Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Is there a Jewish section in Heaven?

Dear Rabbi,

I find it really hard to study and remember things at my age (actually, I always did)! But as I get older and realise none of us will live forever, I really feel Judaism is the right way to go and I need to become Jewish. Who knows, perhaps I will secure myself a place in heaven!

Rabbi Jonathan responds:

This is a most important point.  You don't need to be Jewish (as a long-running British radio program was called)!  Unlike most interpretations of the other monotheistic religions, Judaism says 'there are many paths to God'.  Heaven, salvation, nirvana, a place in the world to come, eternal peace - whatever you call it, and hope for - and whatever there is after life (or isn't!), are all just as available for non-Jews as for Jews.  There is no reserved 'Jewish section'!

All that is required is to be a decent human being.  This is defined in the Jewish tradition by Noah - Noah (and his family) were the best of their generation, and thus the only ones to be saved from the flood (we don't need to take these stories literally and certainly not understand them in the traditional way - that God killed all the others.  Personally I reject the idea that God kills at all - God has created a world in which human and animal lives - in fact everything, even mountains and rocks - are finite. Eventually all break down - or are broken down - and return to the 'dust of the earth' - only God is Eternal.

Anyway, because Noah (who predates Abraham and Sarah and the start of the 'Jewish Story') was good, the basic laws of common decency required are called 'The Noahite Laws'.  There are only seven of them.  They are not precisely enumerated and agreed, but they are common-sense ones like 'Do not Murder', 'Do not steal', as well as general structures of justice: 'You shall establish courts of Justice in your society', and some protection for animals (appropriate for Noah!), encapsulated in 'Do not tear a limb from a living animal'.

The significant thing here is that 'You don't need to be Jewish'!  From that it follows 'Why on earth would you want to be Jewish, to be subject to persecution and oppression and hatred and envy - and to have to take on yourselves not 7 but 613 commandments?'!  And from this the Rabbis came to the conclusion that you should turn away someone who wants to be Jewish at least two times - to test their resolve and commitment.  (We don't do that!  Studying and learning Hebrew and participating in the community and being questioned about why you want to convert frequently along the way for well over a year would seem quite sufficient resolve!).

So please learn more about Judaism, meet some real, passionate and serious Jews, do our Introduction to Judaism course - but know that you can still get to Heaven even without converting!  

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