Judaism subscribes to the belief in an after-life and reward and punishment, but is there a concept of Hell in Judaism?

Hell as commonly depicted–fire, brimstone, devils with pitchforks–is not so different from the Jewish concept of Gehinnom, minus the devils. Like Hell, Gehinnom is hot, very hot. The sages write that “Fire is one sixtieth of Gehinnom” (Talmud Berachot 57b) meaning that Gehinnom is sixty times as hot as a regular fire.

Gehinnom, however, is more akin to the Christian “purgatory,” a cleansing process before one goes to “heaven.” Upon leaving the human body, many souls go to Gehinnom before being elevated to olam habah, the world to come. Excepting the few truly evil, most souls remain in Gehinnom no longer than 11 months.

The existence of Gehinnom is an assumed fact by the sages. In Talmud Nedarim 39b, it is stated that Raba expounded that “… seven things were created before the world: the Torah, repentance, the Garden of Eden, Gehinnom, the Throne of Glory, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah.”

The sages also discuss specific actions that result in a person being placed in Gehinnom. For example:

“Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: Whoever scoffs will fall into Gehinnom. Rabbi Oshaia said: He who is arrogant will fall into Gehinnom” (Avoda Zarah 18b).

“Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: Whoever makes derogatory remarks about Torah scholars after their death, will end up in Gehinnom” (Berachot 19a).

The actual word Gehinnom is not mentioned in the Torah but is derived from an actual place, the Valley of Ben Hinnom, just outside Jerusalem. The bible recounts that, in this valley, the worshipers of the idol Molech lit fires upon altars and sacrificed their children. The Talmud (Succah 32b) records an opinion that this valley serves as the gateway to hell.

This Treat was last posted on January 27, 2010.

Copyright © 2015 NJOP. All rights reserved.