Jewish Concept of Heaven
from What Does Judaism Say About.?" Louis Jacobs
We have all heard about the Islam concept of heaven, especially for martyrs. They go to a heaven with 72 virgins, one of the motivating forces for people to become suicide bombers.
We Jews, on the other hand, have no such notions. When we die, we believe in "the world to come," or Olam ha-Ba.) There are two theories that rabbis have had. One is the resurrection of the dead and second, the immortality of the soul. The original doctrine was that when a man dies, he is truly dead. His "soul," is also "dead," until after the Messianic Age when it is reunited with his body after being raised from the grave. When the man died his soul lived on in Heaven until they are to be reunited. Orthodox Judaism accepts the combined beliefs. "The world to come" refers to the immortality of the soul or the resurrection of the dead.
Reform Judaism accepts only the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. Maimonides said that the resurrection will be only a temporal one and that eventually they will return to dust and the soul will remain immortal. Some modern people feel that the immortality of the soul is a Greek belief, and that what survives is the whole personality of man. Some therefore reject the beliefs in bodily resurrection and in Hell and Paradise as places for everlasting punishment and reward.
Maimonides said in his code that "there are no bodies or bodily forms, but only souls of the righteous who are like the ministering angels. There is no eating or drinking or anything which the human body needs in the world. There is no need for sitting, standing, sleep, death, distress, laughter, or procreation. The righteous sit with their crowns on their heads and bask in the radiance of the Divine Presence."
For others, being good and accepting this kind of reward is just not rewarding enough to motivate them. They want to hear that they will eat and drink and have beautiful women and wear garments of fine linen and embroidery and live in marble palaces and have vessels of silver and gold. Our sages felt that this is vain and nonsensical and has no value and are only great for people who are alive. All that has to do with the needs of the body, but we won’t have a body. Since all we know now is material pleasures, it is that that we desire now. It’s difficult to imagine the great goodness which the soul experiences in the world to come. That good is great beyond all our understanding and incomparable beyond all our imagination.
Man has questioned how humans survive after death since our mind is dependent on his brain. In this life, we need a brain. There may be other ways that the mind or soul function in the Hereafter.