Resurrection in Judaism

Resurrection
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By the first century B.C.E. the belief in postmortem resurrection was an important part of Rabbinic Judaism. The ancient rabbis believed that at the end-of-days the dead would be brought back to life, a view that some Jews still hold today.

Though resurrection has played an important role in Jewish eschatology, as with Olam Ha Ba, Gehenna, and Gan Eden, Judaism does not have a definitive answer to the question of what happens after we die.

Resurrection in the Torah

In traditional Jewish thought, resurrection is when God brings the dead back to life. Resurrection occurs three times in the Torah.

In 1 Kings 17:17-24 the prophet Elijah asks God to resurrect the recently deceased son of the widow with whom he is staying. "[Elijah] said to her, 'Give me your son.' Then he...called to the Lord and said, 'O Lord my God, have You also brought calamity to the widow with whom I am staying, by causing her son to die?' Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to the Lord and said, 'O Lord my God, I pray You, let this child's life return to him.' The Lord heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived."

Instances of resurrection are likewise recorded in 2 Kings 4:32-37 and 2 Kings 13:21. In the first case, the prophet Elisha asks God to revive a young boy. In the second case, a man is resurrected when his body is cast into Elisha's grave and touches the prophet's bones.

Rabbinic Proofs for Resurrection

There are numerous texts that record rabbinic discussions about resurrection. For instance, in the Talmud, a rabbi will be asked where the doctrine of resurrection comes from and will answer the question by citing supporting texts from the Torah.

Sanhedrin 90b and 91b provide an example of this formula.

When Rabbi Gamliel was asked how he knew God would resurrect the dead he replied:

"From the Torah: for it is written: 'And the Lord said to Moses, Behold you shall sleep with your fathers; and this people will rise up' [Deuteronomy 31:16]. From the Prophets: as it is written: 'Your dead men shall live, together with my dead bodies shall they arise. Awake and sing, you that dwell in the dust; for your dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out its dead.' [Isaiah 26:19]; from the Writings: as it is written, 'And the roof of your mouth, like the best wine of my beloved, like the best wine, that goes down sweetly, causing the lips of those who are asleep to speak' [Song of Songs 7:9]." (Sanhedrin 90b)

Rabbi Meir also answered this question in Sanhedrin 91b, saying: "As it is said: 'Then will Moses and the children of Israel sing this song unto the Lord' [Exodus 15:1]. It is not said 'sang' but 'will sing'; hence the Resurrection is deducible from the Torah."

Who Will Be Resurrected?

In addition to discussing proofs for the doctrine of resurrection, the rabbis also debated the question of who would be resurrected at the end of days. Some rabbis maintained that only the righteous would be resurrected.

"Resurrection is for the righteous and not the wicked," says Taanit 7a. Others taught that everyone – Jews and non-Jews, righteous and wicked – would live again.

In addition to these two opinions, there was the idea that only those who died in the Land of Israel would be resurrected. This concept proved problematic as Jews emigrated outside Israel and an increasing number of them consequently died in other parts of the world. Did this mean that even righteous Jews would not be resurrected if they died outside of Israel? In response to this question it became customary to bury a person in the land where they died, but to then rebury the bones in Israel once the body had decomposed.

Another response taught that God would transport the dead to Israel so they could be resurrected in the Holy Land.

"God will make underground passages for the righteous who, rolling through them...will get to the Land of Israel, and when they get to the Land of Israel, God will restore their breath to them," says Pesikta Rabbati 1:6. This concept of the righteous dead rolling underground to the Land of Israel is called "gilgul neshamot," which means "cycle of souls" in Hebrew.

Sources

"Jewish Views of the Afterlife" by Simcha Raphael. Jason Aronson, Inc: Northvale, 1996.

"The Jewish Book of Why" by Alfred J. Kolatch. Jonathan David Publishers Inc.: Middle Village, 1981.

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Pelaia, Ariela. "Resurrection in Judaism." ThoughtCo, May. 15, 2017, thoughtco.com/jewish-view-of-resurrection-2076764. Pelaia, Ariela. (2017, May 15). Resurrection in Judaism. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/jewish-view-of-resurrection-2076764 Pelaia, Ariela. "Resurrection in Judaism." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/jewish-view-of-resurrection-2076764 (accessed October 17, 2017).