The Rambam said:

Gehinnom, however, is the name for the pain and the punishment that will come to the evildoers [after they die], but the Talmud did not give a [definitive] description of this punishment. [Rambam on Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:1]

So: Is Gehinnom just judgment and punishment followed by verdict: Olam Haba or extinction, or can you do something there yourself (like repent)? Is there even a possibility of repentance after death in our Sources? Or is your role in Gehinnom 100% passive?

  • Well there is a famous vort that Gehimmon is just shows you what you could of been but you didn't become it, that is the very embarrassing.
    – Russell
    Commented Jun 28, 2020 at 17:52
  • 1
    What happens in Gehinnom ? - Well, there's only one way to find out... :-)
    – user18041
    Commented Jun 28, 2020 at 22:30
  • @Lucian Really 613 ways to find out:)
    – user6591
    Commented Jun 29, 2020 at 1:09
  • @user6591 Really 365 ways to find out:)
    – Dani
    Commented Jun 29, 2020 at 13:10
  • 1
    @Dani You speak the truth
    – user6591
    Commented Jun 29, 2020 at 14:49

5 Answers 5


Its essentially a way to cleanse the soul of what it did in this world, through various methods, depending on the severity of the deeds done. For example, to illustrate from Tanya perek Ches:, first regarding the cleansing for unkosher food:

ועוד זאת במאכלות אסורות, שלכך נקראים בשם איסור

There is an additional aspect in the matter of forbidden foods, for which reason they are called issur (“bound” and attached):

מפני שאף מי שאכל מאכל איסור בלא הודע, לשם שמים, לעבוד ה׳ בכח אכילה ההיא

Even if one ate a forbidden food unwittingly and his intention in eating was for the sake of heaven, i.e., in order to serve G‑d with the energy derived from it;

(Had the food been permitted, the very act of eating for the sake of heaven would suffice to extract the good from the evil of the food’s vitality, as explained above. In this instance, however, forbidden food was eaten for the sake of heaven.)

וגם פעל ועשה כן, וקרא והתפלל בכח אכילה ההיא

moreover, even if he actually carried out his intention, having studied and prayed with the energy derived from that food;

(Again, had the food been permitted and the person studied and prayed with the energy provided by the food, the energy would be elevated to Sanctity. But because the food was forbidden —)

אין החיות שבה עולה ומתלבשת בתיבות התורה והתפלה כמו ההיתר

the vitality contained in it does not ascend or become clothed in the words of Torah and prayer that he studies and prays with the energy of that food as is the case with permitted foods,

מפני איסורה בידי הסטרא אחרא משלש קליפות הטמאות

because it is held captive in the power of the sitra achra of the three unclean kelipot which do not permit the energy of the food to be elevated to Sanctity.

ואפילו הוא איסור דרבנן, שחמורים דברי סופרים יותר מדברי תורה כו׳

This is so even if it is forbidden by reason of a Rabbinic prohibition, for1 “the words i.e., the prohibitions of the Scribes are even more stringent than the words of the Torah.”

ולכן, גם היצר הרע וכח המתאוה לדברים האסורים הוא שד משדין נוכראין, שהוא יצר הרע של אומות העולם, שנפשותיהם משלש קליפות הטמאות

Therefore, the yetzer hara (evil impulse) and the force that lusts after forbidden things is also2 “one of the non-Jewish demons,” which is the yetzer hara of the nations, whose souls are derived from the three unclean kelipot.

They therefore lust after forbidden matters, since the forbidden matters, too, derive their energy from the three unclean kelipot.

מה שאין כן היצר הרע וכח המתאוה לדברים המותרים, למלאות תאותו, הוא שד משדין יהודאין, לפי שיכול לחזור לקדושה כדלעיל

On the other hand, the evil impulse and the craving force after permissible things even when done solely to satisfy one’s craving in which case, as mentioned earlier, even the permissible matter descends into the utter evil of the three unclean kelipot; still it is3 “one of the Jewish demons”; it is, as it were, a Jewish evil impulse, for it (the vitality of a permitted thing) can be reverted to holiness, as was explained above.4

Since the food itself is permissible, therefore, though it was eaten to satisfy bodily desire, it can still be elevated to holiness (when the person returns to the study of Torah and the service of G‑d). The yetzer hara for forbidden matters, however, is intrinsically un-Jewish, i.e., essentially foreign to the Jew’s character. As explained elsewhere, one acquires this “foreign” yetzer hara by immersing himself in “permitted” pleasures. These so coarsen him that he begins to lust after prohibited matters as well — a desire totally unnatural for the Jew.

אך מכל מקום קודם שחזר לקדושה הוא סטרא אחרא וקליפה

Although the vitality of permitted foods eaten out of bodily desire can revert to holiness through the person’s repentance, nevertheless, before it has reverted to holiness it is sitra achra and kelipah,

וגם אחר כך הרשימו ממנו נשאר דבוק בגוף

and even afterwards (after the person repented and elevated the energy of the food to holiness) a trace of it remains attached to the person’s body,

להיות כי מכל מאכל ומשקה נעשה תיכף דם ובשר מבשרו

since each item of food and drink that one ingests immediately becomes blood and flesh of his flesh.

Since the food which became his flesh and blood was evil at the time of consumption — having been eaten for the sake of bodily pleasure — a trace of the kelipah remains in the body even after the person has repented and elevated the vitality of the food to holiness.

ולכן צריך הגוף לחיבוט הקבר, לנקותו ולטהרו מטומאתו שקיבל בהנאת עולם הזה ותענוגיו, מטומאת קליפת נוגה ושדין יהודאין

That is why the body must undergo the “Purgatory of the Grave” (a specific punishment for the body5 ) in order to cleanse it and purify it of the uncleanness which it had received from the enjoyment of mundane things and pleasures, which are from the impurity of the kelipat nogah and of the “Jewish demons” (i.e., the “Jewish yetzer hara” which desires permitted matters);

אלא אם כן מי שלא נהנה מעולם הזה כל ימיו

unless one had never derived enjoyment from this world all his life (i.e., either he actually derived no enjoyment, or his enjoyment was not of this world, since all his actions were completely for the sake of mitzvot and holiness),

כרבינו הקדוש

as was the case with Rabbeinu HaKadosh (Rabbi Judah the Prince, who said at the time of his demise that he had had no enjoyment of this world even to the extent of his “small finger”).

He who never derived pleasure from this world all his life need not undergo the “Purgatory of the Grave.” However, anyone who has not attained this level must undergo this punishment to purify his body of the uncleanness received from the enjoyment of mundane pleasures.

basically, because that energy in the food was not able to be used for holiness, it was used for the "other side" (chas veshalom), so to rectify that the soul needs to go through a purification to get rid of all its impure desires (even if the food was kosher, but if it wasnt for the sake of heaven). Also for not studying torah:

We shall now learn what is necessary for the rectification of permitted words not spoken for the sake of heaven.

ועל דברים בטלים בהיתר, כגון עם הארץ שאינו יכול ללמוד

As for innocent idle chatter, such as in the case of an ignoramus who cannot study,

He who is able to study is constantly obligated to fulfill the commandment of studying Torah; for him idle chatter is prohibited. For the ignoramus, however, idle chatter may be permissible. But —

צריך לטהר נפשו מטומאה זו דקליפה זו על ידי גלגולה בכף הקלע, כמו שכתוב בזהר, פרשת בשלח דף נ״ט

he must have his soul cleansed from the impurity of this kelipah, through its being rolled in the “Hollow of a Sling,”6 as is stated in the Zohar, Parshat Beshallach, p. 59.

This punishment is described7 as “being slung from one end of the world to the other,” or “from Israel to other lands.” The meaning of this is that the soul is flung from one extreme to the other: First it is shown the truth and preciousness of holiness, and then it is “slung” into and reminded of the thoughts and words it experienced while in the physical world — a most painful experience for the soul.8

אבל לדיבורים אסורים, כמו ליצנות ולשון הרע וכיוצא בהם, שהן משלש קליפות הטמאות לגמרי

But with regard to forbidden speech, such as scoffing and slander and the like, which being prohibited stem from the three completely unclean kelipot,

אין כף הקלע לבדו מועיל לטהר ולהעביר טומאתו מהנפש

the “Hollow of a Sling” (alone) does not suffice to cleanse and remove the impurity of the soul,

רק צריכה לירד לגיהנם

but it (the soul) must descend into Gehinnom (Purgatory — which is a greater punishment and thus more effective in cleansing the soul).

וכן מי שאפשר לו לעסוק בתורה ועוסק בדברים בטלים

So, too, with one who is able to engage in the study of Torah, but occupies himself instead with idle chatter —

אין כף הקלע לבדו מועיל לנפשו למרקה ולזככה

the “Hollow of the Sling” alone cannot effectively scour and cleanse his soul,

רק עונשים חמורים שמענישים על ביטול תורה בפרטות

but it must receive the severe penalties which are meted out for neglect of the Torah in particular,

מלבד עונש הכללי לכל ביטול מצוות עשה מחמת עצלות, בגיהנם של שלג, כמבואר במקום אחר

apart from the general retribution for the neglect of positive commandments through indolence, namely the “Purgatory of Snow,” as is explained elsewhere.9

The purgatory (Gehinnom), where the soul is cleansed of the “stains” of sin so that it may enter Paradise to enjoy the radiance of G‑d’s glory, operates on the principle of “measure for measure,” i.e., punishment in kind. Thus sins of commission caused by the heat of passion and lust are cleansed in a “Gehinnom (nehar, lit., ”stream“) of Fire,” while sins of omission, due to indolence and coolness (i.e., lack of fervor), are cleansed in a “Gehinnom of Snow.”10

וכן העוסק בחכמות אומות העולם בכלל דברים בטלים יחשב לענין עון ביטול תורה, כמו שכתוב בהלכות תלמוד תורה

Occupying oneself with the sciences of the nations of the world is likewise included in the category of engaging in inconsequential matters insofar as the sin of neglecting the Torah is concerned, for in studying the sciences of the nations, too, one is guilty of neglecting Torah study, as is explained in the Laws of Torah Study.11

ועוד זאת, יתירה טומאתה של חכמת האומות על טומאת דברים בטלים

Moreover, the impurity of the science of the nations is greater than the impurity of idle speech;

שאינו מלביש ומטמא רק המדות מיסוד הרוח הקדוש שבנפשו האלקית

for the latter clothe and defile only the emotions [which emanate] from the holy element of ruach (Air) within his divine soul,

בטומאת קליפת נוגה שבדברים בטלים הבאים מיסוד הרוח הרע שבקליפה זו בנפשו הבהמית, כדלעיל

[by tainting them] with the impurity of kelipat nogah contained in idle speech (which is derived from the evil element of ruach (Air, which is one of the components) of this kelipah in his animal soul), as mentioned above.

The G‑dly soul and the animal soul are both composed of four spiritual “elements”: Fire, Air, Water and Earth. The emotions, such as love and fear, which one expresses in idle talk, emanate from the element of Air. Thus, idle speech defiles the emotional attributes of the divine soul, which emanate from the holy element of Air, by using them in the service of the animal soul’s element of Air, i.e., its emotional attributes — which are “impure”, since they derive from kelipat nogah.

ולא בחינות חב״ד שבנפשו, מאחר שהם דברי שטות ובורות

[Idle speech does] not, however, [defile] the levels of ChaBaD (the intellectual faculties) in his soul, for it is but words of foolishness and ignorance,

שגם השוטים ועמי הארץ יכולים לדבר כן

since even fools and ignoramuses can speak that way.

Since these are not intellectual matters, the intellect remains uninvolved and untainted.

מה שאין כן בחכמת האומות הוא מלביש ומטמא בחינות חב״ד שבנפשו האלקית, בטומאת קליפת נוגה שבחכמות אלו

Not so in the case of the science of the nations; thereby one clothes and defiles his divine soul’s faculties of ChaBaD (intellect) with the impurity of the kelipat nogah contained in those sciences,

שנפלו שמה בשבירת הכלים מבחינת אחוריים של חכמה דקדושה, כידוע ליודעי ח״ן

whither they (the sciences) have fallen, through the “shattering of the vessels,” out of the “hinder-part” of Chochmah of holiness, as is known to those familiar with the Esoteric Wisdom.

Thus the study of these sciences contaminates the intellectual faculties of the G‑dly soul, and it is therefore much worse than idle speech, which contaminates only the emotional faculties,

אלא אם כן עושה אותן קרדום לחתוך בהן, דהיינו כדי להתפרנס מהן בריוח לעבוד ה׳

unless one employs them (these sciences) as a useful instrument, viz., as a means of earning a more affluent livelihood with which to be able to serve G‑d,

או שיודע להשתמש בהן לעבודת ה׳ או לתורתו

or unless he knows how to apply them (the sciences) in the service of G‑d or to his better understanding of His Torah; e.g., he utilizes mathematics to better understand the laws of the Sanctification of the New Moon.

וזהו טעמו של הרמב״ם ורמב״ן ז״ל וסיעתן שעסקו בהן

This is the reason why Maimonides and Nachmanides, of blessed memory, and their peers, engaged in them (in the sciences — since they were able to utilize this knowledge in the service of G‑d and Torah).

Regarding that which was stated at the beginning of this chapter that a thing prohibited even by Rabbinic enactment remains attached to the three unclean kelipot and cannot be elevated to holiness, even when it is used unwittingly and for the sake of heaven (i.e., in order to have strength to study and pray), — the following story is worth relating:

A chassid once came to the Alter Rebbe lamenting the fact that his son-in-law was subject to periods when he would doubt his faith. The Alter Rebbe responded that the son-in-law had unwittingly consumed milk which was milked by a non-Jew, with no Jew in attendance. Though he was unaware of this fact, and though the prohibition against such milk is only of Rabbinic origin, this had so strong an effect upon him that it caused him to doubt his faith. The Alter Rebbe then proceeded to tell the chassid how the matter could be rectified, thereby healing the son-in-law of his spiritual malady.

basically all different kinds of speech, not used for the sake of heaven (chas veshalom) have different effects on the soul, and commensurate with those effects does it need to be purified through various methods, as outlined above (each method is different)

  • I still don't see how the dead person is "purified", or whether he has to do anything himself in Gehinnom. Commented Jun 30, 2020 at 1:05
  • no he doesnt do anything besides for living through the process of purification Commented Jun 30, 2020 at 5:57

While it's too long to write out here, Maseches Gehinnom and what happens there is famously quoted in the 12th perek of sefer Reishis Chochmah. There was an English translation but it seems to be out of print.

A word of warning--don't learn it unless you're ready for it.


Like the Gemara says, even after the world is finished, Gehenom will not end for (certain) reshaim. Also the last verse of Yeshayahu (66:24) talks about eternal fire for reshaim:

"And they shall go out and see the corpses of the people who rebelled against Me, for their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorring for all flesh."

See this shiur for more details. Contrary to popular misconception, Gehenom can and does last much MUCH longer than 12 months for most people

  • It's not a simple "spiritual washing machine" for 12 months, and then you're scott free into Heaven, like most modern rabbis incorrectly and often proclaim. If so, then where does Hitler, murderers and atheists, etc, fit into the equation?
    – Adam
    Commented Jun 30, 2020 at 16:29

One can infer from Tosfos in Nidarim 8b that after Hashem decides the din, they get gehenim as a punishment. So Tosfos seems to hold that its punitive.

Below is the text from Tosfos.

אין גיהנם לעתיד לבא - לאו לאחר מיתה קאמר דודאי איכא גיהנם לרשעים אלא לעתיד לבא לאחר תחיית המתים קאמר שאותן רשעים שיהיו לחרפות לדראון עולם כדכתיב בדניאל (יב) לא יהיו נדונין בגיהנם אלא בהאי דינא שהקב"ה יוציא חמה מנרתיקה כדי שיהיו אלו מצטערין ושיתרפאו בה צדיקים והכי נמי מוכח בהדיא בפ"ק דע"ז דלאחר תחיית המתים קאמר:


I was told that everyone receives the same afterlife: being placed in a Beis Medrash with all the sephorim. If you are a tzaddik, your soul will enjoy it, else it wont.

  • A similar concept is in gemoras nedarim 8b and avodah zara 3b where לעתיד לבוא Hashem will take out the sun and those who are tzaddikim with benefit from it while the rashayim will be punished by it.
    – Geltman
    Commented Jun 30, 2020 at 13:36

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