By Marlena Tanya Muchnick
LDS Author, Speaker, bookseller
Part of a series on Core Values of Judaism
Reincarnation, or the time when the spirit of a deceased person lives again in another form, dimension, other abode, is a central tenet of all major religions. Judaism and many forms of Christianity do not teach that the spirit returns in a newborn body, but instead that spirit progresses on to another existence that lasts forever, and that they never return to this earth.
The idea of reincarnation is a subject found only in Jewish mysticism and is not ruled out. Called Gilgul, it means rolling over. It is an opportunity to do teshuvah – repentance for previous transgressions or to complete a task or mission. It is not mentioned in Talmud but belongs to the Zohar text. If we are obedient and do good deeds in this life we receive merit in the afterlife and we may have to return here again after death as a reincarnated soul. This is not a punishment. It is another chance given by God to right all the wrongs committed here and not repented of, or left uncompleted. In Jewish liturgy, women do not have the obligations of men, they have fewer obligations. She reincarnates for the sake of the man. If he is sinful, finding her again is delayed.
From an e-article in Chabad.org: “The conception of an after-life is fundamental to the Jewish religion; it is an article of faith in the Jews’ creed. The denial of the after-life constitutes a denial of the cornerstone of the faith. This concept is not merely an added detail that may lose its significance in some advanced age. It is an essential and enduring principle. Indeed, the Mishnah (Sanhedrin X, 1) expressly excludes from the reward of the “world beyond” he who holds that the resurrection of the dead is without biblical warrant. Maimonides considers this belief one of the 13 basic truths which every Jew is commanded to hold.”
The Jewish belief is that life continues after death. The afterlife is called: Olam Ha-ba – the world to come, a state of higher being. In the Mishnah, an early written compilation of Jewish oral tradition, the basis of the Talmud, it quotes a rabbi as saying “This world is like the eve of Shabbat, and the Olam Ha-Ba is like Shabbat. He who prepares on the eve of Shabbat will have food to eat on Shabbat.” We prepare ourselves for the Olam Ha-Ba through Torahstudy and good deeds.
There is a great deal of room left for personal opinion because, though the Jews believe that the souls of the deceased are taken to a heavenly or a hellish location, they have no set dogma to follow. Many orthodox Jews believe that the wicked are tormented by their own deeds or that they are destroyed after death. Following my father’s death my rabbi told me that the dead live on in the hearts and memories of those who love them.
Belief in the resurrection of souls may stem from the teachings of the 13 Principles of Faith, compiled by Nachmanides (Maimonides) the Spanish physician and Torah scholar. He was strongly mystical and his writings incorporated the teachings of another Jewish book, the Kabbalah. But he refuted Christianity and the idea of a Christian paradise.
To quote from the Judaism 101 website: “Some people look at these teachings and deduce that Jews try to “earn our way into Heaven” by performing the mitzvot (commandment). This is a gross mischaracterization of our religion. It is important to remember that unlike some religions, Judaism is not focused on the question of how to get into heaven. Judaism is focused on life and how to live it. Non-Jews frequently ask me, “do you really think you’re going to go to Hell if you don’t do such-and-such?” It always catches me a bit off balance, because the question of where I am going after death simply doesn’t enter into the equation when I think about the mitzvot. We perform the mitzvot because it is our privilege and our sacred obligation to do so. We perform them out of a sense of love and duty, not out of a desire to get something in return. In fact, one of the first bits of ethical advice in Pirkei Avot (a book of the Mishnah) is: “Be not like servants who serve their master for the sake of receiving a reward; instead, be like servants who serve their master not for the sake of receiving a reward, and let the awe of Heaven [meaning God, not the afterlife] be upon you.”
Of course, non-Jews also have a place in the Olam Ha-ba. But in general, Jews definitely believe that our place in the afterlife is determined by our thoughts and our behavior in this life. We may have to undergo a period of purification because as it states in Alma 40:26:
But behold, an awful death cometh upon the wicked; for they die as to things pertaining to things of righteousness; for they are unclean, and no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of God; but they are cast out, and consigned to partake of the fruits of their labors or their works, which have been evil; and they drink the dregs of a bitter cup.
I am grateful to know that Latter-day Saints teach the true meaning of the atonement of Jesus Christ – that through his sacrifice for us the righteous spirits reside in a place of joy and peace – Paradise. Those who are unrighteous in earth life are held in a spirit prison until the Judgment, when they are assigned to a dimension of eternity which will reflect their measure of spiritual achievement, but which will deny them the greatest glories.
To read more on this subject, click on www.LDS.org and choose Plan of Salvation:
In the premortal existence, Heavenly Father prepared a plan to enable us to become like Him and receive a fulness of joy. The scriptures refer to this plan as “the plan of salvation” (Alma 24:14; Moses 6:62), “the great plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8), “the plan of redemption” (Jacob 6:8; Alma 12:30), and “the plan of mercy” (Alma 42:15). The plan of salvation is the fulness of the gospel. It includes the Creation, the Fall, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and all the laws, ordinances, and doctrines of the gospel. Moral agency, the ability to choose and act for ourselves, is also essential in Heavenly Father’s plan. Because of this plan, we can be perfected through the Atonement, receive a fulness of joy, and live forever in the presence of God. Our family relationships can last throughout the eternities.
For more information on this subject, contact me at [email protected]
Marlena Tanya Muchnick