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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?


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.


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
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Discussion (33)
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
October 8, 2015
How do you ask for forgiveness for sins you do not remember? Also, what about people who commit murder by abortions? How do they ask for forgiveness or is it impossible to ask Hashem for forgiveness?
fresh meadows
October 3, 2015
To: Why are we on earth then?
Adil, the belief is that the purpose of life is to struggle for goodness, but that few people are able to achieve mastery of the process. The idea of 'dirt' or 'stains' on the soul is metaphorical, as is the idea of Sheol (Gehinnom) as a 'washing machine.' To sin, to act against God's wishes, is seen by Jews as causing a kind of injury to the soul which is a part of God that lives within us. We may not (it is likely that we are not) conscious of this injury, which is why we need religious education and rabbis. Doing God's work advances His cause on earth (the spiritual evolution or transformation of Man). God is merciful, and, when we fail to achieve full individual transformation/evolution (in other words, when we are unable to perfect ourselves), He enables us still to heal our injured souls through a process of penitence which Aron Moss metaphorically described as being put through a washing machine.
La Jolla
September 9, 2015
Absolutely lovely. It's all so very confusing. I believe there is One God that is love. I believe God wants us to love Him and Love each other more than anything in this world. Amen
Mary Ferlauto
September 4, 2015
Not a punishment
if hell is not a punishment but rather a way of cleaning the soul, then surely god is either not good or not omnipotent. If I could wash my socks by simply snapping my fingers, I would never use a washing machine again.
July 25, 2015
Is there a difference between Sheol and Gehinnom?
League City
June 22, 2015
Why are we on earth then?
Why would your soul enter and get dirtied on earth then, if its clean can't it be sent to heaven directly without going through hell's 'washing machine'?
Adil Jawed
May 3, 2015
To Atheist re: Creepy
Repenting one day before your death does not mean that one is constantly in fear of dying. It means that one lives with the consciousness that we are not here forever, and that it is wise to become the person we hope to be today and not postpone it until tomorrow. This is an idea that an atheist can also benefit from, perhaps more so than someone who believes that the soul lives on after death.

Repenting and making amends are synonymous. We can't ask G-d to forgive us if we don't correct the wrongs we did and apologize to those we hurt. As Jews we recognize that we must treat our world and our fellow humans as G-d's creations, and thus respect them as we respect G-d. Our goal is not only to be good, but to do what is right in G-d's eyes.
Rabbi Shmary Brownstein
April 26, 2015
The thing is, socks aren't people and thus can't suffer, and"dirt" isn't sin. We aren't washing the socks because washing them is something inherently good or a "favor" to the socks. We are washing the socks so that *we* don't wear soiled socks and get sick or stink. Thus the reason that we are cleaning them is to avoid the negative consequences of stinking and getting sick and uncomfortable. It makes no sense to me for "sins" to stick to us. What is sin in the first place? And why is it an important thing? A bad thing is bad because of how it affects others not because some celestial dictator said so? And why can't crimes be dictated by their consequences rather than by "because God said so"? Why should a person be spinning in burning "spiritual" flames for loving a person he shouldn't have or for using his genitals the wrong way? And how exactly will suffering horrible torture prevent you from committing more crimes after you've already died?
April 17, 2015
Barry Costello