Soul Survivor

Jewish sources don't deal extensively with the question of an afterlife, but Jews believe that in some form a soul lives on.

BY: Rabbi David Wolpe

 

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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.

Bodies rising from the grave might conjure visions of a horror movie. Yet defenders of resurrection project a hopeful renewal of life. The Talmud argues that if God can fashion human beings from nothing, God ought to be able to re-fashion them from dust. Moreover, part of who we truly are includes our bodies. We are not ghost-like creatures rattling around in cages of flesh; our bodies are integral parts of ourselves. When our bodies change, so do we: Just ask any adolescent. So when we are in perfect form, should we not be reunited with our bodies?

What age we will be when resurrected, or how an injured body will be healed, are open questions. The difficulty of this and related issues lead many to prefer a less "embodied" afterlife, a belief in the immortality of the soul, not the body.

This idea also exists in Judaism. Souls are the durable part of us, and it is the soul that lives on.

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