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“After One-Hundred-and-Twenty: Reflecting on Death, Mourning, and the Afterlife in the Jewish Tradition”

by Hillel Halkin. Princeton University Press. 240 pages. Hardcover $27.95.

 This new edition to the Library of Jewish Ideas series is at once a scholarly journey, a meditation, and a remembrance. Most likely there is nothing comparable in print. In fact, toward the end of the book, Halkin lets us known that the concerns he has pursued are barely mentioned in the works of modern and contemporary Jewish writers, including those who belong to one or another segment of Orthodoxy. hillel-halkin1

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And yet Halkin has created something at once intellectually stimulating, profoundly frightening, and ultimately reassuring. It is like plunging into the abyss and finding the buoyancy and healing power of salt water. Some sugar as well.

Halkin makes it clear that his perspective is that of a non-observant Jew, yet he is a knowledgeable one and, perhaps more importantly, he is a curious one. He asks, “how can a life that has existed cease to exist without a trace? How can the universe have no memory of it?” From here he enters the world of Jewish texts that consider Jewish notions of the afterlife.

After a pleasantly teasing introduction, Halkin builds five sturdy chapters in which he navigates through the history of ideas as Jewish culture undergoes large and small shifts and larger and smaller degrees of influence from neighboring cultures. He sets Jewish considerations of death and something beyond it in the context of Greek, Egyptian, and Babylonian constructions, finding the common denominators and the essentially Jewish distinction. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears on the Jewish Book Council website, click here: After One-Hundred-and-Twenty | Jewish Book Council

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