Religious Studies | Hell and Heaven in Judaism
R202 | 3630 | Yechiel Shalom Goldberg
It is often stated that Judaism as a religion has no doctrine of hell
or heaven! This course will refute this assertion by exploring a
wide variety of notions of hell and heaven in Judaism. Through
reading and discussion of texts and ideas ranging from biblical
descriptions of the depths of She’ol and the heights of the heavens
to the modern day rejection of hell and heaven as part of a Jewish
concept of the afterlife, we will address fundamental questions of
life, death, and the hereafter as they emerge in the vast literature
of the Jewish tradition. We will explore the ways in which concepts
of the afterlife impact on how people live their lives on a day-to-
day basis as well as how people cope with difficult times, and we
will place these Jewish views into comparative perspective by
considering views of the afterlife in other religious traditions.
There are no prerequisites for this course.
1) Three written assignments:
a. The first assignment gives the student the opportunity to
explore and express his or her own views regarding Heaven and Hell.
b. The second is a take home midterm.
c. The third is a term paper on a topic that the student will
choose in consultation with the instructor.
2) One in-class presentation: Students will be divided into
groups and give group presentations on selected texts relating to the
themes of the course.
The following is a partial bibliography of works from which required
readings will likely be drawn: Bernstein, Alan E., "The Formation of
Hell"; Gillman, Neil, "The Death of Death: Resurrection and
Immortality in Jewish Thought"; Kraemer, David, "The Meanings of
Death in Rabbinic Judaism"; Stories by I.L. Peretz, "A Treasury of
Yiddish Stories"; Raphael, Simcha Paull, "Jewish Views of the
Afterlife"; "Tanakh: A New Translation of the Holy Scriptures
According to the Traditional Hebrew Text"; Wright, J. Edward, "The
Early History of Heaven".