According to Judaism, do animals go to Heaven
My dog recently died. He was my loyal companion for many years, even more loyal than some of my friends. I was wondering, what happens to animals after they die? Do they go to heaven?
The Short Answer
If you’re asking whether there is some sort of “dog heaven” in which there are cute puppies running around a special section of Paradise, then, although I hate to be the one to disappoint you, the answer is no. However, if you mean “heaven” in the broader celestial sense, then yes.
The Slightly Longer Answer: The Philosophical Debate
The question of whether animals go to heaven has been debated throughout the centuries.
The Midrash states unequivocally that animals don’t have a portion in the World to Come.1 But that has not stopped some of the greatest Jewish philosophers from debating whether the concept of reward and punishment, and by extension the afterlife, applies to animals.
For example, Rabbi Saadia Gaon, in his famous philosophical work Sefer Emunot Ve’Deiot, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, writes that an animal is ultimately compensated for all the pain it went through in life and death.2 This idea is in line with the statement in the Talmud that “the Holy One, blessed be He, does not deprive any creature of any reward due to it”3 (although an animal’s reward is different than what a person would receive for doing a good deed out of free will). The fact that Rabbi Saadia Gaon held that this applies even to an animal going through a painful death suggests that the animal will continue to exist even after death.
The Kabbalistic Response
The question of whether animals are rewarded and have immortal souls is important, as it not only gives man perspective and meaning in his interactions with the rest of G‑d’s creations, but explains, in part, man’s purpose in this world.
In a long and fascinating letter, the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel, known as the Rebbe Maharash, explains that, although some Kabbalists were of the opinion that animals don’t have immortal souls,5 according to the teachings of the Arizal, animals do in fact have independent souls, and they do go to heaven.6 The Arizal is generally considered the final arbiter for all Kabbalistic teachings.
The Arizal explains that every created entity possesses a “soul.” This includes everything from rocks and other inanimate object to animals and, of course, people. This soul or “spark of G‑dliness” not only sustains the creation’s existence, but it imbues the creation with its purpose and significance in the world.
But if every creation has a spark of G‑d, in what way does the soul of a person and an animal differ?
G‑d created the world, including the souls of animals, through speech. It is only regarding a person’s soul that the verse states, “And He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living soul.”7 The Kabbalists explain that when one speaks, he uses a relatively superficial level of breath. But when one blows, he blows from deep within him. So, too, man’s soul comes from the very essence of the Divine.
When G‑d created the world, He invested in man the power to elevate the divine sparks or souls that are found throughout creation. It is for this reason that in general, the way an animal’s soul is elevated and returned after its death to its divine source is through its positive and spiritual interactions with man.
So, for instance, we can elevate the soul of a kosher animal by making a proper blessing when eating, and by using the energy gained for acts of goodness and righteousness.
(However, unlike a person’s afterlife, in which the souls “bask and delight in G‑d’s glory”8 in the Garden of Eden, the animal soul returns to its source (the supernal world of Tohu) in an elevated state.9 )
In the end, while different than human souls, animals too have souls that live on and can be elevated. This idea presents us with an enormous responsibility in our interactions with the animal kingdom. After all, the animal’s elevation in the afterlife can be dependent upon our positive interactions with it.
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