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Heaven and Hell

What is the Jewish belief of the afterlife?
Do you believe in heaven or hell?
Who goes there?
What are heaven and hell like?


Although there is little explicit biblical reference to these concepts, Judaism certainly believes in the Afterlife, and maintains that the soul is eternal, and ascends to a spiritual world after death.

The concepts of Heaven and Hell are mentioned by the Talmud and other writings of the Sages, Heaven being a place where the righteous receive reward for their deeds in this world, and Hell being the place where sinners are cleansed of their sins, preparing them for entry into the world of reward.

As physical creatures, we cannot say what Heaven and Hell are like: the reward of Heaven is expressed by the Sages as taking pleasure from the glow of the Divine Presence (Shechinah), and other sources refer, in a metaphorical way, to various “feasts”. Hell, in turn, is described metaphorically as a burning furnace, whose heat is sixty times the heat of the hottest fire on earth — though other sources mention different levels of Hell, including the exact opposite: punishment by means of snow and cold. 

Sources: See Berachos 28b, which speaks of two paths a person can take upon his death, one the path of Heaven, and the other of Hell; see also Chagigah 15a, which states that Heaven was created for the righteous, and Hell for the wicked. Another passage states that the fires of Hell rest on the Sabbath, giving the wicked a respite from the purgatory.

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