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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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Anonymous San francisco February 6, 2017

Suppose you don't have any quarters. What happens then? Reply

Anonymous Paris February 1, 2017

Good morning , שלום azul :)
I like this idea. A positive idea about what hell is. Hell of course is a damnable place, but it's also a positive one as it's portrayed here. To get glittering fine gold, it has to be put in high heated furnaces. I guess, as humans, we need this sort of structure in life, but in a different way. Difficulties and experiences can be seen as a cleansing process for our souls, in our earthly life. Hell has always been an interesting subject, and that's why I started analyzing how it's depicted through different cultures through time. What I hope about hell to be is not of course the one described by Dante Alighieri, in Inferno. Makes me shiver and afraid ;) !!!!. It looks a bit like how Muslims see it, and I do not like it either. Creatures that torture sinful people in the graves, and snakes that sting and bite...ext . So horrible to hear, and molestful. I prefer this positive view described here, since it helps people to enjoy life. God bless all . Reply

Anonymous October 12, 2016

That process of cleansing is what we Catholics call Purgatory. It is exactly the same. Thanks for the answers. :) Reply

Roberto white plains July 31, 2016

I just joined your discussion and I hear about hell being similar to what Catholic believe, purgatory, a place to get your soul cleanse. So what is is Jewish heaven? Reply

Julia Australia July 10, 2016

As stated by Aron, The cleansing is not really G-d's punishment. but a kindness. The wrongs we do stain our soul. Nothing unclean can endure the Perfect Light. It will be destroyed. Only the clean can become one with the Clean. The punishment is not the cleansing but the separation from G-d is.
One soul may be only slightly dusty. Easily cleansed with a quick rinse. Then joy. Another soul may be filled with grime & filth requiring extensive long drawn out cleansing. It will be a long arduous wait before it is can enjoy bathing in that Perfect Light. Reply

Azriel NC July 10, 2016

If hell is not eternal, then what Daniel mean here?

JPS Daniel 12:2
And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence. Reply

Lynn K Russell Lethbridge, June 19, 2016

Wonderful response to the Hell question, and made your point. As one of those, "spiritual but not religious" people I've spent over 60 years researching various religions. I am also highly interested in science and so am writing a book marrying the two. I needed information for my next book and this is perfect.
Thank you. Reply

Zumzo Branau June 4, 2016

OK, makes sense. But what about Hitler, who was supposedly 1/4 Jewish. Did even he get this deal ( assuming he died and didn't escape to Argentina ) ? Reply

Caoimhin Ireland May 23, 2016

Don't those wishing eternal suffering for Hitler et al become like Hitler et al ?

Unlike those souls speaking in the prayer used for Day of Atonement - composed by those who suffered and died in a Concentration Camp.

The Ravensbruck
Prayer

The following prayer was found at
Ravensbruck death camp where 92,000
women and children died. It was
scrawled on wrapping paper near a dead
child.


Lord, remember not only the men
and women of good will also those of
ill will.
But do not only remember the
suffering they have inflicted on us.
Remember the fruits we have brought,
thanks to this suffering--our
comradeship, our loyalty, our humility,
the courage, the generosity, the
greatness of heart which has grown
out of all this.
And when they come to judgment, let
all the fruits we have borne be their
forgiveness. Amen Reply

Eliana Liorit Illinois April 12, 2016

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. Reply

Abraham Jerusalem April 11, 2016

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! Reply

Anonymous April 11, 2016

Great explanation! Thanks for posting! Reply

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. Reply

Michelle Welchman Utah March 28, 2016

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.. Reply

donna US February 1, 2016

So it is like purgatory for Catholics? Reply

Avram J Hendon 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 Reply

Levi Tribesman Boston MA December 5, 2015

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. Reply

Ken 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. Reply

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein For Chabad.org October 9, 2015

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. Reply

Anonymous fresh meadows 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? Reply