Judaism, Christianity, and the Afterlife

Oct. 13 2020

While most Jews are only vaguely aware, it at all, of traditional Judaism’s ideas of post-mortem reward and punishment, these subjects are treated extensively in rabbinic literature. Like their Christian counterparts, the rabbis conceived of a hell where the wicked were punished, and an afterlife where the righteous can enjoy their just desserts. Yet these similarities, writes Shalom Carmy, obscure deeper differences:

Jews like me, and our Christian counterparts, are willing to entertain the possibility of eternal punishment for some, whether as a matter of dogma or as a logical entailment of free will; if our decisions are truly momentous, then we are able not only to accept God but also to reject him. At the same time, we aren’t eager to assign people to hell. . . . I and more of my Jewish confreres than I suspect would take a public position are strongly ­influenced by Maimonides. He holds that eternal perdition means losing out on the afterlife rather than being subjected to endless torment.

Although the Jews and Christians I describe seem to think alike, it’s hard to avoid feeling that Jews are simply less apt than Christians to place issues of salvation and eternal damnation at the center of their religious consciousness. Jews given to intense self-examination and criticism often ask themselves how they will render their final accounting before God but rarely ask whether their souls are saved or not. For Christians—and not just evangelicals—such a question appears more customary. There is a gap here, I believe, and I am unsure how to express it. One impediment is that theological formulations are often detached from their experiential contexts.

Carmy goes on to illustrate his point with a sophisticated reading of the commentaries of the Talmud, Maimonides, and the great medieval exegete Rashi on Moses’ famous exchange with God on Mount Sinai, in which he asks “to see God’s ways.”

Read more at First Things

More about: Christianity, Death, Judaism, Moses Maimonides


The Right and Wrong Ways for the U.S. to Support the Palestinians

Sept. 29 2023

On Wednesday, Elliott Abrams testified before Congress about the Taylor Force Act, passed in 2018 to withhold U.S. funds from the Palestinian Authority (PA) so long as it continues to reward terrorists and their families with cash. Abrams cites several factors explaining the sharp increase in Palestinian terrorism this year, among them Iran’s attempt to wage proxy war on Israel; another is the “Palestinian Authority’s continuing refusal to fight terrorism.” (Video is available at the link below.)

As long as the “pay for slay” system continues, the message to Palestinians is that terrorists should be honored and rewarded. And indeed year after year, the PA honors individuals who have committed acts of terror by naming plazas or schools after them or announcing what heroes they are or were.

There are clear alternatives to “pay to slay.” It would be reasonable for the PA to say that, whatever the crime committed, the criminal’s family and children should not suffer for it. The PA could have implemented a welfare-based system, a system of family allowances based on the number of children—as one example. It has steadfastly refused to do so, precisely because such a system would no longer honor and reward terrorists based on the seriousness of their crimes.

These efforts, like the act itself, are not at all meant to diminish assistance to the Palestinian people. Rather, they are efforts to direct aid to the Palestinian people rather than to convicted terrorists. . . . [T]he Taylor Force Act does not stop U.S. assistance to Palestinians, but keeps it out of hands in the PA that are channels for paying rewards for terror.

[S]hould the United States continue to aid the Palestinian security forces? My answer is yes, and I note that it is also the answer of Israel and Jordan. As I’ve noted, PA efforts against Hamas or other groups may be self-interested—fights among rivals, not principled fights against terrorism. Yet they can have the same effect of lessening the Iranian-backed terrorism committed by Palestinian groups that Iran supports.

Read more at Council on Foreign Relations

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror, U.S. Foreign policy