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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.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with's copyright policy.
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Discussion (79)
September 9, 2014
Stephanie, you are so correct on this one. I was not raised in a traditional Jewish household, but what I consider close to it in nature and beliefs. The higher ups considered themselves "chosen" and above the law of my fathers, and when I asked my mother about this, she said we were not to question their choices, and they were ordained by G-d. Thus, my search for the truth began.

My search began with the 10 commandments delivered by Moses who indeed WAS chosen by G-d to do so. When I saw the superiors freely breaking the laws without fear, I began to pray to the G-d that is not a hypocrite.

I do not believe He is a liar, and so I believe that there is a true heaven, and a true hell ( not an acceptable which we have created), and a future day we will stand before Him to give account.
September 8, 2014
"Jews imagine themselves to be superior..."
I vividly recall my grandfather, a Rabbi, teaching me that: "Jews were CHOSEN to TEACH right from wrong!" To teach right from wrong meant being RESPONSIBLE to learn...and then, being RESPONSIBLE to teach that which we learned!

I'm so sick and tired of hearing about the IRRESPONSIBLE SUPERIORITY! Some totally retarded idiot came up with that one. For those who take their responsibility seriously, one truly might consider them somewhat 'superior'... I know I do!
Stephanie Thomas (Armus)
Santa Monica
September 8, 2014
The Torah laws are eternal
R matalon

You're correct about upbringing circumstances being considered but nowhere near as much as some May like to believe. So if someone is born a Shote (fool or defective mentally) then of course that is considered. If someone is born in a place where there's nothing even remotely relevant to Judaism without Internet or TV access then of course that's considered. But the two cases are rare and do not apply to the cast majority if the world. If someone doesn't know about Judaism or God, but has access to the world around us he is responsible to use his common sense to search for the truth and the meaning if life. One cannot use ignorance as a plea on his judgement day if he wants a good judgement. One can also not rely on the opinion of others, but rather only use the opinion of the Torah. No matter who the person is and how smart or holy they may or may not be, their opinion is meaningless in comparison to Hashem's opinion. Anyone who does that will see the errors in this article
Yaron Reuven
New York
September 7, 2014
Judiasm and Tribal Rights
Today Judiasm is not tribal as it once was. Anybody who is sincere can join and from the time of Hillel this was the situation.

Your brother seems to have the wrong idea but it may be that what is reported by you is inaccurate and that he is more devout than you think. Jews believe in the one God and in the need to obey his commandments (mitzvot) as much as is possible. They accept that our history has made us what we are and wish to show the rest of the world how this faith guides us. And as far as Hell is concerned there is no exact knowledge so its all guess-work and intuition.
David Chester
Petach Tikva, Israel
September 7, 2014
Yaron Reuven
I don't discount that all the mitzvot are important. I was saying that a persons upbringing and circumstances are also factors in how we are judged.
R Matalon
September 6, 2014
What you say about the collective mind lights me up like a Christmas tree and makes me ring like a bell. I agree it's the job of the priests to bear the burden of knowledge and disburse it, like a light for the rest of us. But it's all kind of messed up, isn't it? Those of us who warm to the collective mind idea also may warm to the idea or cling to the hope that this will not be our inherritance - speaking for myself, I hope there is a chance for individuals to transcend that. At least this way of looking at it leaves tons of room for possibilities and miracles. We live in hope.
September 4, 2014
Is Judaism a tribal religion?

I am just wondering, because my brother converted to Judaism and he is absolutely elated! He says that when you become a Jew, you are not required to BELIEVE in anything at all! He says that all you simply become one of the PEOPLE! It's as though he has become a member of a club.

He derides the Catholic tradition in which we were raised, because it requires belief.

Is it true that being a Jew is nothing more than identifying with a particular group?
September 3, 2014
R Matalon,
You quoted the ethics of our fathers verse that is in our daily prayers, but what many people don't know is that the verse continues much further by detailing the conditions of that statement. Once you read the conditions, you'll see how drastically misleading that verse by itself can be to people who don't know the rest of it. (Hint: there are many conditions). What that part of the verse means is that all Jews are born with a ticket to Olam Ha'ba, but the details of what's needed to exercise that ticket are extensive. Anyone who believes (or led to believe) that theyre guaranteed entrance just because of their parents, rabbi, or difficult circumstances, while they're "not" keeping the mitzvot is wrong. You're partially right about the levels of the 613 mitzvot, and that's why Rebbe Yehudah HaNassi taught us that we should pay careful attention to each mitzva, big or small. Also note that the 3 key covenants to Judaism are Shabbat, Britt, and Tefillin
Yaron Reuven
New York
September 3, 2014
Doubts about Faith
Kathlene and others too, who think that Jews imagine themselves to be superior, is not facing the problem of faith squarely. If the Jews do indeed have the greater faith (which today I doubt) then they have nothing to fear and when others also have this almost perfect amount of faith, they too can rightly feel that Hell (which I don't deny exists) is not something they need fear.

But as we well know this is not always the situation and so it is thought to be useful (even amongst Jews) to remind ourselves that with our doubts there is a chance that a visit to Hell might cause us misery.
David Chester
Petach Tikva, Israel
September 3, 2014
R Matalon, the priesthood has a lot to answer for.
Besides the allegory from the priesthood, where is the Evidence?

The Ethics of Our Fathers are in our heart , surprisingly of a common origin, much identical with all peoples. By the Laws of Nature, Action-Reaction is of a bigger scope you may fathom, making ripples that may last for many centuries, affecting an entire planet. The priesthood today, not only Religious Judaism, seems to have no idea how adversely these ancient beliefs affect life on Earth.

Ex.Neuroscience has mice subdued to memory tampering, erasing bad memories, replacing it with happy memories. War and conflict behaviour is not addressed, atrocities excused by religion as G-d's way. In order to deal with the mental damage the collective mind doesn't address behaviour it now will erase your bad memories!

3300yrs global directive shows how utterly wrong the Religious Myth is with a Collective Mind too weak to challenge a priesthood too afraid to question?

Historic Honesty is long overdue
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