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Do Jews believe in Hell? I am not planning any trips there or anything, but I have heard conflicting reports about its existence.

Do Jews Believe in Hell?

Do Jews Believe in Hell?

What Is the Jewish Belief on Hell?

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Dear Rabbi,

Do Jews believe in Hell? I am not planning any trips there or anything, but I have heard conflicting reports about its existence.

Answer:

We do believe in a type of Hell, but not the one found in cartoons and joke books. Hell is not a punishment in the conventional sense; it is, in fact, the expression of a great kindness.

The Jewish mystics described a spiritual place called “Gehinnom.” This is usually translated as “Hell,” but a better translation would be “the Supernal Washing Machine.” Because that’s exactly how it works. The way our soul is cleansed in Gehinnom is similar to the way our clothes are cleansed in a washing machine.

Put yourself in your socks’ shoes, so to speak. If you were to be thrown into boiling hot water and flung around for half an hour, you might start to feel that someone doesn’t like you. However, the fact is that it is only after going through a wash cycle that the socks can be worn again.

We don’t put our socks in the washing machine to punish them. We put them through what seems like a rough and painful procedure only to make them clean and wearable again. The intense heat of the water loosens the dirt, and the force of being swirled around shakes it off completely. Far from hurting your socks, you are doing them a favor by putting them through this process.

So too with the soul. Every act we do in our lifetime leaves an imprint on our soul. The good we do brightens and elevates our soul, and every wrongdoing leaves a stain that needs to be cleansed. If, at the end of our life, we leave this world without fixing the wrongs we have done, our soul is unable to reach its place of rest on high. We must go through a cycle of deep cleansing. Our soul is flung around at an intense spiritual heat to rid it of any residue it may have gathered, and to prepare it for entry into Heaven.

Of course, this whole process can be avoided. If we truly regret the wrong we have done and make amends with the people we have hurt, we can leave this world with “clean socks.”

That’s why our Sages said, “Repent one day before you die.” And what should you do if you don’t know which day that will be? Repent today.

See What Happens After We Die? from the Jewish Death and Mourning section.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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Discussion (42)
April 12, 2016
Evil Souls and the World To Come
From what I understand, Hitler and people like him would choose not to atone for their sins. So, G-d would destroy their souls and not permit them in the World to Come.
Eliana Liorit
Illinois
April 11, 2016
Michelle welchman
It's not so easy to explain. There is reward and punishment in the afterlife and even a second of suffering in the next world is extremely painful by miles compared to years of suffering here. As far as nazis is concern, G-d rewards all of his creatures accordingly. They cannot escape His punishment in the afterlife whatever that maybe. There are several commentaries on this matter, but I think the rabbi tried to keep it as simple as possible. People might think that burning fire might be the correct punishment that fits their crime but shamayim knows the punishment that fits the crime. I don't want to keep writing but if you have any questions please consult a competent local rabbi or ask away.

All the best!
Abraham
Jerusalem
April 11, 2016
Great explanation! Thanks for posting!
Anonymous
April 11, 2016
And yet there exist those who want nothing to do with HaShem. Consider Pharaoh's actions despite the ten plagues. Was he forcibly cleansed, contrary to his will? Doubtful. HaShem created human beings knowing full well that there would be some people who would never accept Him. But those who obey and love Him are His delight.
Anonymous
March 28, 2016
No Hell? Hell A Washing Machine?
This is a good analogy but does not exactly answer the question for those who do and have done wrong. You say to put socks or soul in washing machine to clean them, but how do does this analogy supposed to "clean" murder or other violent crime? So by this analogy, the Austrian little guy with the little mustache who sent six million of us to the slaughterhouse is not in hell? The Nazis are not burning too in hell? How could by this analogy washed their socks and repent? I believe God is a forgiving, just and fair God.He can choose to pardon or forgive. I believe there is hell for for Mr Adolf and hell for killers, horrible men And women who did so wrong.It would be the only place for them..
Michelle Welchman
Utah
February 1, 2016
So it is like purgatory for Catholics?
donna
US
December 26, 2015
Neither the Rabbi no anyone alive can know the answer.
Virtue brings its own reward
I dont neeed a carrot and stick
Avram J
Hendon
December 5, 2015
Linus in Sweden is so wrong
Linus said: "if hell is not a punishment but rather a way of cleaning the soul, then surely god is either not good or not omnipotent." A good God would punish? An omnipotent God by definition wouldn't give a way become a better person or "soul"? I'm proud this is not how Jews generally view things.
Levi Tribesman
Boston MA
December 2, 2015
Actually this is the early Christian idea too. (for any christian's reading this article that don't think its scriptural). Many early Christians speak of hell as a place of "expiation of sins," Such as Origen, Papias, Ireneaus, etc. I don't believe the modern Idea of hell was mainstream within Christianity until the fifth century A.D. Probably a lot of it has to do with Augustine. So the Jewish concept rings true to me. After all every person is precious to God.
Ken
October 9, 2015
To Linus
A third possibility is that G-d knows something we don't, and so we can't presume to understand why He ordered reality the way He did. Souls are not socks. We know from experience that sometimes difficulty brings the best results, which would not have been achieved through "snapping fingers." Thus it is not completely counter-intuitive to imagine that our souls are best cleansed through a particular difficult experience. Rather than assuming that G-d cannot be both omnipotent and omnibenevolent, we can recognize that He is also omniscient, while we are not.
Rabbi Shmary Brownstein
For Chabad.org