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Jewish Culture

Does Judaism believe in Hell?

Moshe Unger
Posted 2/25/22

I’m very thankful for the nice feedback that I got on the last article. I wasn’t sure what the reaction would be to my writing about the afterlife and I’m thankful that it was …

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Jewish Culture

Does Judaism believe in Hell?


I’m very thankful for the nice feedback that I got on the last article. I wasn’t sure what the reaction would be to my writing about the afterlife and I’m thankful that it was positive!

We live in an open world where everything is open for discussion at least in some form. I think it’s important for people to understand their tradition’s teachings on the afterlife. We think about it and wonder about it, so I believe it should be thought about in an informed manner.

We need to know that our language is not capable of describing anything in other worlds. Although we can talk about it and have some inkling of how to think about it correctly, our words cannot describe any of the experiences of the afterlife. This has been known in the tradition and has been confirmed by the people who had Near Death Experiences, in which many of them have stated that they don’t have the words to describe what they remember experiencing.

By the way, we don’t have words to describe any experience at all. Whenever we describe experiences, we only use reference words in order that the listeners should draw on their own experiences to conjure up what we mean. When we describe how happy we are we can only use words that we hope the other person will understand based on their own experiences. We know how happy we are because we feel it, but we are limited to how much we can share. How much more so when it comes to describing something that is literally “out of this world”.

I want to address head on an important question. Does Judaism believe in Hell?

The answer to that is yes and no. Judaism believes in Gehenom which some translate as Hell but it’s not the popular perception of Hell. Let me explain.

Popular perception of Hell is a place of eternal damnation and a place of retribution of sin. Judaism does not believe in that.

In Judaism, Gan Eden (paradise) is the “world of the souls” just as the physical world is a place for the physical, the soul departs to a place of souls. The senses and the entire life there is in the form of souls. Whatever we experience here “soul’like” is over there reality. Our good thoughts, good feelings and good deeds are in the world of souls our existence.

What happens with the not good thoughts, feelings, and deeds? They need to be cleansed from the soul. That is the process of Gehenom.

Our tradition teaches that the first thing we need to know about Gehenom is that this process is a great mercy from the Creator. At that point the soul wants to be a soul and not be confined to its physical attachments or to sin. We want to be cleansed and pure. This process doesn’t last more than 12 months even for a bad person. Gehenom is not a place of getting back at human beings and take revenge. It’s a process of cleansing that is a great mercy that we are able to go through.

For those real wicked people like Hitler and Stalin, there is no cleansing, and they don’t go into Gehenom. We’ll have to discuss it another time.

Everything a person does in this world is magnified many times over in the world of souls. The good things that we do here and the repentance we do on the not good things makes such a big difference in our souls and in the world of souls.

Another very important thing is to remember that the expectations for everyone is uniquely according to their life situations, but I’ll have to expand on this another time.

There is still a lot to discuss and elucidate. Looking forward to continuing in the coming articles.

Comments? Email: moshe@mosheunger.com


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