Heaven and Hell

Question

Is there any general consensus or understanding about heaven and/or hell in Judaism?

, 14 years

Answers

  1. The very foundation of the Jewish Religion is rooted in the concept of the World to Come and the Resurrection of the Dead. We believe that without these concepts it would have been virtually impossible for the Jewish People to have remained attached to God and His Torah.

    Judaism is a religion that uses this world as a means to enter into the World to Come, because of this fundamental belief existence in this this world allows us many expectations, and it gives us a purpose in life – to build on our inherent spirituality and to try and draw closer to God in order to enhance God’s presence in this world. The Sages teach that the Creation of the world is based on Chesed, kindness. God’s lovingkindness was to bestow the greatest possible good upon His created beings. And the ultimate and greatest good is God Himself. Therefore, in order for mankind to try and emulate God in this world beings must be created with free-will. To interfere in free-will of beings contradicts the whole purpose of Creation. That is why it is the norm that the righteous suffer and the evil prosper.

    It is clear that not all who appear “good” are in fact good and vice versa. Tradition teaches that punishment in this world is for any mistakes a person might have made, which allows for a person to enter the World to Come. In the same vein Long life is not always considered a sign of someone’s righteousness. In fact, Jewish Tradition is centered around the fact that physical death is merely a means of gaining entry into the World to Come.

    How is one to receive a place in the World to Come? By performing Mitzvot, commandments, and keeping God’s Torah. There are people in this world that deny the very existence of God and they believe that they have no need for the World to Come. However, such people manage to perform plenty of Mitzvot during their lives. This is so even if they did so without any of the correct intentions at all. God, then has to reward them for their actions with a form of “currency” that fits their lifestyle. One of the ways that God has for rewarding the wicked is to grant them long life and riches in this world. This means that at their Final Judgment, the Heavenly Tribunal can check its records and see that all merits and rewards were paid in the physical world.

    The concept of hell, called Gehinom or purgatory, shares no resemblance to Christian hell. Jewish Traditional Sources teach that Gehinom is a place where Souls are sent – only if the Soul is in need of some form of spiritual correction. A Soul, depending on the need for correction, can spend up to a year in Gehinom. However, the maximum time is “only” twelve months, there is no concept whatsoever of being in Gehinom for an indefinite period of time, i.e. eternal damnation.

    Once a Soul has been through the necessary process of correction, the Soul is welcomed into the World to Come to join all the other Souls in the World of Truth.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team