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the talmud in Rosh Hashana 17a lists some sins which warrant eternal gehinom.

Is this to be taken literally? or perhaps it means a very long time or until the end of this world.

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I suppose that a biblical basis for the concept of eternal damnation might lie in Isaiah 66:24 and Daniel 12:2, but there are other echos of it in the rabbinic literature as well (cf: Berakhot 28b, שאם כועס עלי כעסו כעס עולם, ואם אוסרני איסורו איסור עולם). –  Shimon bM Jun 25 '13 at 1:46
    
It seems to be literal because IIRC other Aharonim also use this idea (see Reshit Hochma Sha'ar Hiyira). –  Hacham Gabriel Jun 25 '13 at 4:08

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Rabbi Yonasan Hirtz, rabbi of Utopia Jewish Center, in Queens, lectured once that the rabbis' explanations of what happens after death is pure speculation. "No one knows what happens after death because anyone who knows is dead," he said. The purpose of the speculation, like many midrashim, is to help us prioritize our values. One might believe that the rabbis' views were traditional teachings that Moses received at Mount Sinai and passed on as part of the oral tradition. But I think not. The Gemara at Rosh Hashana 17a (and the discussion before and after that page) do not specifically cite to such a tradition (although they do not always say), but rather use references to the words of the prophets to support their points.

For example, the Gemara at Rosh Hashana 16a makes reference to a prophecy in Malachai 3:21 ("And you shall crush the wicked, for they will be as ash under the soles of your feet on the day that I will prepare, says the Lord of Hosts") to support the position that the souls of the wicked are sent to Gehinom (Hell) for 12 months after death and then reduced to ashes in the flames, scattered in the wind, then becoming the dust that the righteous walk upon.

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Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/9100/5 –  Seth J Jun 26 '13 at 15:28
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does Rabbi Hirtz have a source or is it just his speculation? –  ray Jun 26 '13 at 17:28
    
@ray: I don't believe it was his speculation. Some years ago I asked Rabbi Hirtz for his papers he used to present that talk (it was giving on Shavuos night), but last I spoke with him he said he had misplaced them when he moved to New York and would like to find them himself. Without speaking to him again, I can't answer that. I'll drop him a note, however. If you voted me down, was that your reason? –  Bruce James Jun 26 '13 at 20:19
    
@BruceJames yes. no source. i also think the Rabbi is wrong that nobody can know what happens to the dead as the orchos tzadikim writes: (Shaar Yiras Shamayaim) ... And just like G-d can see the future, so too a man at the time when is asleep (if he is a big tzadik) And he will see the spirits of the dead and places and people he never saw... –  ray Jun 27 '13 at 5:43
    
@ray You are wrong that Bruce didn't quote a source. He quoted Rabbi Yonasan Hirtz. That is a source. It is not his responsibility to give you the whole shiur. –  Double AA Jun 27 '13 at 12:19

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