Take the 2-minute tour ×
Mi Yodeya is a question and answer site for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I heard from a Jewish colleague that the concept of Heaven and Hell were not originally part of Judaism. I couldn't find references to these concepts in the Old Testament. So

  • Were these part of Judaism from beginning?

and if the answer is positive,

  • Why aren't there references to them in the historically older books like Torah? (Or where are they if there are?)

Edit: by Heaven and Hell I don't necessarily mean the Christian conception of them but the more general idea of a place in the afterlife where people go, think of them as Gan Eden and Gehinam if it helps.

share|improve this question
4  
related: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/4467/… –  jake May 25 '11 at 5:24
2  
@jake, I had read that question and its answers before posting this, but thanks for linking. –  Kaveh May 25 '11 at 5:29
add comment

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

First, your question seems to imply a predefined notion of the concepts of heaven and hell. There is much discussion about these concepts amongst the Sages of the Talmud, the Rishonim, and Acharonim.

  • Heaven: There is much reference in Talmudic literature to an afterlife for the righteous (i.e. those who follow God's commandments) called "Olam Habah" (World to Come). The Rishonim generally describe it as a pure spiritual connection between the soul and God's "essence", generating an intimate relationship with God. This is something that one in this world cannot imagine. (See Rambam Hil. Teshuva 8:6-7; Chovos Hal'vavos, Bitachon:4.)
  • Hell: The afterlife of those who sinned is referred to in the Talmud as "Gehinnom", which is a reference to a geographical location mentioned several times in Tanach (גיא בן הינום), though the concept of which is purely spiritual and divorced from any physicality. Several (metaphorical) descriptions of Gehinnom are given, such as it being fiery (Berachos 57b) or a period of continuous unrest (Pirkei R' Eliezer 34). Rambam seems to believe that there is no afterlife for sinners, but that they will rather cease to exist after death. (See @RCW's answer.)

Second, with regard to your question, Were these part of Judaism from beginning?. Following the Jewish belief in the oral tradition imparted by Moshe through the Neviim and through the Sages of the Mishna and the Talmud, we must assume that these concepts are part of the tradition received by Chazal, and thus were indeed part of Judaism from its beginning.

Finally, regarding your second question, there is no definite reference to the concepts of Olam Habah or Gehinnom in the Tanach. There are, however, hints and inferences to them. The source that is generally used to show that there is a concept of afterlife, that is, the continued spiritual existence of the soul after death, is from Koheles 12:7:

וישב העפר על הארץ כשהיה והרוח תשוב אל האלהים אשר נתנה

Additionally, Chazal counted Abigail among the female prophets and assumed her knowledge of the afterlife, both its positive and negative sides, from her words in Shmuel 1:25:29:

והיתה נפש אדני צרורה בצרור החיים את יהוה אלהיך ואת נפש איביך יקלענה בתוך כף הקלע

To address why there is no (definitive) mention of the afterlife throughout Tanach, R' Dessler (Michtav Me'Eliyahu vol. 5, p. 391) explains that in the earlier generations, when there existed prophesy and God's presence dwelled on Earth (in the Temple), there was no need to depict Olam Habah. People's perception of the world was of a continuous existence of the soul; they were simply more in touch with their spirituality and connection to God than people of later generations. To the earlier generations, this world was seen as just an Olam Habah with an added physical aspect. There was not so much of a distinction drawn between the two worlds. Therefore, it warranted no mention in those times; it was a given. Later, after the destruction of the Temple and discontinuation of prophesy, people had to grapple with the concepts of Olam Habah and Gehinnom.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Based on the Rambam there does not seem to be a notion of "Hell" in Judaism. If a person develops their soul and attaches it to the world of ideas, then when the body ceases, the soul will continue to exist in a non-physical state. There is no location of Heaven or any type of physical place. It can more be described as simply the Soul continues to exist in a state of existance, not associated to the physical. However, if a person never develops their soul and simply attach themselves to the world of the physical, then when their body dies, they will will simply cease to exist, much like an animal. (See Rambam, Hilchot Teshuvah, Chapter eight, Law 1 and Chapter 9)

share|improve this answer
3  
The negative result that you describe is Rambam's description of kares. It does not necessarily imply a lack of "hell" for those that sinned but do not deserve kares. A better source for this would be the next chapter of Hilchos Teshuva (9:1), where he neglects to mention a concept of Hell for sinners, rather mentioning that sinners simply will not be involved in the spiritual ecstasy that the souls of the righteous will enjoy. –  jake May 25 '11 at 6:05
1  
see judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/7401/… for a description of Hell acc. to the Ramban. –  Zvi May 25 '11 at 15:57
    
Thank you Jake for your comments. First point is that I am not certain the Rambam has no concept of Gehenem, it would seem so from his ommisions and comments. Second, in Chapter 8, Law 1 the Rambam states that "the concquence for the wicked is that they do not merit this existance (Olam Habah), but are cut off and cease to exist". He does not state this is only speaking of a Rasha that did a violation meritting Kares. He seems to be suggesting that Kares(cessation) of the soul is a natural result of those that do not merit Olam Habah. I will continue in next comment... –  RCW May 25 '11 at 16:51
    
Third, even if you are correct that it is only dealing with a person that did a violation earning Karet, the point still stands. The point is that for the wicked there is no idea of Hell. There is no idea of burning in some painful situation for all eternity. This is the idea of hell I am suggesting the Rambam does not have. I thank you for your comments and I have edited the answer to reflect your comment and added a reference to Chapter 9. That Halacha does contribute to the point as well. –  RCW May 25 '11 at 16:54
    
Good points all. Neither am I certain of the Rambam's opinion on this issue. I will try to look into it if I have time. –  jake May 25 '11 at 18:31
show 1 more comment

I believe the concept of gan eden/gehinam are part of the oral tradition. at least there's no clear reference in the humash. in any case the concept of gan eden/gehinam is not the same as heaven/hell that is brought by different religions

share|improve this answer
add comment

The idea of Sheol -- a place under the ground where the dead dwell -- appears throughout the Pentateuch and later books of the Tanakh. In the early books it's really nothing more than a figurative reference to the place where people are buried. Later in the Prophets there are some more detailed ideas about comings and goings. The Oral tradition elaborates on the idea, but certainly Sheol is never the modern Christian Hell, with fire and brimstone and eternal torment. It is more a state of unbeing than any kind of punishment.

share|improve this answer
1  
add comment

Scholars discuss why the Pentateuch does not directly mention the existence of worlds other than this one (though it does hint or refer to it in a couple of places). Some give reasons why these concepts are meant to be a part of the oral torah and not in the written Torah. Some rishonim say that these concepts would have been too abstract for the generation of the desert to grasp, so the Torah emphasized physical reward in this world to them. (This answer is difficult if one says belief in a future world is essential. If however, the critical belief is just in reward and punishment, then it works.) Many non-Orthodox Jews reject the idea of ancient oral traditions in Judaism, which may be why they would say these concepts didn't use to exist.

share|improve this answer
2  
Your answer could be even more valuable with some more specific citations. –  Isaac Moses May 25 '11 at 17:54
    
I don't always remember exactly where I saw something, so I follow the Rambam's derech. –  Ariel K May 25 '11 at 21:41
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.