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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 as 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 only happens once a week and only takes 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 tranquillity 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 (15)
May 1, 2014
So if he'll is a washing machine the where do the non believer's go if the don't wanna be can be forced to repent..... sooo awnser that and do not avoid my question
December 25, 2013
If hell is but temporary would you then go to heaven as a reward?
King Sean
May 17, 2011
Rabbi Cotlar, I think your writings are remarkable. It makes me proud to be a person of Jewish Faith. Go Israel !! Happy 63rd Birthday.
Michael Gothelf
casselberry, florida
November 4, 2010
The non-Jewish view of hell..
If it is helpful, with the publishing of Dante's Inferno, that became the common concept of Hell as fire and punishment within the christian churches. It is based on a work of fiction.....
pittsfield, me
October 4, 2009
Hell is
I found you today and after reading a half a dozon or so articles, I want to say I think you are "right on". I love the way you use words, it's special. In particular love the "hell is" temperary not permanant, etc. list of comments.
myrtle beach, sc
February 25, 2009
soul distruction
"If you do enought sins in the current world, is it possible for the soul to be destroyed? "

I tend to think this would not work.
Have you heard of "The Tikune Process" ?
Felice Debra Eliscu
August 17, 2008
We are all G-d's beloved creatures
This line is simply fantastic! "A Jew, by definition, is holy. And you are as just as Jewish as me, your great-grandfather, and Moses. Perhaps not as observant -- but just as Jewish. I truly mean that…" Thank you for that.

Again, I found that the articles on this site are enlightening and truly a response to my many questions. Thank you, from the bottom my heart, for helping all the jews in the world understand a little more of who we are.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
April 4, 2008
soul distruction
If you do enought sins in the current world, is it possible for the soul to be destroyed?
bothell, WA
December 9, 2007
A question?
If a Jew is holy, what are you saying about the status of one who is not Jewish? Why not simply say as a body fashioned by God you are holy?
Miriam Grinshtein
Houston, TX
July 7, 2007
"Hell is a washing machine not a furnace"
This I like. Though I wonder what Dante would have made of it: "Lasciate ogni sporcizia, voi ch'entrate"?

Oddly, the Rabbi's description is vaguely reminiscent of the Roman Catholic doctrine of Purgatory. My guess is that the current pope (Joseph Ratzinger) may modify the RC concept of "Hell" since he has abrogated the former teaching on "limbo".

I must say that I find this site most enlighening . Many thanks to all on the team.
Boston, MA
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