Purgatory: Rabbinic Views
This article covers Rabbinic Views of Purgatory.
An intermediate state through which souls are to pass in order to be purified from sin before they are admitted into the heavenly paradise. The belief in purgatory, fundamental with the Roman Catholic Church, is based by the Church authorities chiefly upon II Macc. xii. 44-45: “If he [Judas] had not hoped that they that were slain should have risen again it had been superfluous and vain to pray for the (dead. . . . Whereupon he made an atonement that they might be delivered from sin”; for this indicates that souls after death pass through an intermediate state in which they may by some intercession be saved from doom. The same view, that an atonement should be made for the dead, is expressed in Sifre, Deut. 210. The idea of an intermediate state of the soul, release from which may be obtained by intercession of the saints, is clearly dwelt upon in the Testament of Abraham, Recension A, xiv., where the description is given of a soul which, because its good and its evil deeds are equal, has to undergo the process of purification while remaining in a middle state, and on whose behalf Abraham intercedes, the angels joining him in his prayer, whereupon the soul is admitted into paradise.
The view of purgatory is still more clearly expressed in rabbinical passages, as in the teaching of the Shammaites: “In the last judgment day there shall be three classes of souls: the righteous shall at once be written down for the life everlasting; the wicked, for Gehenna; but those whose virtues and sins counterbalance one another shall go down to Gehenna and float up and down until they rise purified; for of them it is said: ‘I will bring the third part into the fire and refine them as silver is refined, and try them as gold is tried’ [Zech. xiii. 9.]; also, ‘He [the Lord] bringeth down to Sheol and bringeth up again'” (I Sam. ii. 6). The Hillelites seem to have had no purgatory; for they said: “He who is ‘plenteous in mercy’ [Ex. xxxiv. 6.] inclines the balance toward mercy, and consequently the intermediates do not descend into Gehenna” (Tosef., Sanh. xiii. 3; R. H. 16b; Bacher, “Ag. Tan.” i. 18). Still they also speak of an intermediate state.
Regarding the time which purgatory lasts, the accepted opinion of R. Akiba is twelve months; according to R. Johanan b. Nuri, it is only forty-nine days. Both opinions are based upon Isa. lxvi. 23-24: “From one new moon to another and from one Sabbath to another shall all flesh come to worship before Me, and they shall go forth and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against Me; for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched”; the former interpreting the words “from one new moon to another” to signify all the months of a year; the latter interpreting the words “from one Sabbath to another,” in accordance with Lev. xxiii. 15-16, to signify seven weeks. During the twelve months, declares the baraita (Tosef., Sanh. xiii. 4-5; R. H. 16b), the souls of the wicked are judged, and after these twelve months are over they are consumed and transformed into ashes under the feet of the righteous (according to Mal. iii. 21 [A. V. iv. 3]), whereas the great seducers and blasphemers are to undergo eternal tortures in Gehenna without cessation (according to Isa. lxvi. 24).
The righteous, however, and, according to some, also the sinners among the people of Israel for whom Abraham intercedes because they bear the Abrahamic sign of the covenant are not harmed by the fire of Gehenna even when they are required to pass through the intermediate state of purgatory (‘Er. 19b; Ḥag. 27a).
History of Purgatory.
The idea of the purging fire through which the soul has to pass is found in the Zend-Avesta (“Bundahis,” xxx. 20): “All men will pass into the melted metal and become pure; to the righteous it will seem as though he walks through warm milk” (comp. Enoch, lii. 6-7, lxvii. 6-7). The Church Fathers developed the idea of the “ignis purgatorius” into a dogma according to which all souls, including those of the righteous who remain unscathed, have to pass the purgatory (Origen on Ps. xxxvii., Homily 3; Lactantius, “Divinæ Institutiones,” vii. 21, 4-7; Jerome on Ps. cxviii., Sermon 20; Commodianus, “Instructiones,” ii. 2, 9); hence prayers and offerings for the souls in purgatory were instituted (Tertullian, “De Corona Militis,” 3-4; “De Monogamia,” 10; “Exhortatio Castitatis,” 11; Augustine, “Enchiridion ad Lauram,” 67-69, 109; Gregory I., “Dialogi,” iv. 57). Hence also arose in the Church the mass for the dead corresponding in the Synagogue to the Ḳaddish (see Ḳaddish).
Kaufmann Kohler, Ph.D., Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Beth-El, New York; President of the Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Borrowed from http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12446-purgatory
- Boeklen, Die Verwandtschaft der Jüdisch-Christlichen mit der Persischen Eschatologie, 1902, pp. 118-125;
- Atzberger, Die Christliche Eschatologie, 1890, pp. 99 et seq., 162, 275;
- Herzog-Hauck, Real-Encyc, s.v. Fegefeuer;
- McClintock and Strong, Cyc. s.v.