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When, exactly, do we transition from physical, bodily resurrection after death, to a purely spiritual existence, with no body?

On the one hand, we are taught the following order of events: The Messiah comes, rebuilds the Temple, and gathers all living Jews in the Land of Israel. Forty years later, the dead are resurrected, by descending order of righteousness; first the dead of Israel, then the dead in the Diaspora.

The body will be rebuilt from the luz bone [Genesis R. 28:3], a tiny but very tough bone in the spine. (Read: DNA, Jurassic Park, etc.). You will come back exactly as you went. [Genesis R. 95:1; also Sanhedrin 91b]

On the other hand, Berakhot 17a tells us that our life after death will be purely spiritual. The Rambam summarizes:

There are no bodies and no bodily forms in the World to Come… There is no eating or drinking there, nor is there anything which the human body needs in this world. Nor does there occur there any of the events which occur to the human body in this world, such as sitting, standing, sleep, death, distress, laughter, and so forth. The ancient sages say: "In the World to Come, there is no eating or drinking or procreation, but the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads and bask in the radiance of the Divine Presence... There is no way for us in this world to know or comprehend the great goodness which the soul experiences in the world to come, for in this world we know only of material pleasures, and it is these we desire. [Rambam, Yad, Teshuvah 8]

So: What are the sources for when and how we will transition from having a physical body to having none?

  • Curious, where do you get the 40 years from? I thought that R Katina (Sanhedrin 97a) is taken as saying there is 1,000 years between the end of history (by the year 6,000), and the beginning of the next "week" (year 7,000 onward). Are you following Rabbeinu Bachya (Ber' 2:3) "יום שביעי כנגד אלף השביעי שכלו שבת ומנוחה לחיי העולמים והוא אחר ימות המשיח ותחית המתים ובני תחית המתים יזכו אליו ויתענגו בגוף ובנפש תענוג שאין לו סוף.", or something else? – Micha Berger Oct 18 at 13:45
  • I don't have the time right now to go find my references, but... The Rambam holds that we die and go to Olam haBa, get resurrected to live a second life of the Adam-before-the-sin sort of consciousness, and then die again and return to Olam haBa. – Micha Berger Oct 18 at 13:52
  • The Ran says similarly, but that the second life is for Divine Justice purposes, not for getting to live the life we were supposed to. Whereas the Ramban, as well as in Castille in general and Ashkenaz, defined the ultimate reward as an eternal post-resurrection life. Which is why they define Olam haBa as being that fuiture world, and use other terms for the "place" that has spiritual reward and punishment. – Micha Berger Oct 18 at 13:54
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In his work called Chelek, Maimonides made it clear that the intellect (soul) goes to the world to come.[1] He posits that since the world to come will be so blissful when the intellect joins the higher intellect, why then, should the soul wish to rejoin with the body during physical resurrection? The Shem Tov ben Yosef Shem Tom captures his thinking. He writes that he [Maimondies] “did not believe in a physical resurrection.” In the Mishneh Torah, he writes that:

“In the hereafter neither a body nor a body shape exists, but the souls of the righteous without bodies.”

Classical Judaism and Talmud(s) state that after the arrival of the messiah, a period will be followed by resurrection. However, many think this notion was brought from Zoroastrianism and Babylon. The closest hint to a bodily resurrection in the Bible can be found in Daniel 12 which is debatable. Contrary to this thinking, Maimonides felt that natural law is fixed and needs no change. The only difference in the messianic age (or olam haba) is that Jews will live in Israel and not be submerged under foreign rule nor will they be subject to enslavement by other nations. Although he does not deny a physical resurrection in his treatise, it has been noted that some scholars doubt whether he ever wrote the Treatise on Resurrection, however, that too is debatable.

In any event, a contemporary of Maimonides, Rabbi Abraham ben David wrote in his glosses on Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance 8:2, “The words of this man seem to me to be similar to one who says that there is no resurrection for bodies, only souls.”[2]

In short, the Rambam says it will be a spiritual resurrection. A resurrection of the soul. It is still a resurrection.

[1] Soul can also be translated as the nefesh or neshama.

[2] Commentary to Mishnah, introduction to Perek Chelek and Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Teshuvah 8.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – msh210 Nov 7 at 10:57
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In his introduction to his commentary on the mishnah in Pereq Cheileq, where the Rambam lists the famous 13 Articles of Faith, the 13th is belief in a bodily resurrection of the dead.

However, he explains that this is not the World to Come, the ultimate reward. Rather, it is a temporary second life, in which we get to live on the plane we were supposed to had Adam and Chavah not eaten the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. And then there is a second death, and a return to the World to Come.

There were those who tried to read another non-physical understanding into what he wrote about resurrection, so the Rambam wrote the Epistle on the Resurrection of the Dead. Among the quotes that make it clear (translation mine of Ibn Tibbon's translation from the original Judeo-Arabic):

When it was the contract-date year 1500, we received a letter from the lands of Yemen ... We explained to them [in response] that שתחיית המתים פינת התורה, והוא שוב הנפש לגוף -- the resurrection of the dead is a cornerstone of the Torah, and it is the return of the soul to the body, and do not reinterpret it.

In the Rambam's worldview, the ultimate good can only be the experience of G-d without the distraction or filtering of having a body. So to him, that's the World to Come.

The Ran (on Avodah Zarah 20b) similarly believes in a resurrection to a temporary life. But for him the purpose of this second life is Divine Justice. The entity that sinned was combined body and soul, and so must be the entity that is judged.

The Ramban (Shaar haGemul) and the majority opinion (Emunos VeDeos 6:4; Raavad Hilchos Teshuvah 8:8, Kesef Mishneh 8:2; Shelah: Beis David; Chida, Avodas HaKodesh 2:41), on the other hand, believes that the post-resurrection life IS eternal, and IS the World to Come.

In all cases, there is some role in their picture for a physical resurrection.

  • So: Messiah, then physical resurrection of dead, then second bodily life, then new death (and body destroyed?), then resurrection as a disembodied spirit in World to Come? – Maurice Mizrahi Oct 18 at 20:06
  • @MauriceMizrahi: what's "resurrection as a disembodied spirit in World to Come"? As I understood it, death: time in olam haba, physical resurrection, death, eternity in olam haba. There is no spiritual "resurection" step -- death leaves the (non-evil) soul as existing without a body, and thus in olam haba. – Micha Berger Oct 20 at 13:05

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