Reflections on Death, Mourning, and the Afterlife in the Jewish Tradition

In his recent book After One-Hundred-and-Twenty, Hillel Halkin explores the Jewish tradition’s attitudes toward death and what comes after it. Edward Alexander, calling the book “at once scholarly and passionate, secular and religious, detached and autobiographical,” writes in his review:

Since most readers of this review, like the reviewer himself, have attended colleges where we studied mainly the mind of Western Christendom rather than the literature of the Jews, we have been more conversant with non-Jewish conceptions of the afterlife than with Jewish ones. In Dante’s Inferno, for example, the most dehumanized and disgusting figure is Ciacco, the glutton. But for Jews, eating—although strictly regulated by laws that set them apart from lawless and oppressive Gentile communities in which they lived—is anything but a potentially sinful activity “When the messiah comes, we will have a banquet,” sing the Ḥasidim.

Jewish imaginings of the afterlife do resemble Christian ones in recognizing that one cannot have a heaven without a hell; but the Jewish version of hell is much less a place of mud, frost, fire, and filth than the Christian one; and “nowhere in early rabbinic sources do we find such glee taken in hell’s sufferings” as the Christians imagined for heretics. . . .

The great literary gift bestowed on us by this stunning book is Halkin’s translation of large sections of [the 11th-century Spanish poet-statesman] Shmuel Hanagid’s 64-poem “unparalleled document of mourning” for his older brother, who died in 1041. In the gradualness of its movement from grief and thanatophobia to consolation and acceptance of death as a part of life, this great elegy by Hanagid (“the governor”) may call to mind Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s masterpiece, In Memoriam. That poem comprises 131 sections, written over a sixteen-year period prior to its publication in 1850. What we shall not find in Tennyson is Hanagid’s structure, which follows the Jewish calendar of mourning: death, funeral, first week, first month, and the following eleven months. That structure, Halkin suggests, “reflects the natural workings of the human heart.”

Read more at Algemeiner

More about: Afterlife, Death, Hillel Halkin, Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Shmuel Hanagid

Hamas Has Its Own Day-After Plan

While Hamas’s leaders continue to reject the U.S.-backed ceasefire proposal, they have hardly been neglecting diplomacy. Ehud Yaari explains:

Over the past few weeks, Hamas leaders have been engaged in talks with other Palestinian factions and select Arab states to find a formula for postwar governance in the Gaza Strip. Held mainly in Qatar and Egypt, the negotiations have not matured into a clear plan so far, but some forms of cooperation are emerging on the ground in parts of the embattled enclave.

Hamas officials have informed their interlocutors that they are willing to support the formation of either a “technocratic government” or one composed of factions that agree to Palestinian “reconciliation.” They have also insisted that security issues not be part of this government’s authority. In other words, Hamas is happy to let others shoulder civil responsibilities while it focuses on rebuilding its armed networks behind the scenes.

Among the possibilities Hamas is investigating is integration into the Palestinian Authority (PA), the very body that many experts in Israel and in the U.S. believe should take over Gaza after the war ends. The PA president Mahmoud Abbas has so far resisted any such proposals, but some of his comrades in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) are less certain:

On June 12, several ex-PLO and PA officials held an unprecedented meeting in Ramallah and signed an initiative calling for the inclusion of additional factions, meaning Hamas. The PA security services had blocked previous attempts to arrange such meetings in the West Bank. . . . Hamas has already convinced certain smaller PLO factions to get on board with its postwar model.

With generous help from Qatar, Hamas also started a campaign in March asking unaffiliated Palestinian activists from Arab countries and the diaspora to press for a collaborative Hamas role in postwar Gaza. Their main idea for promoting this plan is to convene a “Palestinian National Congress” with hundreds of delegates. Preparatory meetings have already been held in Britain, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Qatar, and more are planned for the United States, Spain, Belgium, Australia, and France.

If the U.S. and other Western countries are serious about wishing to see Hamas defeated, and all the more so if they have any hopes for peace, they will have to convey to all involved that any association with the terrorist group will trigger ostracization and sanctions. That Hamas doesn’t already appear toxic to these various interlocutors is itself a sign of a serious failure.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Palestinian Authority