Cryonics opens a new frontier in science. The preservation of materials at a very low temperature will one day lead to bodies being preserved for revival at a later date. What does the Torah have to say about this?
Essentially, there is nothing wrong with waking up at a later time than one’s designated life.
However, such revival can lead to disappointment. The Talmud cites the example of a sage who woke up 70 years after he had first fallen into a slumber equivalent to death.
Unfortunately, he only wished to die again, and this time permanently, as he found that noone recognised him.
The sage was Honi the Circle-Drawer, who famously prayed for rain and in his merit drought was averted.
The reason he slept for so long was so that he should see how a tree planted by a man he had questioned 70 years earlier bore fruit for the benefit of the planter’s grandchildren.
When he went to the House of Study, the scholars exclaimed that the law was as clear to them as it had been in the days of Honi the Circle-Drawer.
When Honi exclaimed: “I am he”, no-one believed him. Depressed, Honi prayed to die. About this, the sage Rabbah commented: “Either companionship, or death”.
Even if science achieves a method of reviving frozen corpses, people should think carefully whether it would be worth it for them to put themselves through the pain of living in a time and age unfamiliar to them.
Curiosity may not be a worthy enough excuse to satisfy, while suffering the uncertainty of living in a foreign era. It may indeed be preferable to sow the seeds of success for future generations to benefit from, rather than to pace forever through time, peeking in at realities that belong to others.
Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation