Israel Drazin


Many scholars are convinced that no book of the Hebrew Bible, with the possible
exception of the biblical book Daniel 12:2-3,
speaks about life after death, and feel certain that the various ideas about
the after-life were taken from pagan notions.  Daniel states that “those
who sleep in the dust will awake.” This may refer to the people as a whole who
would be able to defeat their Syrian Greek oppressors and be a free nation
again. Be this as it may, the second century BCE was when the concept of an
afterlife entered Judaism. This was a period of oppression by Syrian Greeks and
the people were hoping for a time when they would no longer be oppressed. The
idea was favored by the Pharisees, a group of Jews that arose at that time, and
it was strongly objected to by the more conservative Sadducees.


The Mishnah and Talmuds, composed between 200 CE and 550, discuss the afterlife briefly.
Remarkably, contrary to the belief held by most very Orthodox Jews, the Talmud
does not say that a person should spend his day studying Torah and would be rewarded
for the study with the afterlife. The Talmud says instead that Torah should
lead to proper behavior, and it is the proper behavior that assures an


Many people think that the most unusual idea about the afterlife is the notion of reincarnation,
also called “transmigration of souls,” “metempsychosis,” and gilgul, a Hebrew term meaning
“circularity,” the belief, in its most extreme iteration, that when people die,
their souls are transferred to another person, animal, vegetation, or even a
rock; however, some believers felt that reincarnation was restricted to humans.
Reincarnation did not appear in Judaism until it was mentioned in the mystical
book Sefer ha-Bahir, which scholars
date to the twelfth century. It is a mystical notion, alien to rational


The concept spread and became widely accepted. It was expanded in the late thirteenth century
mystical book Zohar where
reincarnation is sometimes a punishment, but it is also a process whose goal is
purification. People who don’t behave properly live again after their death and
are given another chance. Some believed that people were only given three
chances. If they continued to fail, they were sent to hell. Others, like the
Zohar, thought that more than three chances were given. Virtually no one
claimed they could foretell which body would get a preexisting soul. However, some
mystics, such as the sixteenth century Isaac Luria, were convinced that
multiple souls could inhabit a person because family members want to stick
together. Many Jews, who do not realize the late appearance of the idea of
reincarnation into Judaism and that it is mystical and not rational,
incorrectly think that this is a basic Jewish teaching.