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AFTERLIFE
May 2005
Rabbi Monique Susskind Goldberg

Question

Dear Rabbi,

I am confused about the views within the Jewish religion/faith regarding the afterlife or anything similar to that. Or what becomes of one after we die, etc. Also, my niece recently asked me the question "does my kitten have a soul"? I am hoping that you might be able to give me some much needed assistance & guidance with both of these questions. Thank you so much for your time.

Answer

With respect to Jewish beliefs concerning afterlife, the following are a few points gathered from an article in Encyclopedia Judaica:

1) According to Rabbinic, Talmudic, and midrashic literature, when a man dies his soul leaves his body, but for the first twelve months it retains a temporary relationship to it, coming and going until the body has disintegrated.

2) This year remains a purgatorial period for the soul, or according to another view only for the wicked soul, after which the righteous go to paradise, Gan Eden, and the wicked to hell, Geihinnom .

3) In the days of the messianic redemption the soul returns to the dust, which is subsequently reconstituted as this body when the individual is resurrected. It is somewhat unclear whether the resurrection is for the righteous alone, or whether the wicked too will be temporarily resurrected only to be judged and destroyed.
The doctrine of the resurrection is a cornerstone of rabbinic eschatology, and separated the Pharisee from his Sadducee opponent in the Second Temple period.
4) The messianic reign is conceived of as a political and physical Utopia. At its end will be the world to come (olam ha-ba), when the righteous will sit in glory and enjoy the splendor of the Divine Presence in a world of purely spiritual bliss.
5) Even in modern times, Orthodox Judaism has, throughout, maintained both a belief in the future resurrection of the dead as part of the messianic redemption, as well as a belief in some form of immortality of the soul after death.
With respect to your niece's question, traditionally, Judaism does not accept the notion that animal have a soul, but from a personal experience, you can tell your niece that at least one Rabbi is convinced her cat does have a soul :-).

I hope I answered your questions,
Have a very good Pesah Holyday,

 
 
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Copyright 2009 The Schechter Institutes, Inc.
Box 3566, P.O.Box 8500, Philadelphia, PA, 19178-3566, tel: 1-866-830-3321
schechter@thelapingroup.com
Jerusalem Campus:
4 Avraham Granot St., Jerusalem, Israel, 91160, tel: 972-747-800-600,
pr@schechter.ac.il, www.schechter.edu