First we die. Then we roll. A “Rolling To Jerusalem” Subway Map

I haven’t posted since last fall but I’ve been pretty busy with Jewish Monster Hunting related shenanigans. I’ve been working on Jewish Monster Hunting Trading Cards. I’ll write a post about them soon, but in the meantime you check out my pinned post on twitter:

Edit: the version of the maps originally attached to this post was V6. I got a lot more suggestions, so the maps at the bottom and their corresponding links are now for v7. No idea if this is the final version, but I’ll keep the post updated.

Edit 2: I got more suggestions so now we’re up to V8.

Judaism doesn’t have a very clear doctrine on what happens after death (1). There is a “World to Come” (HaOlam HaBa). It includes some sort of rebirth but the specifics are contested by the great rabbis. Maimonides described it as a place beyond human comprehension (2). The Torah says little about it. There some references to Sheol, a place of stillness where the dead go. According to some later Jewish writings, we’re spiritually reborn in a new Eden. But other writings describe our rebirth in much more physical terms. We’re reborn here, on earth, in the land of Israel. By some accounts the dead buried at Mount Olive, in Jerusalem, are reborn first so that they can welcome the patriarchs and matriarchs, who are buried in the Cave of Machpelah, when they arrive.

What about those of us who don’t live in Israel. How do we get there to be reborn? According to the Talmud we roll there through tunnels.

The Gemara asks: And according to the opinion of Rabbi Elazar, will the righteous outside of Eretz Yisrael not come alive at the time of the resurrection of the dead? Rabbi Ile’a said: They will be resurrected by means of rolling, i.e., they will roll until they reach Eretz Yisrael, where they will be brought back to life. Rabbi Abba Salla Rava strongly objects to this: Rolling is an ordeal that entails suffering for the righteous. Abaye said: Tunnels are prepared for them in the ground, through which they pass to Eretz Yisrael.

Talmud, Kettubot 111a (3)

This traveling is called gilgul mehilot, tumbling through tunnels. We are still in our graves, a crumble of bones and earth, when our grave suddenly are connected to other graves through the opening of rough tunnels. These tunnels lead to larger stone lined tunnels to larger tunnels sleek and clean and shining. We roll, bounce, and clatter our way through them. First alone, then with the rest of our family and graveyard neighbors, then in larger and large noisier crowds. Like Ezekiel’s Valley of Dry Bones but our bones are not dry, we’re damp and dusty as our disconnected parts bounce into and through each other on long tumble. Not alive and not aware yet, not really, we vibrate with the excitement of moving and the fear of the demons who inhabit the tunnels who’s chains and whips crack out mercilessly (4).

At least, that’s how I imagine it. I love the image of not just me tumbling, someday, but all of us tumbling together in these angel-hewn passages. I realize my description might sound a bit horrific. Well yeah it is but it’s also comic with my tangle of limbs jumbling with yours until we need to stop and sort out who’s femur is whose and whether these clods are us or dirt or does it matter anyway….we just need to roll and keep rolling. The tunnels echo with the roar of avalanche or an us-alanche as we tumble by the tens and thousands and then millions all the long way to Jerusalem.

That led to me to a funny question. How would we get there? What would map of these tunnels look like? So I made one. I used Wikipedia’s list of “Jewish Cities by Population” which also noted locations of high concentrations of Jews including the entirely Mountain Jewish town of Qırmızı Qəsəbə in Azerbaijan. I also included Lublin, Musul, Granada, Balkh and other Jewish towns now empty of Jews.The map has gone through a number of versions thanks to the contributions of dozens of folks on Twitter who good-naturedly took me to task for missing obvious stops including Galveston, Teaneck, MBale, and Tokyo. It’s not meant to be exhaustive but it is suggestive of where are we and how would we all get there.

Rolling To Jerusalem. A Map.

The map is formatted to a 3:4 ratio for 11″x 18″ poster printing. Here’s a link to a free high resolution file for 3:4 ratio prints. There are lots of print-on-demand sites that will print it for you. It’s about $18 at FedEx. Reach out if you see any errors, want a different aspect ratio for a different print size or if there’s a town you want to see me include. If anyone does print one, let me know!

If you like the map but don’t like the white background. Here’s the Dropbox link to a slightly more colorful version. If there’s any demand, I could do other graphic treatments.

Rolling to Jerusalem. A more colorful version.

Notes and References

(1) There are a number of good books on Jewish views of the afterlife. For broad coverage, I highly recommend Simcah Paull Raphael’s “Jewish Views of the Afterlife.”

(2) See Maimonides “Mishnah Torah” at

(3) For the full discussion and contest, see Ketubot 111a at

(4) Angels or demons beating the dead in their graves, or while tumbling, is called Hibbut ha-Kever, the Beating of the Graves. Simcha Paull Rahael talks about it in “”Jewish Views of the Afterlife.” The Jewish Encyclopedia has an article on it. Finally, to read a source description of it in English, see Moses Gaster’s 1899 translation of Chronicles of Jerahmeel at