Unlike the concept of Heaven in Islam, as discussed yesterday, there is no definite concept in Judaism. Simply put, many sources say that Heaven is paradise and Hell is torturous, and many concepts are parallel to Christian teachings (which as previously discussed vary just as much within the religion). However, the Torah is inconsistent in its dealing of the subject of death, suggesting that physical death is the end of life. Despite this, there is talk of Sheol, an underworld of shadows where all the dead go after death – perhaps most reminiscent to Hades in my mind though by no means as detailed.
However, as Jews began to speculate about the end of days, so the concept of life after death came into discussion and many theories arose, particularly when Jews were thrust into various crises. Because how could the God of Israel allow them to suffer like this in life? Surely there must then be some reward yet to come?
Rabbis use the term Olam Ha-Ba to refer to the afterlife, although this is often used interchangeably with Gan Eden – the Garden of Eden. Referring to Heaven as the Garden of Eden suggests that after death we return to the peaceful existence of Adam and Eve before the fall. Whether it is here that souls will dwell after the Messiah returns and they are resurrected, or if they can be admitted before then, is unclear.
Similarly to Islam where only those who died in battle go directly to Heaven, it is suggested that only the truly righteous can go straight to Gan Eden. The majority will go to Gehinnom – commonly translated as Hell – where they will spend a year in purgatory atoning for their sins before being allowed entrance to Gan Eden. There is little to say what will happen to the souls who do not atone: perhaps they will be destroyed completely or perhaps they will be damned for eternity.
Mystical schools of thought in comparison suggest that there are seven heavens, each one governed by an angel. Others suggest that righteous souls are reborn as part of an on-going progress which enables the world to be continuously cleansed, an explanation perhaps to how every soul was present at Mount Sinai and agreed to the covenant of God.
Even today the schools of thought are divided. Modern thinkers have been inclined to return to the Biblical way and focus on life on earth, but a rise in mysticism is also developing new thoughts on the afterlife.