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The Jewish View of Life After Death

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When I was just starting to learn about Judaism as an adult, I took a 3-week course called “The Jewish View of Life After Death”. At that time, I was working my way through everything Shirley MacLaine ever wrote about reincarnation and I was practicing past-life regression on my closest friends.

When I saw the title of the course, I remember thinking, “I didn’t even know Judaism HAD a view of life after death.” Back then, my view of Judaism was pretty much limited to Chanukah candles, bagels and lox and the Maxwell House Haggadah. So I wasn’t exactly a Talmudic scholar.
 
Everything I learned in that class intrigued me.

I learned about techiyat hametim, the fundamental principle of Jewish faith that asserts that those who died will ultimately be resurrected during the Messianic era. It’s a fascinating concept, leading to so many follow-up questions, like “What kind of body do we get resurrected in?” and “What age will we be when we get resurrected?” and “If you were married more than once, with which spouse do you spend eternity?”
 
It’s been over 30 years since I enrolled in that adult education course. I still consider it one of the most important steps I ever took toward understanding the depth and richness of Jewish tradition. Since then, I’ve deepened my understanding of various Jewish ideas about what happens after we die. I’ve watched a few really meaningful videos of Jews telling about their near death experiences, and how that changed them forever. And I’ve read many books about the afterlife.

But none of them are quite like the brand new novel by Dan Sofer called An Unexpected Afterlife.
 
Sofer’s novel is based in modern-day Jerusalem. His main character, Moshe Karlin, wakes up in the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, two years after he died. With a light touch, Sofer uses this novel to explore what dilemmas could occur if people who previously passed away, suddenly start spontaneously reviving, while modern life continues on for everyone else.

Readers knowledgeable about the Jewish view of the End of Days will need to put aside their conceptions of how the process of resurrection will happen to enjoy An Unexpected Afterlife. In Karlin, Sofer has given readers a highly likeable main character. With all the dilemmas Karlin faces, starting with an immediate need for clothing and advancing to the need to win his wife back from the man who replaced him after his death, you will find yourself rooting for him.
 
The novel is billed as a mystery, and it certainly has its share of bad guys and tense moments. You shouldn’t be dissuaded, if you’re a reader who, like me, doesn’t particularly enjoy mysteries. Sofer skillfully built a bit of tension into An Unexpected Afterlife, just enough to keep me reading, without making me anxious.
 
An Unexpected Afterlife is the first of a planned series Sofer calls The Dry Bones Society, a reference to the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones coming back together (see Ezekiel chapter 37). Book II is called An Accidental Messiah and is due for publication later this year.
 
An Unexpected Afterlife releases on March 28, 2017 and is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Book Depository.
 
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Will someone be resurrected as a 95 year-old who is unable to walk and disabled, or will it be as one in the full power of their youth? See answers from Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis here.
 
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