Judaism, in contrast to Christianity does not make strong accent on the life after death and on the place the soul goes after a person dies. All the teaching of Christianity is based on the idea of reward or punishment, which must befall the person after death. Judaism, which became the source for Christianity has much less mentions about afterlife and reward and punishment. Secret texts of Judaism scarcely talk about afterlife while all Christian writings are filled in with the ideas of afterlife rendering. This can be explained by the very essence of Judaism, which centers on the here and now and teaches people to live right and conscious living not in the fear of punishment or in the anticipation of the reward, but rather directed by higher inner motives and principles. At the same time the ideas of the afterlife reward is in Christianity emerged as a compensation for the sufferings people face during their human existence.
The book of Mishnah, which contains ethical guideline of Judaism states: “Be not like servants who serve their master for the sake of receiving a reward; instead, be like servants who serve their master not for the sake of receiving a reward, and let the awe of Heaven be upon you.” (The book of Mishnah)
Such a difference in the approaches to the idea of afterlife and different meant put in it by two different religious partially explains the difference of concepts of hell and heaven in Christianity and Olam Ha-Ba and Gehinnom in Judaism.
Christian Heaven and Olam Ha-Ba
Despite Herbew Olam Ha-Ba has some similarities with Christian Heaven, there are much more things which make them different. In contrast to Christianity, Judaism doesn’t have any detailed descriptions of the place where people get after death. Mitvot or good deeds make the basement of the right life on the earth and they are more important than the thoughts about the afterlife. The term Olam Ha-Ba appears in the beginning of Common Era during the Hellenistic period. This term is used in two meanings. The first meaning is the messianic age which will start on the Earth and the second meaning is applied to talk about afterlife (Wylen). When it’s used in the meaning of afterlife in order to describe the place people get after their death it’s used as a synonym to the Gan Eden. The messianic age is a symbol of the transformation of the entire mankind. In Mishanah Olam Ha-Ba is described like a higher stage of earthy existence. “This world is like a lobby before the Olam Ha-Ba. Prepare yourself in the lobby so that you may enter the banquet hall.” (The Book of Mishnah) Talmud repeats this thought: “This world is like the eve of Shabbat, and the Olam Ha-Ba is like Shabbat. He who prepares on the eve of Shabbat will have food to eat on Shabbat.” So, our earthy existence in Judaism is regarded as the preparation and training before Olam Ha-Ba. The Earth is a place where humans study and get ready for next ideal world called Olam Ha-Ba. At the same time the stress is made in present life and doing good deeds during human existence. “Better one hour in repentance and good deeds in this world than all the life in the world to come. And better one hour of tranquility of spirit in the world to come than all the life of this world.”(Pirkei Avos, Chapters of the Fathers)
Beliefs about afterlife, which exist in Christianity, are partly adopted from Judaism. In the Bible there are a lot of explanations about the afterlife and Heaven. The Heaven is introduced like some better place, while our earthy existence is regarded as only the preparatory stage before this better life in Heaven. This ideas echo the ones adopted in Judaism. At the same time the Bible talks about the limited number of people, who will be able to get there. “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14) This idea is constantly repeated through the Bible and supported by all prominent Christian teachers. It stresses the fact that only those, who became liberated and cleansed, will be restored in heaven in their spirit and body. Faith in God and Jesus Christ becomes that pass, which will help to get in Heaven. This is possible only if the person believes in Christian God (Gardiner). By the way, in the Torah there is also the idea that Olam Ha-Ba or the world to come will be open for the people who practiced the right way of life and right way of life assumes Judaism faith (Rosmarin, 1997). There are a lot of arguments about the way people will look after they get to Heaven. The Bible talks about renewed bodies, which will be better than the ones we had before. “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:20-21)
The biblical Heavens also have some meanings. In the first meaning it’s used to described the stellar where all the planets and galaxies are situated. In other meaning the term Heaven is used as the place where God and angles reside. At the same time the heaven in this meaning is not a physical reality, it’s another dimension called spiritual reality. It’s physical world, which separates us from God but in this spiritual reality there is no separation and God and Heaven are always reachable.
The Difference between the Hell in Christianity and Jewish Gehinnom
The notions of Christian Hell and Jewish Gehinnom are also different. In Judaism there is no correspondence to the term hell in the meaning it is used in Christianity. In Christianity the Hell is described like the place where sinners get after death. The Herbew word Geninnom used to translate hell has different meaning. First of all it’s a real physical place. Gehinnome is a derivative from two words, which are translated like the valley of Hinom. This valley is situated to the south from Jerusalem. Initially the term Gehinnom was referred to any bad or terrible place but it did not say anything about sinners who got there. (Cohen) This can be explained by the fact that the Hinom valley, like the most of the valleys around Jerusalem was the place where the litter was brought and that is why it was not a very pleasant place to stay. The allegorical meaning of Gehinnom derives from the place where people scarified their children to the Ammonite god Moloch. The children were burnt and this story could have become the prototype for Christian hell where sinners are burnt in fire. So, “the dead bodies of the people who have rebelled against me” described in the Bible could be borrowed from Judaism but the meaning was changed.(The Book of Isaiah, 66:24)
Nowadays Gehinnom is described like a place, where unrighteous Jews and Gentiles get after death. There is also an opinion that the souls stay in Geninnom during 12 months after which they can go to Gan Eden. So, Gehinnom is only temporary punishment in contrast to Christianity. The main purpose of the Gehinnom is purification of the soul. After pain and punishment the soul gets another chance after all its spiritual imperfections are purged.
Tortures presented in Gehinnom are rather mental, in contrast to physical pain, which is the main treat in Christian Hell. This mental punishment consists of the state of guilt, sadness and anxiety caused by bad deeds created during earthy existence. Saturday is a special day, when souls are let to come close to God and feel his mercy. This helps them to understand their bad deeds and survive the torment of Gehinnom.
The school of Shammai tells about three groups people will be divided to in the Day of Judgement. These groups are completely righteous, completely wicked and mixed righteous and wicked people. Entirely righteous will obtain eternal life and enjoy the perfect existence. Completely wicked people will go to Gehinnom but they will not stay there forever. It’s mentioned that “I will bring the third part through fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried; they shall call on My name and I will hear them.” (Zech. xiii.9) The act of forgiveness will be the manifestation of the endless mercy of the Creator. There are wicked souls who can not be forgiven by any means (Coher). After twelve months of punishment the bodies of sinners will be destroyed but their souls will be burnt to ash. Those, who “denied the Resurrection, they who separated themselves from the ways of the community, they who set their dread in the land of the living,” will be turned to ash and have no chance to prolong their existence. Cohen, one of the greatest researches of Talmud talks about different motives of divine forgiveness. “The phrase is defined in the Talmud as ‘a president who instilled excessive fear into the community he governed, but not for the sake of Heaven,’ i.e. he did it for personal motives.” (Cohen, p.378) Those, who belong to the third class, i.e. people who did good and bad deeds during their lives will descend to Gesinnom and suffer there for the bad things they did and then ascend to the Gan Eden.
The concepts of Gehinnom and Olam Ha-Ba in Judaism differ from the concepts of Heaven and Hell in Christianity. The difference in the meaning of two terms reflects the differences in the bases of two religions. In Christianity the Hell and Heaven were developed in order to explain injustices of the world and give people hope of fear to obtain praise or punishment if they perceive the world as it is and pray to God. Berstain believed that the wish for vengeance became the reason for the development of the concepts of Hell and Heaven in Christianity. (Berstain, 1993) Judaism centers on the life as it is and doesn’t regard it as unjust and that is why there is no such a need for compensation after the death. This way the notions of Olam Ha-Ba and Gehinnom occasionally mentioned in Jewish sacred texts became developed and transformed by Christianity.
References Abraham Cohen, Everyman’s Talmud, New York, Shocken Books, 1975. George Robinson,Essential Judaism New York, Pocket Books, 2000 Rosmarin, Trudi Weiss. Judaism and Christianity-The Differences. Jonathon David Publishing, 1997. Eileen Gardiner, Medieval Visions of Heaven and Hell: A Sourcebook, 1993. Harper’s Bible Dictionary. Paul J. Achtemeier, general editor, 1985 6. Wylen, Stephen. The Jews in the Time of Jesus. New York. Paulette Press, 1995. 7.Encyclopedia of Christianity. Erwin Fahlbusch et al., editors, 1999 8. Bernstein, Alan, Formation of Hell, New York, 1993
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