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  • Torah and Jewish Thought
  • The Resurrection of the Dead and World to Come

Does Judaism lose Pascals Wager?

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Rabbi David Sperling

Nisan 4, 5781
Question
The mainstream Jewish view on the afterlife (as published here as well) seems to be that unless youre as bad as Hitler yemach shemo, youll get into heaven after 12 months maximum. HKBH doesnt punish all that much. Islam and Christianity, however, threaten eternal hell for anybody who does not follow their religion. So it seems that if there is the slightest doubt, one should follow one of those religions. If one is wrong, it will be 12 months of discomfort and maybe not such a great Olam Haba. But the consequences would be much worse the other way. What is the flaw in the logic here? If HKBH really doesnt punish much compared to those other religions, why should we risk eternal hell in order to avoid a few months of shame?
Answer
Shalom, Thank you for your question. In fact, one of the arguments against Pascal’s claims (in his day, and since) is actually very similar to your question. Pascal (a 17th century Christian philosopher) wanted to support following religion by a type of wager – you are safer practicing religion, because if it is true you have gained the world to come, and if it is false, you have not last out. However, it has been pointed out, that because different religions have contradictory claims and laws, you can never apply this wager correctly – should one believe in Christianity (a requirement for the next world according to their religion), or deny it (a requirement of Judaism, that rejects the ideas of Christianity). So, even before turning to your question, you have pointed out a strong flaw in his reasoning. Secondly, if we were to follow your logic, let us follow it through – why not follow then follow the religion that believes in the very worst form of suffering? This is not Islam or Christianity, but rather certain forms of obsolete idol worship that has souls and bodies suffering more than we can imagine in the world to come if they do not follow the bidding of the “gods”. Now, let us say that following this form of idol worship involves killing your parents, eating your children, and burning innocent villages etc. Would it be logical to choose that religion based on the fact that it is the “best wager” for the world to come? Certainly, there must be other factors taken into consideration rather than just how much one suffers in the world to come. We would probably choose the chance to suffer greatly in the world to come (if this idol worship turns out to be true), rather than the certainty to cause terrible real pain and suffering in this world. However, all this is not the real answer to your question. We do not serve Hashem and keep Torah because of a logical wager (or illogical one – depending on how you view Pascal’s arguments). Rather we serve Hashem and keep his Torah because we know it is true. We received it on Mount Sinai, and it has been our merit to keep it for these three thousand years. To be part of a nation that brings G-dliness and holiness to the world. I hope this is of some help. Blessings.
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