Traditional Judaism leaves room for interpretation about the afterlife, because the emphasis of the religion is on present life. Many believe that they will receive tangible rewards and punishments in their immediate lives, as opposed to theoretical rewards and punishments in the future.
As a result, there are three common beliefs for the afterlife:
- Olam Ha-Ba
Resurrection is a traditional Jewish belief that the dead will rise again, though it is only implied in the Torah, not explicitly stated. The belief in the resurrection refers to the prophecy of the messianic age, the time when the messiah comes, and the dead will literally be brought back to life and reunited with their immortal souls. In this traditional belief, only the righteous will experience resurrection and live in the new, perfected world.
Some others believe that instead of a single resurrection, righteous souls may be reincarnated. Some mystical schools of thought believe that righteous souls are continuously reborn to participate in the tikkun olam (mending of the world) because these good souls are necessary to make the world a better place. Some believe that only a few souls are reincarnated––those who have left things unfinished. Reincarnation is also sometimes used to explain how every Jewish soul was present at Mount Sinai to agree to God’s covenant, which is a traditional Jewish belief.
Olam Ha-Ba is Hebrew for the world to come, the spiritual afterlife where souls will experience a higher state of being. Unlike many other religions, Judaism does not teach people to live their lives in order to make it to the Olam Ha-Ba, but to live their lives to be good people. Righteous people perform the mitzvot because it is a sacred duty, as opposed to a way to make it into heaven. A person’s place in the Olam Ha-Ba is determined by one’s actions, which make him or her a righteous person.