Afterlife without God?

Moshe Ben-Chaim

I was recently asked if one could receive the Afterlife, if he did not accept that God exists. The same question was answered in the affirmative by a Conservative Rabbi, although no Torah source was quoted by that Rabbi in his response. I could not disagree more. As always, when claiming some view is, or is not part of Torah, one must base his or her answer on reason, and Torah sources. I will do so...


First of all, in the Shema prayer (Deut. 6:4,5) God Himself requires that we not only affirm that He exists, that He governs Israel, and that He is One, but that we must also love Him with "all our hearts, all our soul and all our might". Now, as Love of God is one of the 613 commands, which even the Conservatives accept, how could this Rabbi claim that man is commanded to "love God, and with all his abilities", yet, man need not affirm God exists to receive the Afterlife? Loving a God that one feels does not exist, is impossible. 

Additionally, Shema demands that we must also accept that God is "Elohaynu", "our God". "Our God" means that He created and governs mankind. That is the undeniable, Torah definition of "God". If a person denies this fundamental of fundamentals, there is no greater crime, and certainly, he cannot be gifted the greatest reward of the Afterlife. Moreover, since the Afterlife is a state of being where we gain our most knowledge of God, if one denies God's existence, his being is antithetical to the Afterlife. He cannot exist in that world.

Furthermore, King Solomon stated, "The fear of God is the prerequisite of knowledge..." (Proverbs 1:7) Now, if a man or woman does not accept God, this wisest man next to Moses thereby states that such a person has no knowledge, since, "The fear of God is the prerequisite of knowledge..."  Now, if one has no knowledge, his or her view is wrong. And the Rabbis teach that if "one prepares for Sabbath, he will eat on Sabbath". This is a metaphor for life and death. That is, "If one prepares for the Afterlife, only then can he enjoy the Afterlife." And since the only feature of the Afterlife is knowledge of God, one who didn't study and rejects God, has not prepared. The Rabbis thereby teach that this person has no Afterlife. For knowledge is only accurate, if a person sees God as the Creator of all he studies. But if one's knowledge does not eventuate in an appreciation of God, such knowledge is useless, for he feels there is no Creator, or that something else created all that exists. 

Torah Sources

Leviticus 17:7 warns against the idolatrous practice of sacrificing to demons, imaginary beings. In verse 17:9 God states that He will cut off the soul (remove the Afterlife) from one who does not bring his sacrifice to God in the Temple, but brings them in the other places, as demon sacrifices. Such an individual abandons God, and loses his soul, his Afterlife. Ibn Ezra (17:7 ) explains this severe punishment is because one feels something exists – aside from God – that can "do good or punish man". We thereby learn that if we feel anything else caused our existences (doing good) we thereby go astray from following God, as 17:7 warns against. Abandoning God meets with the death of our souls.

Talmudic Sources

Talmud Sanhedrin (90a) cites those who do not receive the Afterlife: one who denies Resurrection is in the Torah, and one who embarrasses a Torah scholar (99b). If these lesser crimes cause one to forfeit his or her Afterlife, certainly, rejection of God forfeits one's Afterlife, and need not be mentioned, as this is obvious.

Unfortunately, many people – even Rabbis – spread false positions in the name of Torah, but are in fact in opposition to the Torah. The rule: always ask for a source.