Jewish sources don't deal extensively with the question of an afterlife, but Jews believe that in some form a soul lives on.
Q: Is there life after death?
A question that often recurs is whether Jews believe in an afterlife. It is a question of much fascination to people today, though the Bible says little about what happens after a person dies, and Jewish tradition does not provide many clear-cut answers either.
In caves all over Europe and Africa are remains of our ancient ancestors, with disintegrated tools and clothes their only company. The earliest human rituals are burial rituals, and they prepare the corpse for another world.
Belief in life after death is as old as humanity. But does Judaism believe in it? And if so, what kind of world do we expect?
The Bible is discreet on the matter. (Yet biblical Jews knew about the idea of life after death. How do we know that? Answer at the bottom of the column.)
There are some hints at life after death. At least two biblical characters--Enoch and Elijah--do not die. At the end of his life, Enoch "walks with God," and Elijah is carried off into the sky. In the book of Samuel, Saul, with the help of a witch, brings Samuel back from his place insheol,
a shadowy underworld where Samuel seems to be resting. But on the whole, the Bible does not spend much time on the next life. This life, it seems to be saying, is complex enough.
The Bible has a point. When people begin to dabble in mysteries, they sound confused.
Mark Twain writes in "Letters From Earth" that people imagine that after they die they will lie forever on green fields and listen to harp music; they would not want to do that for five minutes while alive, writes Twain, yet they imagine they will be happy doing it for eternity!
But the human spirit will not so easily give up wondering. Judaism evolved two ideas about what happens to us after we die.
The first involves physical, bodily resurrection. This idea can be traced biblically to the Book of Daniel, Chapter 12. Resurrection implies we will one day awake not as disembodied spirits but with actual bodies.