Jewish Belief on What Happens After Death

The Hebrew Bible emphasizes life on earth rather than the afterlife.
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The Hebrew Bible states: "For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten." (Ecclesiastes 9:5) Although traditional Judaism does articulate an afterlife through the concepts of Sheol and resurrection, it emphasizes the importance of life lived on earth rather than the afterlife. According to Judaic tradition, everyone shares the same fate, which is only changed with the messianic resurrection.

1 Dust to Dust

The phrase "dust to dust" comes from the Hebrew Bible and refers to the cycle of life, whereby bodily elements go back to where it first came from: ". . .all comes from dust, and to dust all return." (Ecclesiastes 3:20) Both life and death, is described as final, definitive and inevitable, and it is this finality of death that the Hebrew Bible emphasizes rather elaborate depictions of the afterlife.

2 Importance of Life

For Jews, the sheer unknown capacity of death and what follows can only be known by God. Therefore, the mysteries of death give way to the importance of the way life is lived on earth, rather than life's actions leading to a specific place in the afterlife (heaven or hell). This starkly departs from the way life and actions are viewed within Christianity and Islam, as both of those religions emphasize the temporariness of life compared to the afterlife, and the and the importance of heaven and hell.

3 Sheol

Within the Hebrew Bible, not many physical descriptions are given of the kind of underworld that the dead occupy. Referred to as Sheol, or the the place of "gloom and deep darkness" as described by Job (Job 10:21), Sheol is not hell or heaven, but rather a place where the dead are eventually sent to live. It is a neutral place where the dead wait until the resurrection, whereby "the dead shall live, their bodies will rise." (Isaiah 26:19).

4 Resurrection or Olam Ha-Ba

Olam ha-ba, which translated from Hebrew means "the world to come," is also a part of Jewish theology and refers to the restoration of Israel and a new world, which will follow the messianic period. In traditional Judaism, the messiah or the "anointed" one will be a leader who will arise from the Davidic line and restore Israel to its original glory and power. It is during this time, when the dead -- both good and wicked -- will be resurrected and given their due rewards or punishments: Those "who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt." (Daniel 12:2).

Jason Cristiano Ramon holds a doctorate in political science and a master's degree in philosophy. He has taught political science in China.