Yes, Jews Believe in Heaven

Feb. 21 2019

During his State of the Union address, the president quoted the words of the Holocaust survivor Joshua Kaufman, who was present in the audience, describing his liberation from Dachau: “To me, the arrival of the American soldiers was proof that God exists, and they came from the sky.” To this President Trump added, “They came down from heaven.” The New York Times reporter Annie Karni immediately took to Twitter to suggest to her 75,000 followers that these words were theologically ignorant, if not downright insensitive, because “Jews don’t believe in Heaven.” Rabbi Meir Soloveichik responds:

The Bible describes a heavenly realm as the throne room of God. “Look down from Thy holy habitation, from Heaven,” Deuteronomy beseeches, “and bless Thy people Israel.” . . . For the rabbis of the Talmud, it was in this celestial realm that souls abide after death, until the ultimate resurrection of the dead predicted in the book of Daniel, when “many who sleep in the dirt shall awake.” So central is the concept of Heaven in the Talmud that the word became synonymous with God himself; the central virtue in the Talmud is known as yir’at shamayim, fear of Heaven, and providence is described as occurring bi-ydey shamayim, by the hands of Heaven.

Karni’s tweet, in other words, was utterly untrue. Eventually, she posted a half-hearted addition, without any apology for error. . . . Meanwhile, [the] original posting remained, garnering several thousand retweets and over 10,000 “likes.” The tweet thus reveals that many in the media know little, and care even less, about accurately understanding the beliefs of millions of religious Americans. Karni is herself Jewish; her father is an Israeli. . . .

It is true, of course, that the Jewish notion of Heaven differs from that of Christianity. Judaism denies the doctrine of original sin; we believe the afterlife can be earned, rather than granted purely by grace. We further believe that even as the soul endures, an equally important immortality is achieved through transmission of Judaism to the next generation. . . . The immortality of those who have died thus lies, at least partially, in the hands of the living.

“All is in the hands of Heaven,” Rabbi Ḥanina opined, “except for fear of Heaven.” The [aphorism] emphasizes the dialectic between providence and free will. Jews believe that Heaven has chosen the Jews as an eternal people and vouchsafed them a faith to be transmitted throughout history. But whether the Jews of every generation continue to believe is up to them; assimilation, and rejection of the past, is always possible. We believe in Heaven; but Jews can so easily lose their fear of Heaven.

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More about: Afterlife, Donald Trump, Hebrew Bible, Judaism, Religion & Holiday

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey