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Journey to Heaven: Exploring Jewish Views of the Afterlife Hardcover – June 1, 2011
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Conversant with Jewish writings throughout the ages, Dr. Bronner is a gifted writer with an uncanny ability to trace the major Jewish beliefs in an afterlife through the ages, recognize nuances and tensions, and present the reader with lucid formulations. The ideas of bodily resurrection, immortality of the soul, reincarnation, the World to Come, and the Messiah have continuously suffused Judaism and are still with us. A fascinating book. --Professor Bezalel Porten, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
In her compelling and widely encompassing Journey to Heaven, Bronner succeeds in elucidating an area in which many angels feared to tread. With scholarship and commitment, she has provided an historical textual study of the ideas concerning the afterlife…. Since death touches each of us throughout our lives and eventually brings every one of us into its domain, there can be no topic of greater interest and significance. Bronner is to be congratulated for giving us the challenge and the comfort of the fruits of her scholarship. --Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Chief Rabbi of Efrat
About the Author
Leila Leah Bronner is a noted community activist, professor and writer. She is a former professor of Bible and Jewish history at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, as well as former visiting scholar at Bar Ilan University in Israel, Harvard University, and Yeshiva University’s Institute of Adult Studies in New York. She is the author of several books, including From Eve to Esther: Rabbinic Reconstructions of Biblical Women and Stories of Biblical Mothers: Maternal Power in the Hebrew Bible. She lives in Los Angeles.
Top Customer Reviews
Journey to Heaven starts by examining the earliest references to resurrection in the Hebrew Bible. From there, it moves on, across the centuries, to Second Temple-period sources (eg the Wisdom of Solomon), which include some of the first Jewish references of the immortality of the soul. The Talmud, it turns out, has some very interesting things to say on the "World to Come."
In the Middle Ages, the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) added a new element to Jewish thinking on the afterlife: reincarnation. Kabbalistic thought had a profound influence on the Hassidic movement - for instance, in the story of the Dybbuk. During the Holocaust, a deep faith in the afterlife provided solace to rabbis and laypeople alike in their final moments.
Since the Enlightenment, belief in the afterlife has taken a drubbing from rationalism and a generally skeptical approach to faith. In our time, though, many people are once again open to traditional approaches to the next world - and to its implications for the meaning of life in this world. Journey to Heaven is a great introduction to the development of Jewish thought on "the undiscovere'd country, from whose bourn no traveller returns," as Shakespeare called it in Hamlet.
Dr. Bronner, a professor at several prominent universities, takes an opposite view. She sees frequent references to an afterlife in the early biblical books, including the Five Books of Moses, and she details, with full quotes, what these sources say. She describes the growth of these beliefs in post-biblical discussions about life after death, the world to come, heaven, hell, judgment, resurrection, and reincarnation. She introduces readers to books such as the apocrypha and the pseudepigrapha. She discusses the views of rabbis, philosophers, and mystics.
She feels that the Torah is speaking about an afterlife when it mentions "Sheol" some sixty five times and when it uses synonyms like "the pit" and "the hidden place," although others define these terms as the grave. She sees phrases like "gathered to one's people" and "sleeping with his fathers" as a "belief in some kind of existence after death," while others read them as beautiful metaphors for "he died." She also reads the belief in life after death in six verbs, depending, of course, on the context: awaken, arise, take, stand up, return, and live.Read more ›