The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body is not expressly taught as a philosophical doctrine in Tanach, and there are several different views on the manner in which the soul persists after death of the body:
- Soul resides in Sheol after death
- Soul resides with God in Heaven after death
- Soul resides eternally in body after resurrection
- Soul persists eternally but without individuality
- Soul transmigrates to another body after death
Nevertheless, the prevailing rabbinical conception of the future world is that of the world of resurrection, not that of pure immortality. Resurrection became the dogma of Judaism, fixed in the Mishnah (Sanh. x. 1) and in the liturgy ("Elohai Neshamah" and "Shemoneh 'Esreh"), just as the Church knows only of a future based upon the resurrection; whereas immortality remained merely a philosophical assumption. When therefore Maimonides ("Yad," Teshubah, viii. 2) declared, with reference to Ber. 17a, quoted above, that the world to come is entirely spiritual, one in which the body and bodily enjoyments have no share, he met with strong opposition on the part of Abraham of Posquières, who pointed in his critical annotations ("Hassagot RABaD") to a number of Talmudical passages (Shab. 114a; Ket. 111a; Sanh. 91b) which leave no doubt as to the identification of the world to come ("'olam ha-ba") with that of the resurrection of the body.
In Jewish Philosophy.
The medieval Jewish philosophers without exception recognized the dogmatic character of the belief in resurrection, while on the other hand they insisted on the axiomatic character of the belief in immortality of the soul (see Albo, "'Iḳḳarim," iv. 35-41). Saadia made the dogma of the resurrectionpart of his speculation ("Emunot we-De'ot," vii. and ix.); Judah ha-Levi ("Cuzari," i. 109) accentuated more the spiritual nature of the future existence, the bliss of which consisted in the contemplation of God; whereas Maimonides, though he accepted the resurrection dogma in his Mishnah commentary (Sanh. xi.; comp. his monograph on the subject, "Ma'amar Teḥiyyat ha-Metim"), ignored it altogether in his code ("Yad," Teshubah, viii.); and in his "Moreh" (iii. 27, 51-52, 54; comp. "Yad," Yesode ha-Torah, iv. 9) he went so far as to assign immortality only to the thinkers, whose acquired intelligence ("sekel ha-niḳneh"), according to the Aristotelians, becomes part of the "active divine intelligence," and thus attains perfection and permanence. This Maimonidean view, which practically denies to the soul of man personality and substance and excludes the simple-minded doer of good from future existence, is strongly combated by Ḥasdai Crescas ("Or Adonai," ii. 5, 5; 6, 1) as contrary to Scripture and to common sense; he claims, instead, immortality for every soul filled with love for God, whose very essence is moral rather than intellectual, and consists in perfection and goodness rather than in knowledge (comp. also Gersonides, "Milḥamot ha-Shem," i. 13; Albo, "'Iḳḳarim," iv. 29). Owing to Crescas, and in opposition to Leibnitz's view that without future retribution there could be no morality and no justice in the world, Spinoza ("Ethics," v. 41) declared, "Virtue is eternal bliss; even if we should not be aware of the soul's immortality we must love virtue above everything."
While medieval philosophy dwelt on the intellectual, moral, or spiritual nature of the soul to prove its immortality, the cabalists endeavored to explain the soul as a light from heaven, after Prov. xx. 27, and immortality as a return to the celestial world of pure light (Baḥya b. Asher to Gen. i. 3; Zohar, Terumah, 127a). But the belief in the preexistence of the soul led the mystics to the adoption, with all its weird notions and superstitions, of the Pythagorean system of the transmigration of the soul (see Transmigration of Souls). Of this mystic view Manasseh ben Israel also was an exponent, as his "Nishmat Ḥayyim" shows.
It was the merit of Moses Mendelssohn, the most prominent philosopher of the deistic school in an era of enlightenment and skepticism, to have revived by his "Phædon" the Platonic doctrine of immortality, and to have asserted the divine nature of man by presenting new arguments in behalf of the spiritual substance of the soul (see Kayserling, "Moses Mendelssohn," 1862, pp. 148-169). Thenceforth Judaism, and especially progressive or Reform Judaism, emphasized the doctrine of immortality, in both its religious instruction and its liturgy (see Catechisms; Conferences, Rabbinical), while the dogma of resurrection was gradually discarded and, in the Reform rituals, eliminated from the prayer-books. Immortality of the soul, instead of resurrection, was found to be "an integral part of the Jewish creed" and "the logical sequel to the God-idea," inasmuch as God's faithfulness "seemed to point, not to the fulfilment of the promise of resurrection" given to those that "sleep in the dust," as the second of the Eighteen Benedictions has it, but to "the realization of those higher expectations which are sown, as part of its very nature, in every human soul" (Morris Joseph, "Judaism as Creed and Life," 1903, pp. 91 et seq.). The Biblical statement "God created man in his own image" (Gen. i. 27) and the passage "May the soul . . . be bound in the bundle of life with the Lord thy God" (I Sam. xxv. 29, Hebr.), which, as a divine promise and a human supplication, filled the generations with comfort and hope (Zunz, "Z. G." p. 350), received a new meaning from this view of man's future; and the rabbinical saying, "The righteous rest not, either in this or in the future world, but go from strength to strength until they see God on Zion" (Ber. 64a. after Ps. lxxxiv. 8 [A. V.]), appeared to offer an endless vista to the hope of immortality.
Bibliography: Alger, Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life, with bibliography by Ezra Abbot, New York, 1867; Charles, in Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl. s.v. Eschatology; Formstecher, Beiträge zur Entwicklungsgesch. des Begriffs der Unsterblichkeit der Seele, in Geiger's Wiss. Zeit. Jüd. Theol. iii. 231-249; Hamburger, R. B. T. s.v. Unsterblichkeit; Hastings, Dict. Bible, s.v. Eschatology; Herzog-Hauck, Real-Encyc. s.v. Unsterblichkeit; Manasseh ben Israel, Nishmat Ḥayyim, Amsterdam. 1652; L. Philippson, Israelitische Religionslehre, 1862, ii. 231-270; Paul Volz, Jüdische Eschatologie von Daniel bis Akiba, 1903; F. Weber, System der Altsynagogalen Palästinischen Theologie, Leipsic, 1880, Index.