Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home

Olam Ha-Ba

OLAM HA-BA (Heb. עוֹלָם הַבָּא). The term olam ha-ba (literally, "the coming world") in contrast to olam ha-zeh (liter-ally "this world") refers to the hereafter, which begins with the termination of man's earthly life. This meaning of the expression is clearly implied in the statement of R. Jacob, quoted in Avot (4:17): "One moment of repentance and good deeds in this world is better than the entire life of the world to come." The earliest source in which the phrase occurs is Enoch 71:15, which is dated by R.H. Charles (Charles, Apocrypha, 2 (1913), 164) between 105 and 64 B.C.E. A synonym frequently used in place of "the world to come" is atid lavo ("What is to come" or "the future") as in Tosefta Arakhin 2:7. Often also "the days of the Messiah" are contrasted with the life of this world. An example is the comment by the colleagues of Ben Zoma (1:5) on the phrase "all the days of thy life" (Deut. 16:3) that it includes in addition to this world the era of the Messiah.

Strictly speaking the period referred to by the phrase olam ha-ba or its equivalent atid lavo, between which and the present order of things comes the age of the Messiah (cf. Zev. 118b; Tosef. Ar. 2:7; also Ar. 13b), is the final order of things beginning with the general resurrection and the last judgment. According to the Palestinian amora R. Johanan, the golden age of the future pictured by the prophets concerned only the days of the Messiah. As for the world to come, it is said of it, "Eye hath not seen" (Isa. 64:3). His older contemporary, the Babylonian amora Samuel, however, held the view that the only difference between the present time and the Messianic era lay in the fact that Israel's current subjection to the rule of alien empires would cease. The new order of things would, therefore, according to him, first commence after the age of the Messiah was over (cf. Sanh. 99a; Ber. 34b).

A cardinal eschatological doctrine of rabbinic Judaism connected with the world to come was that of the restoration to life of the dead. It is listed as a dogma at the beginning of the tenth chapter of Sanhedrin. "Whoever says that the revivification of the dead is not proved from the Torah," so it is remarked there, "has no portion in the world to come." The matter was, according to Josephus (Wars, 2:8, 14 and Ant. 18:1, 4), one of the chief points of difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the latter asserting that the soul died together with the body. I *Maccabees, which records events down to the time of John Hyrcanus, whose reign began in the year 135 B.C.E., contains no allusion to it. The first definite historical reference to the Pharisees is that which speaks of the rift which took place between them and the aforementioned John Hyrcanus toward the end of his rule (Jos. Ant. 8:10). The Talmud (Kid. 66a) attributes the incident to his son Alexander Yannai. In the canonical Scriptures the first allusion to a return of the dead to life is made in Isaiah 26:19. However, the Sadducees contended (Sanh. 90b) that the statement "Thy dead shall live, my dead bodies shall stand up" might have referred to the dead whom Ezekiel (37:5ff.) had brought back to life in his vision, not to the general resurrection. An unequivocal reference to resurrection is contained in the last chapter of Daniel (7:2), where it is stated: "And many of those that sleep in the dust will wake, these to eternal life, and those to ignominy and eternal abhorrence." The 11th chapter of the Book of Daniel (21ff.), however, describes events that took place during the rule of Antiochus IV of Syria.

As far as the older books of the Hebrew Scriptures are concerned, man's sojourn on earth is followed by a descent to Sheol, which is equivalent to the grave. The patriarch Jacob, upon hearing that his favorite son Joseph had been torn to pieces by a wild beast, moaned that he "would go down in griefto his son in Sheol" (Gen. 37:35). Isaiah (14:3–21) and Ezekiel (31:15–18; 32: 17–32) picture it as a dreary, gloomy place, a land of the shades (Isa. 26:19). In the Book of Job (17:13–16) it is portrayed as an abode of worms and decay. This was also, according to Akavyah b. Mahalalel (Avot 3:1), man's destiny after the termination of his life on earth. "The dead do not praise the Lord," said the Psalmist (115:17), "nor those that go down to the silence [of the grave]." Job entertained no hope of revivification. "But when man lieth down," he remarked gloomily, "he does not rise. Till the heavens be no more they will not awake nor be roused out of their sleep" (14:12).

The rewards and punishment promised in the Hebrew Scriptures as requital for man's actions, as for example in Deuteronomy 13ff. and Jeremiah 3:10ff. were, as *Saadiah Gaon already noted (Book of Beliefs and Opinions, 9:2), all of this world. It was in order to reconcile the sufferings of the righteous with divine justice that R. Jacob remarked (Kid. 39b) that "there was no reward for virtue in this world" and that R. Tarfon assured those who would occupy themselves with the study of the Torah that the (full) reward of the righteous would be meted out in the hereafter (Avot. 2:16). As for the nature of man's existence in the world to come, the Babylonian amora Rav, who lived at the beginning of the third century B.C.E., was of the opinion that it was quite unlike life in this world. "There is there," he said, "neither eating, nor drinking, nor any begetting of children, no bargaining or jealousy or hatred or strife. All that the righteous do is to sit with their crowns on their heads and enjoy the effulgence of the [divine] Presence" (Ber. 17a). However, no tannaitic parallel to Rav's conception of the world to come has been found; most of his contemporaries and followers believed in the restoration of the souls into the bodies of the resurrected and their rising from their graves fully clothed (Ket. 111b). Even so bold a thinker as Saadiah Gaon, who lived centuries after the redaction of the Talmud, accepted the dogma of physical resurrection. Moses Maimonides included the bodily revivification of the dead among the Thirteen Articles of the Faith in his commentary on the tenth chapter of Mishnah Sanhedrin, though in his Guide of the Perplexed he speaks only of the immortality of the soul, which is an incorporated state, and passes over physical resurrection in silence. The traditional Jewish book of prayers includes a praise of God as the revivifier of the dead. The Reformist prayer book omits it completely. As it is expressed in the tenth chapter of the Mishnah of Sanhedrin, all Israelites, with certain notable exceptions, had, in the view of the tannaim, a share in world to come. In the opinion of R. Joshua b. Hananiah the righteous among the gentiles were also to be included (Tos. 13:2). Moses Maimonides incorporated his pronouncement in his code, which states: "The pious of the nations of the world have a portion in the world to come" (Yad, Teshuvah 3:5). It is futile to attempt to systematize the Jewish notions of the hereafter. Since its conception belonged to the realm of aggadah, great latitude was allowed the individual imagination. It is on this account that there exists considerable ambiguity about the meaning of the phrase olam ha-ba. Did it refer to the final state of man or to the one intermediate between the life of this world and the disposition of his soul in either the *Garden of Eden, which is the eternal abode, after the last judgment, of the righteous, or the gehinnom (gehenna), the miserable dwelling place of the wicked (Ber. 28b). The question was also asked where the souls of human beings were kept between the time of their death and the resurrection, which is supposed to take place prior to the last judgment. The answer given by R. Yose ha-Gelili was that there were special store-chambers where the souls of the righteous were deposited, as it is stated (I Sam. 25:29): "The souls of the wicked, on the other hand, would, as the verse goes on to say, "be slung away in the hollow of the sling" (Shab. 152b).


G.F. Moore, Judaism in the first Centuries of the Christian Era, 2 (1946), 377–95; Saadiah Gaon, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, tr. by S. Rosenblatt (1948), 323–56; Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, tr. by S. Pines (1963), passim; C. Montefiore and H. Loewe, Rabbinic Anthology (1938), ch. 31 and index, S.V. World to Come; A. Cohen, Everyman's Talmud (1932), ch. 11 and index, S.V. World to Come; M. Kadushin, The Rabbinic Mind (1952), index, S.V. Olam ha-Ba; World to Come.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.