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Does Heaven Exist?

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In its more than 20,000 verses, the Hebrew Bible is absolutely silent in regards to life after death or about Heaven. Bible scholars use this point to argue that the concept of Heaven wasn’t present in the setting of the Hebrew Bible. It wasn’t until contact with the Zoroastrians, a religion that heavily influenced post-biblical Judaism, that the idea of Heaven crept into Judaism.
 
Now obviously this is not the “classical” Jewish answer as to why the Bible is silent about Heaven. The Talmud emphatically states that all who deny that the Hebrew Bible speaks about Heaven is a heretic, and subsequent commentators try to anachronistically project the idea of Heaven back onto many Biblical verses and stories. While these apologetics are clever and fascinating, the question remains one that lingers throughout the consciousness of Jewish philosophers.
 
But maybe there is a much more fundamental reason as to why the Hebrew Bible virtually skips all mention of the afterlife - a reason that speaks to the foundation of Judaism itself.
 
Heaven is a concept that mitigates some of humanity’s deepest fears while simultaneously accentuating the worst in us. Heaven provides an easy answer as to “why bad things happen to good people” and how a good God could possibly be in control of such a seemingly morally indifferent world. It alleviates our anxiety pertaining the ephemerality of life and embeds all of our actions with cosmic significance.
 
But Heaven also has been used to justify abhorrent acts. Many religious zealots who advocate forced conversion and the killing of heretics are inspired by a belief that they are actually doing a righteous act by allowing the victims an afterlife. If one truly believes that by doing X they will gain infinite reward in Heaven, there is no upper limit as to how immoral X can be.
 
Furthermore, Heaven allows for a fundamental imbalance of power amongst religious practitioners. In every religion, there will always be those leaders who will claim to know exactly how to attain residence in Heaven and use this so-called “knowledge” to their own personal benefit. One does not have to be a Marxist to recognize that Karl Marx was correct in his judgment that religious belief can be used as a hegemonic tool.
 
The other day I was asked if I think that Heaven is real. I replied that while I deeply hope the answer is yes, I honestly have no idea.
 
This is the only appropriate answer to the question.
 
If someone tells you that they know that Heaven is real, how to get there, or what it is like - you should run in the opposite direction, fast. No one has any idea what happens after death. If someone tells you that they do, it generally comes with an exact prescription of how you must change your life in order to merit entrance.
 
Judaism is fundamentally a religion of action. While there are hundreds of laws that have been around since the inception of Judaism, various dogmas have changed and evolved throughout.
 
Perhaps the reason as to why the Bible is silent in regards to heaven is that from a certain perspective, it doesn’t really matter. Our job is to do the absolute best we can to better the world and this is true whether or not Heaven exists.
 
 
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