Jewish Words:

The Jewish Chronicle - - JUDAISM -

Olam has a di­verse set of mean­ings, in­clud­ing, world, ex­is­tence, life­time and eter­nity. As is of­ten the case in He­brew, the ety­mol­ogy of the word sug­gests the link be­tween its dif­fer­ent senses; olam comes from alam, a verb mean­ing to hide or con­ceal. The un­der­ly­ing the­o­log­i­cal idea is that whether in time or in space, the olam is that which con­ceals the pres­ence of God in the world.

Olam haba is the world to come. Con­sid­er­ing the di­verse and un­de­ter­mined na­ture of Jewish teach­ing about olam haba, it is a re­mark­ably com­mon phrase. Whether olam haba is a sep­a­rately ex­ist­ing place, or a di­men­sion of ex­is­tence some­how con­cur­rent with this world, as Mai­monides says, or an in­di­vid­ual cre­ation of our own good and bad acts as Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin seems to sug­gest, or a place or re­ward and pun­ish­ment, as the Talmud says, or the arena of rein­car­na­tion, as some Kab­bal­ists teach, are top­ics of hot dis­pute.

In Yid­dish, the oilam (or some­times the ganze oilam) refers to the known world, or the com­mu­nity of peo­ple like you. One could say that the oilam wears felt hats, or that the ganze oilam knows one shouldn’t be­lieve such and such gos­sip.

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