Gan Eden
The Final Stage of Olam Haba

Gan Eden means Paradise, or, tellingly, the Garden of Eden. It derives from the descriptions of the afterlife found in the Talmud, a collection oftraditional oral Jewish tales and teachings. The Talmud's folktales, myths and legends build a picture of the Jewish afterlife as a journey through several stages of Olam Haba, the world beyond, which culminates with the lower Gan Eden, or Paradise. Eventually all souls will rise above Gan Eden and merge with God in a higher spiritual destiny (Arbel).

The Torah makes little to no mention of the afterlife at all, preferring instead to stress how one should live one's waking life. There is some speculation that this deliberate silence on the particulars of the afterlife could stem from the climate of Judaism's birth, namely Egypt and its oppressive, death obsessed religion (Telushkin). So it makes sense that the originators of Judaism, seeing the Pharaohs using years and hordes of slaves to build massive tombs, would decide that life obsession is a better way to go than death obsession.

But any culture yearns for the knowledge of the unexplainable, and if they don't have a ready religious source, they turn to folklore to invent their knowledge. Judaism has a history of intermingling mysticism, folklore, and religion, so much so that the Jewish religious culture and the Jewish folk culture blur (Rich). Hence most Jews believe the teachings and tales of the Rabbis in the Talmud to be their traditional folklore, and so they teach it orally and stay within its formulas. But Jewish movements differ on whether to accept their folklore as sacred or just mysticism. It is certainly likely for Jewish people to believe in an afterlife, but it will always depend on their personal viewpoint and the viewpoint of their particular movement. Orthodox Jews believe oral teachings and traditions, such as those recorded in the Talmud, to be a sort of "oral Torah," as significant as the written Torah, and they're certainly more inclined to believe the oral legends about the afterlife. Reform Jews believe the Torah not to be directly from God and hence the oral traditions to be just that, and so do not place as much value in their truth (Rich). In the end, as always, it ultimately comes down to the Jewish person's personal faith on what they choose to believe.

By running your mouse over the picture above and clicking on hotspots, you will find a small sampling of what Jewish folklore, mostly dervied from the Talmud, teaches about the world beyond.

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