Jewish Resurrection of the Dead

When and how will the dead will be resurrected? The debate is old, but it has not been entirely resolved.

Print this page Print this page

[Hasdai] Crescas in The Light of the Lord (iii. 4) agrees with Nahmanides and discusses how the decomposed body will be reconstituted. It is not necessarily the case, says Crescas, that the same body the soul inhabited during its lifetime on earth will be given to it at the resurrection, but one that will have the same purpose. The identity of the individual will not be affected by this, since even during a person's life in this world the body suffers changes all the time.

[Joseph] Albo (Ikkarim, iv. 35) also agrees with Nahmanides and offers his speculations on how the new bodies will take form and shape. But Albo discourages too much speculation on what is by all accounts a miracle and a mystery. He quotes with approval the Talmudic saying: "We will consider the matter when they come to life again" (Niddah 70b).

As one might have expected, no perfectly coherent doctrine of the resurrection emerges from the medieval thinkers any more than it does from the Rabbinic literature.

Modern Views: Who Believes What

afterlife and messiah quizThe tendency among some of the medieval thinkers to play down the doctrine of the resurrection is evident in the modern period in even greater measure. Moses Mendelssohn believed in the immortality of the soul and wrote his treatise, Phaedon, on the topic but did not seem to believe in a physical resurrection.

Among many contemporary Jewish theologians there is a marked tendency to leave the whole question of eschatology without discussion, either because they do not believe in the Hereafter at all or because they believe that the finite mind of man is incapable of piercing the veil and it is best to leave the subject severely alone.

Orthodox theologians still maintain the belief in the resurrection and refer to it, as did their forebears, in their daily prayers and at funerals. In the special Kaddish recited by a son at the funeral of a parent there are explicit references to the resurrection of the dead. At the same time, memorial prayers recited by the Orthodox contain references to the soul of the departed being at rest beneath the wings of the Shekhinah [God's immanent presence].

Some Orthodox thinkers‑-very few, it must be said‑‑develop further the idea that the resurrection means of the soul not of the body. One of the Orthodox objections to cremation is on the grounds that it involves a denial of the doctrine of the resurrection.

Reform Judaism in the nineteenth century went the whole way in rejecting the doctrine of the resurrection in favor of that of the immortality of the soul. In Reform prayer books, passages in the traditional prayer book to the resurrection have either been deleted or interpreted as referring to immortality of the soul.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.