Many people don’t know but my mother converted to Judaism prior to being married to my father. What even fewer people know is that her father, my grandfather, was a Methodist Pastor. Without getting very specific one can imagine the drama that unfolded far before my time. Everything is fine today and I enjoy spending holidays and reunions with everyone. Coming from a family of different religions I always wondered if the afterlife or heaven that I would inevitably pass on to would be the same as my friends and loved ones.
Written in the Mishna are a number of statements affirming the existence of an Olam HaBah – A World to Come. One Rabbi suggests that “This world is like a foyer leading the world to come. Prepare yourself in the foyer, so that you may enter into the inner chamber Pirkei Avot 4:1.” And teaches Rabbi Eliezer ha-Kappar; “The ones who were born are to die and the ones who have lived are to be brought to life again, and the ones who are brought to life are to be summoned to judgment-ibid 4:29.”
The promise of an afterlife is overly powerful. The promise has inspired many people to perform acts of goodness and charity to better their odds at obtaining a place into the afterlife. This same promise has also led to brutal acts being justified as a way to earn a spot in the afterlife. Rabbi Davis Rose (Emeritus) stated that “In focusing on acts of goodness in this world, in believing in a hereafter open to the righteous of all faiths and in encouraging a multiplicity of viewpoints as to the nature of life eternal has made this belief a blessing for one and all” Rabbi Rose agrees that the promise of an afterlife is a powerful one, but regardless of faith the righteous certainly have a place in whatever afterlife is to come.
It is possible for an Orthodox Jew to believe that the souls of the righteous dead go to a place similar to the Christian heaven, or that they are reincarnated through many lifetimes, or that they simply wait until the coming of the messiah, when they will be resurrected. Likewise, Orthodox Jews can believe that the souls of the wicked are tormented by demons of their own creation, or that wicked souls are simply destroyed at death, ceasing to exist. It is apparent that there are clear similarities between the general belief of an afterlife between Christianity and Judaism. Whether or not that theoretical afterlife exists in the same place or even at all still remains to be seen.