Jewish philosophers think the afterlife

10.30am, Saturday 23rd July 2016

This session is hosted by Beit Klal Yisrael


When we wonder whether there is life beyond the frontier of death, what kind of life are we talking about? Would a life without end be a life worth living, especially if it was lived in the body in which we died? In this session, we will be investigating how three (arguably) Jewish philosophers might have attempted to make sense of the widely held notion of the eternal soul.

We will not, I’m afraid, be investigating the empirical evidence for life after death, such as past-life memories and near-death experiences. The thesis I wish to explore is that when considered carefully, the possibility of immortality need not rest on a belief in personal survival at all. Rather, attaining or realizing eternity is concerned with the here and now, how we understand and act in this world rather than what will befall us in the world to come. In other words I wish to interpret the tradition of afterlife as an ethic for living, for as Spinoza put it, ‘A free man thinks of nothing less than of death, and his wisdom is a meditation on life, not death’ (Ethics IVP67).

However, there are a number of preliminary questions we may wish to examine before or during the session, including:

  • What is ‘Jewish’ and what is ‘philosophical’ about Jewish Philosophy? Are Maimonides, Spinoza and Wittgenstein, Jewish philosophers?
  • Can reason penetrate mysteries such as what happens to us after death?
  • What traditional Jewish beliefs are there concerning the afterlife? Does progressive Judaism have anything to say?
  • Why might we wish to imagine there is life after death?
  • What kind of language do we use when we express religious beliefs: scientific, allegorical, metaphorical or mythical?
 A draft handout and a reading list for the session can be found here

10.30 – 14.00 Saturday 23rd July

Essex Unitarian Church, 112 Palace Gardens Terrace, London W8 4RT – Nearest Tube: Notting Hill Gate

(Ring bell for the library which is downstairs. Regretably there is no disabled access.)

Please bring something to eat and drink for a light vegetarian shared lunch

2 thoughts on “Jewish philosophers think the afterlife

  1. Thank you very much for this notice. The topic sounds interesting.

    If the proceedings are recorded, please send a link so that those of us who can’t attend may read or listen to them.

    Gratefully, claire cafaro ( USA )

  2. Hi Claire, I’m sorry but as this is more of a free ranging discussion than a talk, I won’t be recording it. I will try to post a summary of the meeting some time in August, though, so please do check back.

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