This principle is accepted by Orthodox Jews. Conservative Jews vary in their beliefs, some affirming a personal messiah, while others affirm a messianic era. "We do not know when the Messiah will come, nor whether he will be a charismatic human figure or is a symbol of the redemption of humankind from the evils of the world. Through the doctrine of a Messianic figure, Judaism teaches us that every individual human being must live as if he or she, individually, has the responsibility to bring about the messianic age. Beyond that, we echo the words of Maimonides based on the prophet Habakkuk (2:3) that though he may tarry, yet do we wait for him each day..." [Emet ve-Emunah: Statement of Principles of Conservative Judaism]
Reform Jews generally concur with this latter position; they are more likely to believe in a messianic era than a personal messiah. Reconstructionist Jews reject the idea that God can send a personal messiah or bring about a messianic age, but they do teach that man can use the power or process termed God to help bring about such a world.
Like Jews, Christians use the word "messiah" to refer to the Davidic king promised to Israel. However, Christians believe that the messiah has already appeared, and that he was Jesus of Nazareth. Since most Christians believe that Jesus was himself God incarnate, their understanding of the messiah as a Davidic king is often overshadowed by their understanding of Jesus as the revelation of God to humanity.
The afterlife and olam haba (the world to come)
Judaism concentrates on the importance of this world, the fact is that all of classical Judaism does posit an afterlife. The Jewish tradition affirms that the human soul is immortal, and thus in some way survives the physical death of the body. The existence of the soul after death is sometimes described with terms such as Olam Haba (the world to come), Gan Eden (the Heavenly Garden of Eden, or Paradise) and Gehenna (Purgatory).
According to Jewish tradition, the end of the world will see:
- the ingathering of the scattered Jewish exiles to geographic Israel,
- the defeat of all of Israel's enemies,
- the building of the third Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and the resumption of the sacrificial offerings and Temple service,
- the Revival of the Dead (techiat hameitim), or the Resurrection,
- the Jewish Messiah become the anointed King of Israel.
He will divide the Jews in Israel into their original tribal portions in the land. During this time Gog, king of Magog, will attack Israel. Who Gog and the nation Magog are is not known yet. Magog will fight a great battle, in which many will die on both sides, but God will intervene and save the Jews. This is the battle referred to as Armageddon. God, having vanquished this final enemy once and for all, will accordingly banish all evil from human existence. After the year 6000 (in the Jewish calendar), the seventh millennium will be an era of holiness, tranquility, spiritual life, and worldwide peace, called the Olam Haba ("Future World"), where all people will know God directly.
It is worth noting that the Talmud, in the tractate Avodah Zarah, page 9A, states that this world as we know it will only exist for six thousand years:
"...The Tanna Debey Eliyahu taught: The world is to exist six thousand years; the first two thousand are to be "void" [of Torah], the next two thousand are the period of the Torah [from Abraham until the completion of the Mishna - the first part of the Talmud], and the following [last] two thousand are the period of the Messiah [i.e., the Messianic Age could commence during this time]; through our [the Jews'] sins a number of these [times for the Messiah's coming] have already passed [and the Messiah has not come yet]."
The end of the world is called the acharit hayamim (end of days), when tumultuous events will take place in the world overturning the old world order and creating a new order where God is recognized by every single individual as the God who rules over everyone and everything in the Universe. One of the sages of the Talmud says that "Let the end of days come, but may I not live to see them", because they will be filled with so much conflict and suffering.
However, many secular or liberal Jews would state that Judaism does not believe in an afterlife, or that it is a this-worldly religion which concentrates on the here and now.
While all classic rabbinic sources discuss afterlife for the soul, there is dispute among the classic Medieval scholars regarding the nature of existence in the "End of Days" after the messianic period. While Maimonidies describes an entirely spiritual existence of souls, which he calls "disembodied intellects," Nachmanidies discusses an intensely spiritual existence on Earth, where spirituality and physicality are merged. Both agree that life after death is as Maimonidies describes the "End of Days." This existence entails an extremely heightened understanding of and connection to the Divine Presence. This view is shared by all classic rabbinic scholars.
There is much rabbinic material on what happens to the soul of the deceased after death, what it experiences, and where it goes. At various points in the afterlife journey, the soul may encounter: Hibbut ha-kever, the pains of the grave; Dumah, the angel of silence; The angel of death; The Kaf ha-Kela, the catapult of the soul; Gehenna (purgatory); and Gan Eden (heaven or paradise). All classic rabbinic scholars agree that these concepts are beyond typical human understanding. Therefore, these ideas are expressed throughout rabbinic literature through many varied parables and analogies.
Gehenna is fairly well defined in rabbinic literature. It is sometimes translated as "hell", but one should note that the Christian view of hell is different from the Jewish view. For Christians, hell is an abode of eternal torment or separation from God, where serious sinners and/or non-Christians go (details vary among Christian denominations). In Judaism, gehenna - while certainly a terribly unpleasant place - is not hell. The overwhelming majority of rabbinic thought maintains that people are not tortured in gehenna forever; the longest that one can be there is said to be twelve months, with extremely rare exception. Some consider it a spiritual forge where the soul is purified for its eventual ascent to Gan Eden (heaven), where all imperfections are purged.
Support for an afterlife
The Tanakh speaks of several noteworthy people being "gathered to their people." See, for example, Genesis 25:8 (Abraham), 25:17 (Ishmael), 35:29 (Isaac), 49:33 (Jacob), Deuteronomy 32:50 (Moses and Aaron), 2 Kings 22:20 (King Josiah). This gathering is described as a separate event from the physical death of the body or the burial.
Certain sins are punished by the sinner being "cut off from his people." See, for example, Genesis 17:14 and Exodus 31:14. This punishment is referred to as kareit (literally, "cutting off," but usually translated as "spiritual excision"), and is traditionally understood to mean that the soul loses its portion in the afterlife, or "World to Come".
The Torah also prohibits contacting the spirit of the dead in Leviticus 19-20 and Deuteronomy 18, indicating that something of a person lives on after physical death. As well, Saul, in 1 Samuel 28:19, employs a sorceress to raise the spirit of the prophet Samuel who had died some time prior.
Job 19:26 has traditionally been considered a reference to the afterlife: "And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God". Other verses suggesting an afterlife include:
Isaiah 26:19 "Thy dead shall live, their bodies shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!..."
Ecclesiastes 12:7 "Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, And the spirit will return to God who gave it"
Perhaps the most explicit Biblical reference to an afterlife is found in the Book of Daniel:
Daniel 12:2 "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence."
The Jewish calendar (luach) functions completely on the assumption that time begins at the Creation of the world by God in Genesis. Many people (notably Conservative and Reform Jews and some Christians) think that the years of the Torah, or Jewish Bible, are symbolic. According to the ancient Jewish teachings continued by today's Orthodox Jews, the years are literal and consistent throughout all time, with 24 hours per day and 365 days per year. Appropriate calibrations are, of course, done with leap years, to account for the difference between the lunar calendar and the solar calendar, since the Jewish calendar is based on both. Thus the year 2000 equals 5760 years since creation on the present Jewish calendar. According to this calculation, the end of days will occur in the year 2240.
In modern Judaism the return of Israel to its land, the coming of the Messiah, the resurrection of the dead, and everlasting retribution are still expected by the Orthodox, but the more liberal base the religious mission of Israel upon the regeneration of the human race and upon hope for immortal life independent of the resurrection of the body.
One group of Jews from the Chabad Lubavitch, one strand of Hasidic Judaism, believes that the Messiah has quite possibly arrived and begun his mission, and that it is their deceased Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, actually the Messiah in waiting. The defeat of Iraq by the United States Army during the Gulf War in 1990 - 1991, and the fact that Israel was not seriously harmed, was taken as a sign that the Messiah was at hand. This view was rejected by all other groups who still await the traditional "End of Days" as described in the writings of the Prophets of the Tanakh, the classic Jewish Bible.