May You Be Inscribed in the Book of Life for 5774

And, By the Way, What Book Might That Be?

People of the Book: In 1935, artist Nicholas Roerich offered his vision of the ‘Book of Life.’
Wikimedia Commons
People of the Book: In 1935, artist Nicholas Roerich offered his vision of the ‘Book of Life.’

By Philologos

Published September 08, 2013, issue of September 13, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

When Moses, therefore, asks to be erased from God’s book, he is talking about a Hebrew version of the Babylonian-Sumerian “book of life,” although it is not quite clear whether he asking to die or simply to be relieved of the role God has cast him in and forgotten. Other biblical passages also state or imply that God records his plans and judgments in a book, but the actual phrase sefer he-ḥayyim occurs in the Hebrew Bible only once. This is in the 69th Psalm, whose author requests that his enemies be “erased from the book of life and not listed with the righteous.” Apparently, this book was conceived of as being for the righteous alone; the files on the wicked were kept somewhere else.

A “book of life” is also mentioned in the apocryphal book of I Enoch, a second-century BCE Hebrew visionary work that survived only in an Ethiopian Christian translation. In it, implored by “the saints in heaven” to remember “the righteous whose blood has been spilled,” God is described as sitting on “His glory seat, the books of life opened before him and all the heavenly hostS standing by.” And in the New Testament book of Revelations, written in Greek in the late first century C.E. and clearly influenced by Enoch, there is this description:

“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works…. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” Here, too, the book of life is only for the righteous; the sinners are listed in other books. This was also the opinion of the ancient rabbis. In the talmudic tractate of Rosh Hashanah, we find it written: “Three books are opened on Rosh Hashanah: One for the totally wicked, one for the totally righteous, and one for those in between. The totally righteous are at once inscribed and sealed for life, the totally wicked are at once inscribed and sealed for death, and the in between are left in suspension.”

“In between,” I take it, means nearly all of us. Have a happy 5774, suspense and all!

Questions for Philologos can be sent to philologos@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.