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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 (37)
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
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?
Anonymous
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.
Gregory
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.
Linus
Sweden
July 25, 2015
Difference
Is there a difference between Sheol and Gehinnom?
Jourma
League City