Sheol, Gehinnom, Gehenna: Hell in Judaism
Many times on this site I have mentioned that Judaism does not teach a doctrine of eternal damnation. Now I've noticed more Christian ministers are very publicly having these same Judaic thoughts - Bishop Drew Pearson a few years back, Paster Rob Bell more recently, for example. Welcome back to Torah, guys!
What is Gehinnom? R. Joshua b. Levi stated: Gehinnom has seven names, and they are: Nether-world (or 'Sheol'), Destruction, Pit (or, 'pit of destruction'), Tumultuous Pit, Miry Clay, Shadow of Death and the Underworld. 'Nether-world', since it is written in Scripture: Out of the belly of the nether-world cried I, and Thou heardest my voice (Jonah 2.3); 'Destruction', for it is written in Scripture: Shall Thy Mercy be declared in the grave? Or thy faithfulness in destruction (Psa 88.12); 'Pit', for it is written in Scripture: For Thou wilt not abandon thy soul to the nether-world; neither wilt Thou suffer Thy godly one to see the pit (Psa 16.10); 'Tumultuous Pit' and 'Miry Clay', for it is written in Scripture: He brought me up also out of the tumultuous pit, out of the miry clay (Psa 40.3); 'Shadow of Death', for it is written in Scripture: Such as sat in darkness and in the shadow of death (Psa 107.10); and the [name of] 'Nether-world' is a tradition. But are there no more [names]? (to Gehinnom) Is there not in fact that of Gehinnom? — [This means,] a valley that is as deep as the valley of Hinnom and into which all go down for gratuitous acts. Is there not also the name of Hearth, since it is written in Scripture: For a hearth is ordered of old? (Isa 30.33) — That [means] that whosoever is enticed by his evil inclination will fall therein (Erbin 19b) Is there a duration to the punishment? Beit Shammai taught: There are three groups – one is destined for eternal life, another consigned to eternal ignominy and eternal abhorrence (these are the thoroughly wicked) while those whose deeds are balanced will go down to Gehinnom, but when they scream they will ascend fro there and are healed…but Beit Hillel taught: [God is] rich in kindness’ (Ex. 34:6) [He is] inclined toward mercy (Tosefta Sanhedrin 13:3) This argument is reiterated elsewhere in the Talmud over the most wicked people the Rabbis could imagine – the generation that drove God to undo creation: The generation of the Flood have no share in the World-to-Come (M. Sanh. 10:3) 'The judgment on the generation of the Flood was for twelve months, on Job for twelve months, on the Egyptians for twelve months, on Gog and Magog in the Hereafter for twelve months, and on the wicked in Gehinnom for twelve months. (M. Eduyot 2:10; Gen. Rabbah 28:8) In the end, Hillel’s opinion prevails (as it always does).
The punishing afterlife is temporal; there is no eternal punishment. Jewish hell is about remorse, whereas Christian and Islamic notions of hell are all about despair. Rabbi Akiba said:…The duration of the punishment of the wicked in Gehinnom is twelve months. (Shabbat 33b) If there are any unredeemable souls, their fate is annihilation and non-being, not eternal torment: After 12 months, their body is consumed and their soul is burned and the wind scatters them under the soles of the feet of the righteous (Rosh Hashanah 17a) In addition, the tradition tells us that souls in Gehenna also get Shabbat and holidays off (thanks to the reader who reminded me of that)
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