A few days ago I published an article on The Myth of An After-Life in which I wrote that traditional Judaism accepts the idea of an olam ha-ba, a world and a life to come, after one’s death. And I mentioned that the three branches of liberal Judaism do not accept that idea.
I wrote, and I believe, that it was invented by early Pharisaic scholars to offer comfort to those who mourned the loss of loved ones by assuring them that they would eventually be re-united with them in an after-life in heaven.
Some readers disagreed with me and wrote their criticisms which I accept. Each is entitled to a personal belief or opinion. One reader, however, accused me of being an ignoramus and supplied me with the names of two physicians, allegedly well-known, who could prove that there is indeed an after-life.
When criticism is founded upon fact I accept it. Without living proof, I criticize the criticism of the reader. I know of cases when a person who has been declared dead for a few minutes may be resuscitated. I have heard tales of people following surgery who revealed that they saw loved ones in a heaven from which they had just returned. I do not accept that medical conclusion of a life after death.
I replied to the reader that when he ascends to heaven he should send me an e-mail describing life in heaven. I suggested also that he should convert to Islam where, as a good Muslim, he would find 72 young virgins awaiting his arrival in paradise.
My writing is based upon 52 years as a professor of biblical literature and religion. I found very little plausible explanations in Torah and Talmud which point to a realistic after-life or resurrection.
Interestingly and coincidentally, in today’s edition of The Times of Israel, there was a very well-written article on the myth of Resurrection written by Jeremy Rosen, a British Orthodox rabbi. I am pleased to be in such good company. Two rabbis who share the same opinion.
Judaism is filled with myths, bobbe-meises (old wives tales), and impossibilities. But it is a wisdom literature which offers comfort, hope and entertainment to those who read it. And to those who want to believe it. Or who need to believe it in order to survive the trauma of a death.
There are good people who believe that God can do everything and anything. He could not prevent the Shoah, a Holocaust which destroyed six million Jewish lives, among them some of our greatest rabbis and scholars.
God must exist in the natural world, not in the supernatural. He does not change the laws of nature. Prayers for unnatural miracles are in vain. If I toss a ball up into the air and pray that it will stay there my prayer would disappoint me when the laws of gravity force the ball to fall down.
Rational people must believe in rational cause. A religion which is based upon unproven ideas is not acceptable.
I believe in God with all my heart, soul and might. I pray to Him daily. I cannot see Him but I can see His creation and His handiwork, so I believe in an unseen God. I cannot see the wind but I can feel it. When I see the leaves falling from trees, when I see strong trees shaking and bending in the wind I know that God is the Creator of the wind. Unseen but definitely there.
I do criticize criticism when it is based solely upon unproven ideas. The idea of an after-life or Rabbi Rosen’s negation of the physical resurrection is interesting but, like he, I do not accept them.
Let the physicians concern themselves with healing the body. Leave the soul to the theologians.