Does Judaism believe in an afterlife? From what I’ve read of the Torah, it seems that there is no mention of life after death. Is this world all there is?


You have hit on one of the most powerful messages of Judaism: there may be many worlds, but this is the one that matters the most.

As you wrote, the Torah doesn’t mention life after death. Although it is spoken about in the later prophets, the afterlife is conspicuously absent from the Five Books of Moses.

Having said that, there is certainly an indication that ultimate justice will be done someplace other than this world. A striking example is the story of Cain and Abel.

Cain and Abel bring offerings to G‑d; G‑d likes Abel’s offering but not Cain’s; Cain is jealous and kills Abel. End of story. But wait! In one line the Torah says that G‑d is happy with Abel; the next minute he is dead! And Cain, whom G‑d wasn’t happy with, walks away! Is this the reward for doing good?

The message is clear: this world is not always fair. But G‑d will not remain indebted. Ultimate justice will come later.

So why doesn’t the Torah mention the next world? Why is it left to later prophets to describe it?

Because the Torah is about this world, not the next. While other religions dangle exciting promises of what lies in store for the righteous in paradise, even giving vivid descriptions of who awaits you there and interesting facts about their biology, Judaism doesn’t see this as a valid motive for doing good. G‑d wants us to do good because it is good.

There is another lifetime, in which the righteous will be rewarded, and the wicked punished: we believe that, and the prophets spoke about it. But that is G‑d’s business. We have to concern ourselves with this lifetime. Our mission is to do good, fight evil, and make this a safe and comfortable world—a place where both G‑d and man can feel at home.

Without belief in an afterlife, there is no justice. The Cains of this world can get away with murder. But by overemphasizing the importance of the afterlife over this life, we run the risk of belittling the sanctity and preciousness of life itself.

Judaism has a different approach: Better leave the next world to G‑d; meanwhile, let’s work on this world. Starting with ourselves.