There is some confusion on this matter based on Maimonides comments in Sefer Melakhim of his Yad on the modus operandi of the Melekh haMashiah.
But there is no ambiguity in his famous letter on resurrection of the dead, most easily accessible in Rabinowitz's Rambam L'Am, issued by Mossad HaRav Kook. Nor is there ambiguity in Rambam's introduction to Perek Helek in Talmud, Sanhedrin.
It is clear beyond doubt that Rambam believed in resurrection of the dead and in afterlife. He considers them pillars of our faith.
To determine if Maimonides believed in an afterlife and resurrection of the dead, we need look no further than the Yigdal -- the hymn traditionally added to the Jewish liturgy at the beginning of the morning service and at the end of the evening service. Written by Daniel ben Yehudah Dayan, it is based on Maimonides' "Thirteen Articles of Faith."
In terms of a messianic period, the twelfth principal in Yigdal translates: "By the End of Days He will send our Messiah, to redeem those longing for final salvation."
The thirteenth and final principal in Yigdal translates: "God will revive the dead in His abundant kindness. Blessed forever is His praised name."
Based on that statement, it certainly appears that Rambam (the acronym used for Maimonides, standing for Rabbi Moses ben Maimon) was a proponent of the resurrection of the dead.
Question:“Did Maimonides believe in an afterlife? Resurrection of the dead?”
As in many Jewish questions, there may be more than one answer, and, in this instance, we can answer none of them with one hundred percent certainty.
Maimonides (Rabbi Mosheh ben Maimon, or the Rambam as he is commonly called) expressed a number of possibly conflicting theologies in his life, and those who publish biographies of Rambam’s life have differed in their opinion as to the nature of his true beliefs.
During his life’s career as a student/teacher of Judaism, Rambam published a seminal philosophical work, the Guide to the Perplexed, as well as his famous commentary to the Mishnah and other works relating to the practice of Judaism.
The Guide sought to make coherent the Aristotelian understanding of the nature of God and the theology of the Torah.It was composed not for the common people, as he said:“…neither for the common people, nor for beginners, nor for those who occupy themselves only with the Law as it is handed down without concerning themselves with its principles. The design of this work is rather to promote the true understanding of the real spirit of the Law, to guide those religious persons who, adhering to the Torah, have studied philosophy and are embarrassed by the contradictions between the teachings of philosophy and the literal sense of the Torah.”(Jewish Encyclopedia, http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=905&letter=M&search=Maimonides#3053, retrieved June 23, 2010).
The Aristotelian school – in essence – believed that God existed but as a detached intellectual entity which simply and continually emanated thought.Thought poured down earthward through a number of spheres (Aristotle believed in three, Rambam thought there were ten), and eventually it entered the physical world resulting in the creation of matter, the world and humanity.In this paradigm, God exists as a detached thinker unconcerned with the affairs of the earth and the world, and also, by extension, unconcerned with the Jewish people.
The Guide contains very little about the question of afterlife and resurrection, only references to the 'impossibility of impossible things.'So we look elsewhere for an answer to the question.
The kind of Aristotelian philosophy found in the Guide did not accord with the views of the Torah and the Jewish religious establishment, and Rambam was all but compelled to recant his philosophical expressions or face excommunication.It was this change that brought about his writing a multitude of Jewish legal texts that addressed the more practical aspects of living a Jewish life.
Among this collection of texts is “Yigdal,” a piyyut (poem) introduced into synagogue worship during the last 850 years, which describes thirteen essential attributes of God.The last two attributes of this list point out in brief an expression of a belief in the afterlife and resurrection.They are:“By the end of days God will send our Messiah, to redeem those longing for God’s promised final salvation,” and “God will revive the dead in abundant kindness - Blessed forever is God’s praised Name.”
From this we may discern a belief in the afterlife on the part of the Rambam, but whether he truly believed in this philosophy is something that we may never know.
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