Is the Jewish soul immortal? Yes, tradition teaches us that if the proper procedures are followed, the Jewish soul is immortal. And the immortality is redundant. The soul of a departed loved one lives on in a vertical immortality in heaven and in a horizontal immortality as part of the collective of the Jewish people.
To guarantee the duplex immortality of a soul, a mourner must say the Kaddish prayer for eleven months in the synagogue. As an agent on behalf of my father's soul, I completed that process in 2013 for the recitation of the Kaddish for my dad, who passed away in 2012.
I previously wrote in my book, God's Favorite Prayers, about the connection between the vertical immortality of the soul and the recitation of the mourner's Kaddish.
This lilting and poetic passage does have a certain unique cadence, yet it seems to us in its words to be no more than a standard glorification of God, nothing about death or dying or the deceased. Why then is this prayer especially apropos for a mourner? Because reciting this heavenly angelic Aramaic praise is the epitome of a mystic’s liturgy. It is a stand-in enactment by the mourner on behalf of the departed loved one. The mourner stands in place in the synagogue and recites the words.Now to add some new thoughts on that the other horizontal dimension of the immortality of the Jewish soul, I ask why the requirement to recite the Kaddish for eleven months in the synagogue? Why the obligation on the mourner to lead the services in the public in the community?
But acting in the mode of the mystic archetype, the mourner advances to the next level of mystical prayer. She is not just addressing God with the outpourings of her personal anxiety and vexation, but imagining that she is standing aloft in heaven, representing the soul of her beloved departed, knocking on heaven’s door to seek entry for that spirit into a secure, eternal place close to the divine light and near the warmth of God.
To present adequate answers to these questions I will need to write a book. For now let me advance the main thesis.
The Jewish soul achieves a horizontal immortality, going forward eternally through time into the future, by its membership in the people of Israel. One might think that the membership of the soul of the departed Jew after his death in the community of Israel is a certainty, a given, automatic, and nothing need be done further to solidify that.
But that is not how it works. To secure a place for a departed soul in the community of Israel, we Orthodox believe that we must recite the daily Kaddish in the synagogue for eleven months. By doing that, we firmly embed the soul of the departed in our community. And as long as that community, that people endures, that soul will have a horizontal immortality as part of the collective body of Israel.
It's been both an onerous obligation and a privilege for me to have that obligation over the eleven months after my father's death to recite Kaddish in public on behalf of my dad. And when finally I rested from that daily recitation of Kaddish, I was certain in the continuous duplex immortal life of my father's dear soul, in the eternity of heaven and in the everlasting perpetuation of the Jewish people on earth.