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I’m Scared of Going to Hell . . .

I’m Scared of Going to Hell . . .



I’m a secular Jew, and I’m afraid of going to hell. What does the Torah say about hell, and will I go there simply because I don’t observe the Shabbat, Jewish holidays or the laws of kosher? All in all, I think I’m a very decent human being—but of course nobody is perfect.


I hope you don’t mind if I take issue with your first few words. You write that you are a “secular Jew.” I don’t believe there is such a thing. You see, the word secular means “mundane” or “un-sacred.” A Jew, by definition, is holy. And you are just as Jewish as me, your great-grandfather and Moses. Perhaps not as observant—but just as Jewish. I truly mean that . . .

I’m sure you’re a great person. You probably live an ethical life and do many acts of kindness. You have done much to express your innate holiness. And that’s exactly why you can grow so much through taking on a few new mitzvot. You can take your being a decent human being infinitely higher. Your goodness will be instilled with a G‑dly touch.

You write that you are not perfect. But then again—as you yourself say—no one is. And that’s exactly why Judaism is not an all-or-nothing religion. It treasures the power of a single act. So I challenge you to take on one new mitzvah. It’s a mitzvah that happens only once a week, and takes only a minute. But it is powerful. And you will find that its effect is profound.

Jewish women have the special commandment to light the Shabbat candles each Friday afternoon. It brings light, holiness, peace and tranquility into the home. Give it a try. Check out our Shabbat Candle-Lighting Wizard for more information about this special mitzvah.

Now, to address your question about hell:

You’re probably expecting me to depict a haunting scene of ghosts and goblins. But the Jewish concept of “heaven” and “hell” cannot be more different than the description found in medieval Christian texts or cartoons.

Yes, Judaism believes in punishment and reward in the afterlife. But in Judaism:

Hell is temporary—not permanent.

Hell is a therapy—not an imprisonment.

Hell is a consequence—not a punishment.

Hell is a washing machine—not a furnace.

Sounds interesting? Click here to read all about this topic.

Let me know if this helps. I await your reply.

Yours truly,
Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar

Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar is a Chabad rabbi in Cary, North Carolina. He is also a member of the Ask the Rabbi team.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
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Discussion (64)
September 1, 2014
Wonderful Way to Explain a Scary Concept!
"Hell is a washing machine - not a furnace.! I can't tell you how much I LOVE this description of what must be a very scary concept to many. I will remember this always!

Thank you so much!
Chana Schulman
Austin, TX
September 1, 2014
Scary Hell Stuff!
Dear Scared Person:

You could just shrug off what men in authority have to say and make up your mind for yourself. Did it ever occurr to you that you might be a way better person than the man you are asking the question of? Your picture speaks a thousand words, and I can't believe you could go to hell.

And, for what it's worth, I don't believe that a just and loving supreme being would allow anyone to go to hell.

You might want to consider staying secular.

And, also, people as cute as you only go to heaven! (Could I go to hell for saying that?)


Un-Scared Person
August 31, 2014 is incredible to notice how some comments by ignorant and senseless people are such an insult to the Torah and still are being published
Orlando, Fl
August 31, 2014
Afraid of HELL?
Better take a closer look at the honesty of your soul. No one knows you better than you do yourself, and if you're lying to yourself, you will feel afraid.
S G Thomas
Santa Monica, CA
August 31, 2014

God doesn't want us to be so pious that we are among the "religious righteous" when goodness to our fellow man prevails.
Angela Hoffberg
August 31, 2014

The Tanakh is written in ages. The path is very narrow and truth isn't easy to find. This takes effort and prayer; then, God's Spirit and His Shekinah will lead you to all truths. This fiery place you speak of is for purification. True--some can't be purified in this earth age: you mention everlasting shame and contempt. Punishment in the eternal everlasting world. Some of those even will make it into this earth age if they're a part of the Body. But without a doubt, they are part of the Essence and will carry over into the next earth age. Scripture can't always be quoted, but the Eternal God gives us pictures & visions. This is mentioned in the Tanakh: Dreams & Visions. You can't prove they are true to anyone but yourself, but seek and you will certainly find.
Angela Hoffberg
August 31, 2014
Hell ? ..No.
Fire that Purifies the myriad of erroneous perceptions about the love of God for His Creation (that's ALL Humanity) is my thoughts on the subject . Everyone of us , me included , has our own perception about the God who created us and the world we live on and the HUGE universe we float through . I have no terror in my heart and mind about the God ..Yah...of the Scriptures. I am in no way perfect in my humanity and thoughts and deeds , yet I have a great peace before Him .I cannot explain it in any other way except that I trust Him . He is a Great God who provides for our lives down here , so then why would we expect Him to destroy the souls of men and women whom He loves so much in Heaven ? Then would not Heaven be ..Hell? It does not make rational sense to me .
James Oliver
BC, Canada
August 31, 2014
True Faith?
What is there to fear when we have true faith in G-d?

Even the rabinical claim of not having any "fear of Heaven" fades in significance when we put all our belief and trust in the Almighty.

So a visit (if it occurs at all) to Hell is just a part of the soul's education. What worse thing can happen to us when we are no longer of this world? Does anybody REALLY know and if so will they please show it so we too can have good knowledge of the feelings we apparently might have to endure in the next world. I am dying to know!

The fear of going to Hell is a devious Christian invention in order to bring its believers into line. As Jews we should have more sense than to take this seriously.
David Chester
Petach Tikva, Israel
August 30, 2014
If so I will meet you there and say hello because I am not very religious either
Ogden, Utah
August 30, 2014
Is swimming allowed in the pool of Siam?
Hell, I feel like I am thrust into the washing machine nearly everyday and some days I am stuck into the dryer on burning high heat. Help! I am robbed and they are spinning me around in circles by telling me "you need a bath, ham does not defile a man, and you cannot prove we persecute you." Maybe I should go swim in the pool of Siam, and I already wash my hands and do a sponge bath on the Sabbath, so I feel squeaky clean.
James More
Seasick City
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