Monday 28 March 2016


A fascinating chapter of great intrigue confronts us when we look at Rambam’s view on Techiyat HaMeitim (Revival of the Dead), with allegations abounding of forgery or possible coerced retraction.

The problem is basically juggling Rambam’s views as recorded in the following three texts:

1) PEREK CHELEK: The Revival of the Dead concept, is declared by Rambam to be one of the Thirteen Principles of Faith that every Jew is required to believe in.[1]

2) MISHNEH TORAH: Rambam then appears to contradict these Principles, by declaring that there will be no bodily form in the World to Come and it will only be a world of spirit and souls.[2]

3) MA’AMAR TECHIYAT HA’METIM: To top it all off, Rambam proceeds to write an essay, in his latter years, where he appears to retract the previous statement and unequivocally declares that in the future, the soul will be reunited with the body.

Strangely enough, in his Guide for the Perplexed, there is no reference at all to this fundamental doctrine! So besides apparent contradictions and possible retractions, we are faced with omissions as well.

What indeed was Rambam’s real position on the issue of Revival of the Dead?

Let’s look at each of these three texts in greater detail:


In Perek Chelek, Rambam elucidates on the Thirteen basic Principles of Faith that every Jew is required to believe in. The thirteenth and final Principal of Faith is the belief in the Revival of the Dead, where at some point in the future, all those resting in the dust will arise to a new life. This is described as a ‘fundamental truth and foundation of our faith’. So much so that; “one who says that the resurrection of the dead is not taught in the Torah, has no share in the World to Come.”

But then, in an apparent turn around, Rambam seems to add a caveat and limitation which tends to undermine the very fundamentality of this concept.

“Men do not do anything except to achieve profit or to avoid loss. Most men would regard any other action (where there is no reward) as useless and meaningless. Under these circumstances it is hard to say to one who is studying Torah; ‘Do certain things and refrain from doing certain other things but not out of fear of divine punishment and not in order to acquire a reward.’ This is an exceedingly difficult thing to do because most men have not achieved such truth that they are able to be like Abraham our Father (who acted without concern for reward). Therefore, in order that the masses stay faithful and do the commandments, it was permitted to tell them that they might hope for a reward (such as the Revival of the Dead) and to warn them against transgressions out of fear of punishment.

Then he almost makes an apology for this view and says; “Let no one blame me for the freedom with which I have used certain expressions or made certain statements in this book, though they may irritate some scholars.”

After all this, Rambam goes on to enumerate the Thirteen Principles of Faith, which he does in great detail. However when it comes to the Thirteenth Principle, surprisingly, he only writes a single line on this most fundamental issue.

"The Thirteenth Fundamental Principle is the Resurrection of the Dead, as we have already explained."

This very terse, single sentence is disappointing because we don’t know whether his statement; ‘as we have already explained’, refers to his fundamental view (that without belief in the Revival of the Dead one is not a true believer) - or to his alluded view (that people need to think in terms of great reward otherwise they will not be sufficiently motivated).


In Mishneh Torah, Rambam declares that; “In the World to Come there will be no bodies, only souls...”[3]

This non-corporeal view of a purely spiritual World to Come was so novel and controversial that Raavad fiercely challenges Rambam and says; “It seems to me that this man (Rambam) is almost saying that there is no concept of Revival of the Dead for bodies, only for souls? - On my life, this is not the views of the sages!”[4]

So clearly, Rambam’s alluded view in the previous text, and his stated view in this one, did not find favor in the eyes of his contemporaries.

To add to the mystery, Rambam writes just five chapters earlier and in the same volume, that; “One who denies the Revival of the Dead concept...has no share in the World to Come.”[5]

So far, both our key texts each seem to contain two very divergent and contradictory statements on the importance of belief in the Revial of the Dead.


We do know that many Jews, who denied a belief in a literal Revival of the Dead concept, claimed to base their belief on some of Rambam’s previous teachings. This created much opposition and controversy. Eventually, Rabbi Shmuel ben Ali, who was the leader, or Gaon, of the school of Talmudic study in Baghdad, publicly accused Rambam of discarding a most fundamental precept within Judaism!

So, in 1191, Rambam wrote his Essay on the Revival of the Dead, to defend himself against this open charge of heresy.

Surprisingly, in the Essay, Rambam writes quite scathingly about his adversary the Gaon of Baghdad; “I received a copy of the writing of the Gaon (attacking Rambam). I found it was a collection of homilies and legends that he had gathered. Everyone known that scholars are not expected to rehearse the homilies and the curious tales, of the sort that women tell one another in their condolence calls.”

Yet, notwithstanding this brazen insult, for the most part, Rambam’s Essay on the Revival of the Dead does read like a retraction of some his earlier views.

In it, he states that the belief in resurrection is critically fundamental to Judaism and even has a biblical source.[6]

He says; “And I will state that the Revival of the Dead - which is widely known and recognized among our people, which is accepted by all groups among us, which is mentioned in numerous prayers and stories composed by our prophets and sages – refers to the return of the soul to the body after it departed.”

“Concerning this, there has never been any heard any disagreement in our nation, nor does it have any (allegorical) interpretation (other than its literal meaning). Nor is it permissible to rely upon any individual who believes otherwise...Now, when it is reported of me that I maintain that the Revival of the Dead is metaphorical, this is a downright lie and a pure invention. My writings are in circulation – let them be perused, and let someone show you where I said this.” 

(This last statement is astounding, given his Mishneh Torah text, quoted above!)

In the final analysis, though, the Essay text (written in his latter years), does appear to be his conclusive, clear and assertive endorsement to the fundamental importance of belief in a literal Revival of the Dead concept. There does not appear to be any room for ambiguity on the subject, and it reads almost like a retraction.

The question of course is: was this a coerced retraction, a genuine change of heart, or as some assert, a simple forgery? [7]

There are many and varied ways to deal with these difficulties:


It is plausible that the answer is none of the above. 

This is because of a very interesting distinction Rambam makes between two future eras:

In the Essay, Rambam maintains that the era of Resurrection is different from the more important era known as the World to Come (which he says is overlooked by those who purport that the phenomenon of Revival of the Dead is more important). 

He says that prior to the era of the World to Come, there will be an era of Resurrection – BUT those resurrected will again die and will not live forever!

Even the Messiah will die, according to Rambam: “But the Messiah will die, and his son and his grandson will reign in his stead.”[8]

The era of the Word to Come, however, will be purely spiritual and eternal.

[This way, one would not be considered a heretic by denying the literal and physical Resurrection concept, since belief in a spiritual World to Come is a different tenet of faith which is entirely removed from that of Resurrection!  - Perhaps this distinction could have protected Rambam from charges of heresy (and could be reconciled with the Mishneh Torah text which actually makes reference to the World to Come as purely spiritual without bodies.)]

Some, like Shem Tov ben Yosef Shem Tov[9] , take a very different approach by going so far as to say that this Essay was an outright forgery, and reiterates that Rambam “did not believe in a physical resurrection”.[10]

Others, like Abarbanel, wrote that Rambam believed that only the first five Principles of Faith were fundamental to Jewish belief, and that the last eight (which includes the Revival of the Dead) were meant for the masses who innately felt a need to believe in such things.[11]

It also seems as if no one knew about the Essay on the Revival of the Dead while Rambam was still alive. He passed away twelve years after (allegedly?) writing the Essay, which would have been enough time for people to have become familiar with the work.

Even his son, Avraham ben HaRambam, who wrote extensively on the topic of resurrection, did not mention the Essay in his deliberations.


After considering all the different components making up this debate, and as a result of so many pressures and agendas coming from all sides - it is very difficult to know with any degree of certainty, what Rambam’s real views were in regard to this crucial concept of  Revival of the Dead.

 As he himself says; “The worst offenders are preachers who preach and expound to the masses what they themselves do not understand. Would that they keep silent about what they do not know.[12]


Regarding the general concept of Revival of the Dead, there is an interesting argument between the kabbalist Abulafia[13] and the nasi, Sheshet ben Yitzchak of Saragossa:

Abulafia (who in general was a supporter of Rambam), was at first very opposed to his view on resurrection. 

He writes; “For what purpose does the body stand watch for its G-d...if the body is not resurrected, where is its hope and where can it find it?”[14]

In other words, why do we have so many restrictive laws regarding the upkeep and holiness of the body if it is not to be rewarded at some later stage?

Rabbi Sheshet took umbrage to Abulafia’s ‘simple and material’ view and writes in defense of Rambam; 

“To bring down our fathers from the highest levels...where they can live the level of man in an impure body which needs to eat and opposed to a life of wisdom which is greater than foolishness, as light is greater than darkness...
These words (of Abulafia) seem to me like the writing of one who is confused... If the soul, while still in the body was yearning for its Maker subordinating its passion to its reason, then when it leaves the body it will attain the highest levels for which it yearned while still in the body?”[15]

Interestingly, after the Essay on the Revival of the Dead was published, Abulafia withdrew his criticism.

[1] Rambam’s commentary on the Mishna, Sanhedrin ch. 10.
[2] Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuvah, ch. 8, 2.
[3] Hilchot Teshuvah, ch. 8,2
[4] HaSagot HaRa’avad ibid. There are Talmudic references to the Revival of the Dead, such as (Sanhedrin 72a) where it speaks about the righteous whom G-d will resurrect, and (Ketuvot 111b) where it speaks about the dead being resurrected wearing their clothes.

[5] Hilchot Teshuva, ch. 3,6
[6] Daniel 12:2-13; “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake...”
There are, however, other verses that dispel the Revival concept, such as “ If a man dies, can he live again?” (Iyov 14:14)
[7] If there has to have been a forgery (as opposed to a reconciliation of texts), and if one accepts that Ma’amar Techiyat HaMetim was indeed written by Rambam - could not the Mishneh Torah text, which blatantly contradicts this text, have been the forgery?
[8] See Perek Chelek.
[9] Passed away in 1440.
[10] Yosef Albo (15th century) also supports the notion of a non-physical ‘revival’. He believes that although the concept is mentioned in the Talmud, it referred to ‘the reward of the souls and its life in the world of souls’ not bodies.
[11] Rambam did differentiate between ‘true beliefs’ and ‘necessary beliefs’ (which were adopted by segments of society that had a need for them). Often it is difficult to know which is which.
[12] From (his?) Ma’amar Techiyat HaMetim.
[13] Rabbi Meir ben Todros HaLevi Abulafia, also known as Ramah. (Not to be confused with Ramoh, Rabbi Isserless.)
[14] From Abulafia’s letter to the rabbis of Lunel.
[15] This was written in the year 1200, just four years before Rambam passed away.


  1. Some, like Shem Tov ben Yosef Shem Tov[9] , take a very different approach by going so far as to say that this Essay was an outright forgery, and reiterates that Rambam “did not believe in a physical resurrection”.[10]

    Others, like Abarbanel, wrote that Rambam believed that only the first five Principles of Faith were fundamental to Jewish belief, and that the last eight


    Would it be possible for you to give the reference for
    Abarbanel and Shem Tov

    thank you


  2. Yet another possible source is MT, Hilkhot Melakhim, 12:1, where he writes, "Do not imagine that in the days of the Messiah any aspect of the laws of nature will change..." He continues, "Do not think that King Messiah will have to perform signs and wonders, bring anything new into being, revive the dead, or do similar acts. It is not so." He adds that when Isaiah talked about wolves laying with sheep, these were parables.

    Although he attributes the miracle of the reviving of the dead to the messiah, he seems to state that this is a change in nature. Of course, we should remember that he previously quoted Deut. 30:3-5. It is possible he meant a physical resurrection. It is also possible that this was spiritual. We simply do not know. Whatever it is, we can be certain that he was talking about a resurrection, and that it is in the Torah.