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The Jewish Conception of Heaven

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  • The Jewish Conception of Heaven

    Muslims conceive of heaven as a quasi-physical hinterland with sweet, sensual pleasures forbid to us in life. Catholics conceive of it as a mystical vision of the divine. I'm curious: what do Jews and Noahides conceive of heaven as?
    Last edited by John West; 05-23-2019, 12:49 AM.

  • #2
    We believe in Olam HaBa, the World to Come. It's not the same as the Messianic Era. There are different interpretations of the approach and precious little about the territory. Note well: More important than these speculations is being close to HaShem -- today. Contemplate His necessary existence, His Oneness, His unique genus of ontology and why our language is useless there, why it's foolish to aim your supplications in any other direction. Observe the 7 Laws of Noah because it's the mandatory minimum He expects. This book covers a lot of ground.

    My favorite description is from a Rationalist student of Maimonides. I asked him what became of my christian ancestors and what will become of me. The part in boldface was simply shattering. Amazing thread:

    Originally posted by ShamanSTK
    Noahides gain immortality. Man has two telos. Telos qua man as a biological animal, and telos qua man as a rational animal. There's a hint of this in the creation story. When everything is being created, it is categorized as good. However, the culmination of the creation, it is categorized as abundantly good, or very good. That is because we have two natures. We have our nature as earthly beings, and we have our nature as divine beings. Our earthly beings are, as the philosophers noted, political animals. Earthly telos is the biological imperative. That we pursue existence in the way our bodies and minds were best prepared for. Wolves exist in packs, and humans in societies. A "bad" wolf is one who cannot live in a pack. A bad human is one who cannot exist in society. This is good because it seeks to imitate the divine insofar as he exists in the manner in which he was created. A higher good is the divine telos. G-d being the highest good, the divine telos is to direct our divine minds to him, to know him and to love him, and to live our lives in light of this knowledge.

    A person can be a good person and not gain immortality. They can function in society, be healthy, happy, and live a meaningful life. Even a laudable life insofar as they contribute to this society beyond what they take out of it. They reap their benefits in this world for their goodness because their goodness is for the purposes of this world and confined to it. When they die, they cease to exist. This is because, at their core, they are missing something about the world and their place in it and live fundamentally irrationally on that basis. They do not recognize that society exists in order to cultivate rational beings that recognize a creator and make their life more purposeful on that basis. In is no mistake that in the wake of existentialism, you see absurdism and dread. There's something fundamentally hollow about a mere physical existence.

    The theist recognizes his creator and his place in the world. And if he accepts the life style becoming of a theist, he is a Noahide. He lives his life rationally and achieves his telos as a rational being. The knowledge he obtains is eternal, and insofar as he incorporates this knowledge into his identity and being, he gains a share of that eternality. This is his share in the world to come. The only thing separating a Noahide from an observant and wise Jew is degree. A Jew accepts additional commandments in order to imbue his physical existence with more actions for the sake of G-d. While a Noahide may understand his place in the world to come and make his actions in conformity with that knowledge, a Jew may go a step beyond and eat only kosher for example so that it is clear to him at all times that when he eats, he does so in order that he may serve G-d. If even a high priest eats mindlessly and for his own sake, he is at a lower spiritual level than a wise Noahide who eats pork in order that he may be sustained to serve G-d according to the commandments of Noah.

    To answer your question in the other post, "what happens to my ancestors", the answer is that they can be good people, but if they are not theists or they are idolators, then they are in a similar position as the person who is a good person qua biological animal, but not good qua rational animal. That is because they are fundamentally wrong about the essence of existence and their place in the world. They never achieve the eternal knowledge that the theist achieves, and as such, their souls fail to share in their eternity.
    Originally posted by ShamanSTK
    I contend that I am not the same person I was before. In the system I am sketching out, it is only the good in me that survives into the world to come. In the Jewish tradition, there is a concept called gehinnom. To quote Steve Miller, "You know you got to go through hell before you get to heaven." In the biblical metaphor, gold represents the aspect of our souls which survive the "smelt" of gehinnom. The parts of my soul that are not for the sake of G-d will be metaphorically burned away when I die leaving only that which is pure, and my share in the world to come is the extent to which my chunk of ore contains gold. I don't believe the aspects of my past that cause me shame will survive into the world to come. And I don't believe the aspects of my soul which I have repented actually exist in actu even in the present. I am not the same person I was in my younger years. I wouldn't recognize him as me, and I probably wouldn't like him. That person has in effect already died, and I killed him through my repentance and growth. --The Essential ShamanSTK

    I'm currently perusing a book and several papers arguing that Maimonides was a Monopsychist. Can't confirm nor deny this yet. Apparently it was all the rage with Averroes and others at the time.

    There is nothing like the SHOCK of watching an Orthodox Rabbi discuss reincarnation. This is good news for everyone who blew it the first few times. At least one popular Noahide book discusses the likelihood of G-d reincarnating Gentiles until they merit Olam HaBa.

    Do We Get a Second Chance at Life? with Rabbi Michael Skobac

    Help From The Past by Tzvi Freeman
    .
    Saadia Gaon says YOLO

    "I didn't believe in reincarnation in my past life, and I still don't." Woody Allen


    Much-discussed is a purgatory-like rehab. "The Jewish mystics described a spiritual place called “Gehinnom.” This is usually translated as “Hell,” but a better translation would be “the Supernal Washing Machine.” Because that’s exactly how it works. The way our soul is cleansed in Gehinnom is similar to the way our clothes are cleansed in a washing machine."

    Why the Torah doesn't go into any detail about the World to Come
    Last edited by Bamidbar 22; 04-30-2019, 01:44 AM.

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    • #3
      There are a number of ways in which Jewish thinkers approach the issue. Obviously, I can only speak for Torah-observant, Orthodox Jews, but even within Orthodoxy there are a few schools of thought, both concerning the nature of the reward and punishment meted out after death as well as the ultimate fate of souls.

      To start with, there are alot of people, most of whom fall roughly in the antirationalist camp, believe that "elsewhere", those who died are reunited with some aspect or another of their earthly bodies. This is based on a parable attributed to R. Judah the Prince in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 91a) which goes as follows:

      "A flesh-and-blood king has a beautiful orchard laden with luscious fruit. He appoints two guards, one lame and the other blind. The lame one says to the blind one: I see luscious fruit in the orchard. Put me on your shoulders and we will gather and eat. The lame man is hoisted up by the blind man, and they go to the fruit and eat. The owner of the orchard appears one day and asks: Where is my luscious fruit? The lame guard answers: Do I have legs to walk? The blind guard answers: Do I have eyes to see? What did [the king] do? He placed the lame guard on the shoulders of the blind guard and judged them as one. So God takes the soul, injects it into the body, and judges them as one."

      The rationalists, led by Maimonides, reject this sort of physical reward and punishment, and maintain that the reward and punishment received in the world to come is of a purely similar nature. They have Talmudic backing (Berachot 17a) as well: "In the World to Come there is no eating nor drinking nor propagation nor business nor jealousy nor hatred nor competition, but the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads feasting on the brightness of the divine presence."

      I have to go for now, but whenever I get the time I hope to return to this thread and contribute some more material, particularly with regards to hell and reincarnation.
      Last edited by Abraham; 04-30-2019, 02:35 AM.

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      • #4
        Thank you for the replies so far.

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        • #5
          Bamidbar 22 and Abraham I've changed the title and original post to reflect my true question. I have no idea why I used the general “afterlife”. The original version of the question had “paradise”.

          Bamidbar 22 As for monopsychism, I think it's an interesting thesis, but what is the exact sense of it? The most obvious interpretation has equally obvious problems (e.g. you and I have contradictory beliefs, inclinations, etc.)

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          • #6
            I've read more than a few books about Maimonides and most of what he's written. The first I heard of Monopsychism was a book by Alfred Ivry. His paper Conjunction In And Of Maimonides And Averroes covers the same ground. It's not your grandfather's immortality:

            Originally posted by Sarah Pessin
            In their idea of the active intellect, the Islamic philosophical tradition—and Maimonides in its wake—finds not only the grounding mechanism for human knowledge and prophecy, but for immortality as well. In the context of Aristotle's De Anima 3.5 remarks about an eternal cosmic principle which is the perfected reality of the human intellect set free from its body, various traditions of Islamic philosophy explain immortality in terms of a person's truest nature (viz. his intellect) living on eternally in (or, as) the reality of active intellect. Keeping in mind that there are important differences which arise on questions of individual, or personal, immortality between various Islamic thinkers (Avicenna upholds a sense of individualization after death in contrast to Averroes; see e.g. Pines 1963, cii-ciii; Stroumsa 2009, 181), and leaving debates over Maimonides' own exact position on this question aside (Pines and Stroumsa identify Maimonides’ position as agreeing with Averroes on this matter; see Pines 1963, cii; Stroumsa 2009, 181), we can summarily say that Maimonides follows in the spirit of understanding the afterlife in terms of the human intellect's relationship—individual or otherwise—to the active intellect. In effect, the afterlife is here understood as the human intellect's ultimate return to and joining with the cosmic active intellect.
            It might be controversial to attribute non-personal immortality to Maimonides, but it seems clear that immortality is attained through knowledge on his view.

            Originally posted by Menachem Kellner
            Correct knowledge concerning G-d is the only key to immortality. Essential elements in this knowledge are taught and explained in the first five principles. ... Understanding those truths constitutes enough intellectual perfection to guarantee a share in the world to come. The other principles teach truths, of course, but of a type different from the first group.
            Only Truth is eternal. Incorporating it into your intellect actualizes your highest potential as a rational animal. This is the part of you that survives the hiccup of death. Does it include the chunk that likes Bruckner? How could it? That would involve change in the active intellect. How could it not? Then "you" don't survive at all.

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            • #7
              Monopsychism seems to make hash of immortality. It becomes trivial, like surviving through one's children, or living on in the memory of others, or your carbon being redistributed. I'm wondering if Ivry's book isn't trying to pigeonhole Maimonides, who has passages that are very difficult to reconcile with impersonal merger eschatologies:

              Originally posted by Maimonides
              We have already explained… that after death one cannot acquire or add to one’s perfection. One can acquire perfection and add to one’s degree of perfection in this world. Solomon alluded to this in saying: for there is neither deed nor reckoning, neither knowledge nor wisdom in the grave, where you are going (Kohelet 9:10). Rather, in that condition in which one travels one will remain for eternity. Therefore, a person should make every effort in this short and minimal time… for its loss is terrible and it has no replacement and there is no possibility of making up for it. Because the Sages knew this, they were scrupulous to spend their time only in study and adding to wisdom. In truth, they used well all of their time and did not waste it on material matters – (investing) only a short time in that which was impossible to avoid. (Cited here)

              The urgency makes no sense with monopsychism. You need to do everything you can to assure yourself the best seats in the World to Come. That different "degrees of perfection" (attainable in this life) determine how one persists in the next requires a robust type of individuation -- which is exactly what monopsychism isn't.

              Nachmanides was critical of Maimonides' conception. You could say he was more down to earth.

              Saadia Gaon's contrasting view of reward and punishment.
              Last edited by Bamidbar 22; 05-29-2019, 06:28 AM.

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              • #8
                Yes, I was thinking of asking about squaring some going to heaven and others going to hell with monopsychism.

                Out of curiosity, is Maimonides's view of material individuation the same as Aquinas's?

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by John West
                  is Maimonides's view of material individuation the same as Aquinas's?
                  I'm seeking a source who knows them both, rather than a lot about one and the other only peripherally. In theory, their differences should be cosmetic. They're Classical Theist Aristotelians who accept the Divinity of the TaNaKh. Sometimes it seems like they're both running Windows but one has 98 and one has Vista. I was exploring their differing views on what we can say about G-d when I found Ivry's book, which I have mixed feelings about.. (Compared to Ken Seeskin or Jose Faur.)


                  Maimonides was the ultimate Rationalist, right? Not so fast. If intellectual contemplation of G-d = prayer, this forum appears in a whole new light. We're not a bunch of philosophy nerds. We're approaching an advanced degree of spirituality by virtue of exploring these questions:

                  Originally posted by David Blumenthal
                  In this type of spirituality, one concentrates on abstract thinking, on pondering the most abstract and simple of concepts. But, and this is crucial, as one does this, one places oneself in the presence of God. In intellectual contemplation, one ponders the highest metaphysical concepts and one resides in the Divine presence. Intellectual contemplation ("worship," "passion"), thus, comes after the intellectual love of God, though it is rooted in, and grows from, the intellectual love of God. Intellectual contemplation is, thus, a step beyond intellectual love. It is the moment when thought fades into mystical experience. It is the transition from thinking-about-God to being-in-the-presence of God. It is a mystical moment or, more appropriately, a mystical-intellectual way of being in the world. Maimonides' Philosophic Mysticism
                  Testify.

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                  • #10
                    What in the World is the World to Come?

                    The Lowdown on Reincarnation

                    A Rationalist says YOLO:

                    Originally posted by ShamanSTK
                    What about reincarnation? We have to ask what makes a soul eternal. That would be knowledge of the divine. If the soul is capable of reincarnation, that implies the soul is capable of surviving death without this knowledge. This begs two questions. What is a soul absent anything about the person? And what benefit is knowing G-d? If the soul is a substance that is only accidentally related to a body such that it does not require the body to come into existence and be whisked around body to body, why bother learning about G-d? The soul will exist eternally anyway, and if it is going to go body to body, you can bank on a future you doing a better job. And what is this soul that does not appear to be related to knowledge or identity? In the system I sketched out above, the soul is the part of me that knows G-d, and when I die, it continues to exist and it is me that knows G-d. If your soul is neither knowledge nor identity, what is it that is reincarnated? What is it that survives death? When an idolator dies, is it really them that are reincarnated. When that person loves G-d, are all of them brought to olam haba? Do they wake up in olam haba with multiple identities some of which hate G-d? Does only the identity that loves G-d have a share in olam haba? If so, what's the difference between the others dying, and again, what is it that is reincarnated time and time again? I don't believe these questions have any good answers.

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