judaism". Fortress Press. (Christian perspective on Judaism)
  • Wright, N.T. "The New Testament and the People of God". Fortress Press: 1992. (Christian perspective on Judaism)
  • Yitzchak Blau "Body and Soul: Tehiyyat ha-Metim and Gilgulim in Medieval and Modern Philosophy", The Torah U-Madda Journal, Volume 10, 2001 (Modern Orthodox perspective)



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