After seeing countless Christian missionaries attempt to convert Jews to their religion, even dressing up and pretending to be Jewish, I’ve decided, by G-d’s grace, to write a blog post dealing with if conversion to Christianity is necessary, if we go to Heaven, if we go to hell, and what exactly occurs after death and how to attain true Salvation.
To begin our journey, we have to first ask ourselves if conversion to Christianity is necessary. Before going further, though, I think we should be fair in our representation of Christianity and why it feels Jews should be saved. As the Torah tells us, we should have equal measures (Deuteronomy 25.15), which means we must be fair, not only in economic situations, but academic ones, such as this, as well.
In the One for Israel website, they write:
“Can Jewish people be saved without accepting Yeshua as their Messiah? Some people think so. But the Bible is very clear that there is only one way to be saved. The Jewish Messiah, Yeshua, has paid for the sins of the Jewish people too. There is only one way to receive eternal life, and that is to accept his redeeming sacrifice.”
Essentially, they’re attempting to say that Yeshua is necessary. The Messiah is essential to a Jew’s salvation, which I assume is eternal life. Going on, they explain the reason they feel this way:
“All of us have sinned, all of us need a Messiah, and only Yeshua is the Messiah who has paid for our sins and can bring us into a right relationship with God. […] God wants all men to be saved. He wants all of Israel to be saved. In order for this to happen He has sent His Son, Yeshua the Messiah, to atone for the sins of all men, Jews and Gentiles, so we can have eternal life with Him in heaven. “
Their reasoning is that since everyone – including every Jew – has sinned at least once in his or her life, they therefore need a sacrifice on their behalf. Indeed, they claim that Yeshua causes us to have a relationship with G-d! What does the Tanakh teach, primarily, about sacrifices? Psalm 51 is arguably the best Psalm for one wanting to repent and to become right with the Eternal One. When David sinned with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11.2ff.) by killing Uriah the Hittite, her husband, and then taking the woman for himself as a wife, he was pained in his heart when he realized the sin he had committed. Thus, Psalm 51 was written, under the inspiration of G-d. While I do suggest that everyone read Psalm 51, for the purposes of this blog post I will only quote a small portion.
“16Save me from bloodguilt, O G-d, G-d, my deliverer, that I may sing forth Your beneficence. 17O Lord, open my lips, and let my mouth declare Your praise. 18You do not want me to bring sacrifices; You do not desire burnt offerings;19True sacrifice to G-d is a contrite spirit; G-d, You will not despise a contrite and crushed heart. 20May it please You to make Zion prosper; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. 21Then You will want sacrifices offered in righteousness, burnt and whole offerings; then bulls will be offered on Your altar.“
Contrary to Christian logic, Jewish people do not need sacrifices to be forgiven by the Eternal One. Indeed, as we see in this Psalm, David explicitly says: “You do not want me to bring sacrifices; You do not desire burnt offerings”. After committing murder, David did not need to sacrifice in order to be forgiven by G-d. What did he have to do? He says that the true sacrifice “is a contrite spirit”. The Hebrew word for “contrite” is Shavar, which means to break something into pieces. It is used in Genesis 19.19 in the sense of the evil people of Sodom almost breaking (Shevar) down Lot’s door! The word for “spirit” is, of course, ruach, which means the mind, will, emotions, breath, and essential essence of man. What David is saying is, “The true sacrifice to G-d is a completely broken, shattered to pieces, will, emotions, mind, breath, and very essence of man.” It is to be truly repentant of the sin committed to such a degree that we are completely “undone” before G-d (Isaiah 6.4). This is also explained by Ezekiel the Prophet when he writes:
“21Moreover, if the wicked one repents of all the sins that he committed and keeps all My laws and does what is just and right, he shall live; he shall not die. 22None of the transgressions he committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness he has practiced, he shall live. 23Is it my desire that a wicked person shall die?—says the Lord G-D. It is rather that he shall turn back from his ways and live. 24So, too, if a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does wrong, practicing the very abominations that the wicked person practiced, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he did shall be remembered; because of the treachery he has practiced and the sins he has committed—because of these, he shall die.“
All a man has to do in order to be forgiven for his sins is repent from his sins – do teshuvah, literally turn from that sin and confess it to G-d and not do it again – and he is completely forgiven. Sacrifices are simply not needed for transgressions, nor were they ever needed. In fact, returning to Psalm 51, the last verse quoted says that “Then”, meaning after receiving forgiveness, G-d will delight in such sacrifices.
It is because of this – that is, sacrifices never saved anyone – that Jews do not need to be saved. There’s no need. All one needs to do is simply repent of their sin, confess their sin, and strive to never do it again. That’s it. Hashem literally says that He will not remember it when a man does this.
Going on from there, one important aspect to true salvation is where we go when we die. What exactly happens? It should seem obvious that there are two different fates for each man depending upon if he is righteous or if he is wicked. First, what happens when a righteous man dies? Does he go to Heaven?
The blunt answer is no. No one goes to Heaven because it is the dwelling place of Hashem (e.g., Isaiah 66.1), not the abode of man. There is a place, however, that we do see consistently in the Tanakh, and that is to “be gathered” to our “fathers” or, simply put, to go to Sheol.
It needs to be said plainly that the righteous and the wicked alike go to Sheol, however, as we will see in the following examples:
“All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.”
“18O Hashem, let me not be disappointed when I call You; let the wicked be disappointed; let them be silenced in Sheol;”
“Then he instructed them, saying to them, “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave which is in the field of Ephron the Hittite,”
“10And all that generation were likewise gathered to their fathers.”
2 Kings 22.20:
“20Assuredly, I will gather you to your fathers and you will be laid in your tomb in peace.”
Allow this list to suffice that we all – righteous and unrighteous – are gathered to our fathers, to our people, in Sheol. No one, righteous or unrighteous, will ever go into Heaven, which is where Hashem Himself dwells. We are not really told what this place, Sheol, is like in the Tanakh, unfortunately. We are told, though, that when the times come we are resurrected – the righteous to eternal life and the wicked to everlasting destruction (Daniel 12.2). We’re also told that the righteous will inherit the new heavens and the new earth, which we call the “Olam Haba” (the World to Come) (Isaiah 65.17, for example).
While we do not really know what happens in Sheol from the Tanakh, we do have extra-biblical sources that show us what Sheol is like for the righteous. Before that, though, from the Tanakh we can deduce:
- We are with our forefathers;
- For the righteous, it is a place of rest and bliss, a place where we don’t want to be disturbed (e.g., 1 Samuel 28.15);
- And, the wicked go there for, curiously, punishment (Psalm 31.18)
How can we correctly claim that Sheol is a place for the righteous where they experience bliss and joy with their righteous ancestors while, at the same time, the wicked go there as a punishment?
The Book of Enoch is an apocryphal work which dates to 300 B.C.E, which will give us a good idea of what the ancient Israelites thought. If Enoch isn’t to be considered canon, we should at least value the historical input of the common theology of the day. We read:
“1 And from there I went to another place, and he [sic] mountain [and] of hard rock. 2 And there was in it four hollow places, deep and wide and very smooth. How smooth are the hollow places and deep and dark to look at. 3 Then Raphael answered, one of the holy angels who was with me, and said unto me: ‘These hollow places have been created for this very purpose, that the spirits of the souls of the dead should 4 assemble therein, yea that all the souls of the children of men should assemble here. And these places have been made to receive them till the day of their judgement and till their appointed period [till the period appointed], till the great judgement (comes) upon them.’ “
Essentially, we see that Sheol, according to Enoch, is a place where every soul, after it departs the body, goes to dwell until judgment comes upon them. The righteous and the wicked alike will go to this place prior to the Day of Judgment.
Continuing, we read:
” I saw (the spirit of) a dead man making suit, 5 and his voice went forth to heaven and made suit. And I asked Raphael the angel who was 6 with me, and I said unto him: ‘This spirit which maketh suit, whose is it, whose voice goeth forth and maketh suit to heaven ‘ 7 And he answered me saying: ‘This is the spirit which went forth from Abel, whom his brother Cain slew, and he makes his suit against him till his seed is destroyed from the face of the earth, and his seed is annihilated from amongst the seed of men.’ 8 The I asked regarding it, and regarding all the hollow places: ‘Why is one separated from the other’ 9 And he answered me and said unto me: ‘These three have been made that the spirits of the dead might be separated. And such a division has been make (for) the spirits of the righteous, in which there is the bright spring of 10 water. And such has been made for sinners when they die and are buried in the earth and judgement has not been executed on them in their 11 lifetime. Here their spirits shall be set apart in this great pain till the great day of judgement and punishment and torment of those who curse for ever and retribution for their spirits. There 12 He shall bind them for ever. And such a division has been made for the spirits of those who make their suit, who make disclosures concerning their destruction, when they were slain in the days 13 of the sinners. Such has been made for the spirits of men who were not righteous but sinners, who were complete in transgression, and of the transgressors they shall be companions: but their spirits shall not be slain in the day of judgement nor shall they be raised from thence.’ 14 The I blessed the Lord of glory and said: ‘Blessed be my Lord, the Lord of righteousness, who ruleth for ever.'”
Enoch answers our problem of how the righteous men can be in bliss in Sheol whereas the wicked can be, as we first thought, in the same place and it be a punishment. Essentially, there’s a gap in Sheol, where the righteous and the wicked are separated. The righteous are in Paradise – albeit a small version, but Paradise nonetheless – and the wicked are in another place of torment for their sins and transgressions.
Since we’ve already discussed where the righteous go after the Day of Judgment (Olam Haba), where exactly do the wicked go? Is there such a thing as the Christian view of hell? The Tanakh clearly teaches that the wicked die, perish, and do not receive life beyond the grave after their judgment. To put it in simpler terms, the wicked are utterly destroyed from existence after their judgment.
“20But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the Eternal One shall be consumed, like meadow grass consumed in smoke.”
“7A brutish man cannot know, a fool cannot understand this: 8though the wicked sprout like grass, though all evildoers blossom, it is only that they may be destroyed forever.“
“20The person who sins, he alone shall die. 24So, too, if a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does wrong, practicing the very abominations that the wicked person practiced, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he did shall be remembered; because of the treachery he has practiced and the sins he has committed—because of these, he shall die.”
“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to dishonor and everlasting contempt.”
Essentially, the wicked do not suffer eternally for their sins. This is a Christian concept that developed from Greek mythology and has no place whatsoever in Judaism. It simply doesn’t exist.
Moving on to the more important question that is, by now, plaguing our minds: How can we achieve eternal life (salvation)? For the non-Jew, I suggest looking at my blog post “Conversion in Judaism“, which deals with non-Jewish salvation. It is possible that non-Jews can experience the Olam Haba because of the Noachide Commandments (the Sheva Mitzvot) but that is beyond the scope of this article. How can a Jew attain salvation? By simply observing the Torah, as Hashem Himself tells us:
“19I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life—if you and your offspring would live— 20by loving the Eternal One your G-d, heeding His commands, and holding fast to Him. For thereby you shall have life and shall long endure upon the soil that Hashem swore to your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give to them.“
In conclusion, Jews do not need to be saved. Salvation is attainable by having faith in Hashem, following Him through His Torah, and repenting and asking for forgiveness. The righteous and wicked go to the same place right after death – Sheol -, and are separated by a gap. The wicked are “tormented” (in some sense) in their position while the righteous are at bliss. After the Day of Judgment, the righteous inherit eternal life (the Olam Haba) while the wicked are utterly destroyed from existence. We attain such salvation – eternal life – by loving and serving the Eternal One our G-d.