Will Undead Jews Really Roll to Jerusalem?

Easter is the most brilliantly spooky of Christian holidays. Jesus the Zombie busts out of his grave and struts around for a couple days—some call this theology, I call it the stuff of nightmares. I prefer to think of Jesus … Read More

By / April 5, 2007
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Easter is the most brilliantly spooky of Christian holidays. Jesus the Zombie busts out of his grave and struts around for a couple days—some call this theology, I call it the stuff of nightmares. I prefer to think of Jesus as he was at the Sermon on the Mount, all fresh-faced and sweet. The risen dead belong in George A. Romero films, not in scripture.

But if an undead Jesus scares me, Lord help me when the Moshiach comes. Jewish eschatology involves what is possibly the weirdest End-of-Days scenario ever cooked up. And it includes lots and lots of undead Jews.

According to the Talmud, once the Moshiach bursts onto the stage like Elvis in Aloha from Hawaii, the corporeal (though badly decomposed) bodies of Jews, housed comfortably in pine boxes, or simply dead on the streets of Boca Raton if we missed the warning signs entirely, will be resurrected. According to the Midrash, the process here involves a few complex, magical steps:

  1. Our decomposed bodies will be flushed with the “Dew of Resurrection,” a sort of yeast of rebirth.
  2. Our bodies will then reform around a bone in the spine called the luz, which is generally considered to be the coccyx.
  3. We make time toward Israel to hook up with our souls.

The first two steps are hard to visualize. Rabbis haven’t traditionally been much help, basically saying that all will be clear once it happens. But the texts are clearer about the whole “making time towards Israel” part, and, sadly, it doesn’t involve a Lincoln Town Car.

The Talmud says resurrected Jews will literally roll their way to Israel through a series of underground tunnels and caves to be reunited with their souls, turning Israel into a frolicking undead playground. The Talmud predicts tha
t all this rolling will hurt, to say nothing of the nausea.

The only way to avoid the pain of rolling from, say, Palm Springs to Israel, is to be a righteous Jew at the time of death; though even the righteous have to wander through the tunnels and caves, which sounds messy, what with the need to sidestep the rolling (and probably vomiting) un-Orthodox masses. When everyone’s finally in Israel, the Mount of Olives will open up and resurrected Jews will stream out—presumably in search of Dramamine.

If you find all this hard to fathom, you’re not alone. The idea that Israel turns into an eternal dance sequence from the “Thriller” video has scared the hell out of me since I first encountered Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones: “Behold, I will open your grave, O My people, and I will bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, O My people. And I will put My spirit in you and ye shall live, and I will bring you in your own land, and ye shall know that I the Lord have spoken and performed, saith the Lord.”

If you need me, your basic bacon-eating Jew, I’ll be the one cowering in my grave, gripping a shotgun
and blasting away at the flesh-eating zombies.

The belief in resurrection likely goes back to the 4th Century B.C.E., when Jews were influenced by Babylonian concepts of religion. But it is Ezekiel’s vision that thousands of years of Jews have embraced as the definitive statement on the End of Days—though not without some discussion of the actual process, which is how we got this whole idea about rolling, with the Angel Gabriel leading the way.

Perhaps Ezekiel’s vision should be taken metaphorically. Though I’ve always been told we’d roll to Israel after death, what this really must mean is that we’ll metaphorically rise from the grave and metaphorically roll to Israel, right? Right? Right?!?

Well, no.

The Orthodox, at least, are quite literal in their belief that Jews will rise from their caskets and plunge en masse through the center of the Earth towards Israel. It is, according to Orthodox Rabbi Raleigh Resnick of, one of the 13 principles of our faith.

The state of our bodies, however, is up for discussion. It’s reasonable to assume that if the power exists to resurrect the dead, the same power would exist to make us look decent, lest we live through eternity in differing states of decomposition. As a person who had hair like Robert Smith of The Cure through about 1990, I’d like to
have a choice regarding how I look. After resurrection, will I look as I do at the time of my death (probably even worse than 1990), or will I be in some perfect state of myself?

Rabbi Resnick, and Orthodoxy in general, believe that we will return in our prime, at our most vibrant, in a perfect state. This is why Jews do not typically practice cremation. To burn the body would be to desecrate it, which would prevent us from returning to the physical state, never mind the State of Israel.

This prompts a larger question: Won’t space in Israel be a little tight once all of the newly re-minted Jews take their rightful place on the 8,500 square miles of Holy Land? (And let’s not forget the issue of coordinating a few thousand years’ worth of undead Jews all the way to Israel. Last Thanksgiving, for instance, it was nearly impossible to coordinate the 14 living Jews who were coming to my house for a simple meal; I shudder to think what it would be like wrangling the totality of the Jewish dead halfway around the world.)

Fortunately, it seems like the Israel in question isn’t necessarily Israel as we know it. Rabbi Resnick says there are statements in the Midrash and also within Jewish literature which assert that the whole world will have the status of Israel, or that that the boundaries of Israel will expand to accommodate all of the Jewish people. Specifically, the Midrash teaches that in a Time to Come, “Jerusalem will diffuse its sanctity over the whole of the Land of Israel, and the Land of Israel will diffuse its sanctity over the whole world.” Should this come to pass, rolling to Israel should be a significantly less trying ordeal—what without the oceans, mountains, and molten center of the Earth to contend with—though there’s nothing in the literature which makes note of auxiliary Mounts of Olives opening up worldwide.

But as the rabbis say, we’ll know when it happens. I recommend brushing up on your somersaults and investing in some knee and elbow pads; it could be a long journey.

Goldberg, P.I. would like to thank Rabbi Raleigh Resnick and Rabbi Mayer Green. Other sources include To Live and Live Again, by Rabbi Nissan Dovid Dubov, and Holy Mountain: Two Paths to One God by Raphael H. Levine.

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