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Does Judaism believe in Heaven and Hell?

by Mrs. Sarah Levi


Library » Philosophy » Afterlife | Subscribe | What is RSS?


Judaism does have a concept of reward and punishment in the afterlife. However, since words we use bring to mind certain images, particularly “Heaven” and “Hell,” it is better to use the Jewish terminology which comes without the baggage.

When someone dies, the disembodied soul leaves this sensory world and enters “Gan Eden,” the spiritual Garden of Eden (a.k.a. “Heaven”). In the Garden of Eden, the soul enjoys the “rays of the Divine Presence,” a purely spiritual enjoyment dependent on the Torah learning and good deeds done while in a body. Every year on the yahrtzeit, the day of passing, the soul ascends to another level closer to G-d. This gives it tremendous pleasure.

In order to restore the level of purity the soul had possessed before entering the physical world, it must undergo a degree of refinement commensurate to the degree which the body may have indulged itself
Before entering the Garden of Eden, though, a soul must be in a state of spiritual excellence, for it cannot enjoy the Divine Presence to the fullest degree with the pleasures and coarseness of our physical world still engraved on it. These would give the soul poor “reception” of divine radiance, and must be removed.

If a person sinned in this lifetime, as most of us do, then, to continue the radio analogy, we have serious interference. In order to restore the level of purity the soul had possessed before entering the physical world, it must undergo a degree of refinement commensurate to the degree which the body may have indulged itself. This means there is quite a bit of cleaning to be done. This cleaning process hurts, but is a spiritual and mental process designed not for retribution, but to allow one to truly enjoy his/her reward in Gan Eden.

This cleaning process is called “Gehinom,” or, in the vernacular, “Hell.”

TAGS: heaven, hell


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RE: Afterlife

Posted by: CordonBleu on Apr 04, 2005

wouldn't that mean everyone, after the "painful" process of removing the bodily layer, will end up in heaven? From your reasoning, I gather that sinful people will receive a longer, more painful, disembodyment, but will eventually be reduced to pure soul... ready to accept the divine radiance. Please clarify.

Editor's Comment

Your reasoning is impeccable. Aside for very few exceptions (see Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:1 and Maimonidies laws of Teshuvah 3:14) every G-dly soul ends up in "Heaven".

Does Judaism believe in Heaven and Hell?

Posted by: Sharon on Jul 28, 2005

Where are you getting your information? I have either listened or read the entire Old Testament from beginning to end, and never heard or read anything about a "cleansing process". Based on the Old Testament, you have to obey EVERY law handed down in Leviticus in order to be in God's good grace....I'm totally confused.

Editor's Comment

The Torah (or what you call the Old Testament) speaks of the here and now. It does not speak of heaven, hell, souls or afterlife etc. There are other Jewish books that speak of those concepts. See "Is there an explicit mention of the afterlife in the Torah?"

Do only Jews get into heaven?

Posted by: Isaiah on Apr 02, 2006

Do Jews believe that only Jews get to go to heaven, or can anyone go to heaven if they are good and/or go through the cleansing process of hell? Thanks.

Editor's Comment

Judaism teaches that all righteous people have a place in the world to come. (Maimonidies laws of Teshuvah 3:13) See "Need I convert to Judaism if I share its beliefs?"

Does Judaism believe in Heaven and Hell?

Posted by: Chloe, Leeds, England on May 21, 2006

Is the place where the soul is refined called Sheol? If not does Sheol play a part in Jewish beliefs in life after death, as various sources are giving me different interpretations of the function of Sheol. Is it a similar idea to the Christian view of Hell?

thank you.

Editor's Comment

Gehinom consists of seven "chambers." The fifth chamber is known as known as "She'ol." It, too, is a place where the soul is cleansed of its sins. Think of it like washing a soiled garment: First it must be soaked and spinned in the washer and then it must go through the dryer. Then it must be pressed. The soul, too, must undergo seven stages of cleansing before entering Gan Eden.

Heaven and hell in jewish belief.

Posted by: Anonymous on Oct 31, 2006

Where does the idea of gilgul nefashim come into the ideas of Gan eden and Gehinom?

Editor's Comment

Great question! "Gilgul Nefashim" (reincarnation) and "Gehinom" (hell) are both methods of purification that the soul might undergo before entering "Gan Eden" (the Garden of Eden). See also "How does reincarnation work?"

Why bother?

Posted by: Anonymous on Dec 17, 2006

So if everyone will eventually be cleansed enough to be permitted into heaven, why bother following God's law here on earth? You'll just be forgiven and go to heaven in the end, right?

Editor's Comment

1) The "purification process" a soul must first undergo before entering the "Garden of Eden" is more painful to the soul than the worst form of physical torture 2) This then becomes a question of one's motives in following G-d's commandments, whether out of fear of punishment or out of a recognition of the truth of G-d and His commandments and a commitment to do what is right. See also "Is there an explicit mention of the afterlife in the Torah?"


Life Cycle » Death » Afterlife
Philosophy » Consequences

Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Gan Eden
The Garden of Eden. A garden in Mesopotamia where Adam and Eve were placed after creation. They were expelled from the idyllic garden after eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Gan Eden also refers to a spiritual realm where the soul receives its reward after departing from the body.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.
The (Jewish calendar) anniversary of a person's death.