What is the nature of life after death, according to Orthodox Judaism as it exists today? I have tried to read up on this, but I often hear very conflicted views... I mean I once read that Sheol is akin to a 'washing machine'.

Do Jews believe in 'heaven' and 'hell'? Are these physical places?

  • You are asking a good, but difficult question. "Heaven" is more accurately described as by Judaism as "Olem haBa" "the world to come." "Gehelim" is similar to the concept of "purgatory." Both Jews and non-Jews may enter heaven. Jews must follow the laws of the Torah and non-Jews must follow the Seven Noahide Laws. Gehelim is a place where one's soul is cleansed of sin before it can rise to "heaven." How long it stays in purgatory depends upon how much cleansing the soul requires. It is believed that for most people, a twelve month sentence, so to speak, is the maximum......
    – JJLL
    Nov 1, 2014 at 12:05
  • ......Some people have much shorter stays, others longer. I am almost certain than some individuals never leave Gehalim, but don't hold me to that. It is said that a minute in Gehalim is like a thousand years in life and that "heaven" is eternal peace, a never ending Sabbath. This is not literal as the souls in heaven will reattach to the physical world during the Messianic era and the Resurrection. What is certain, although Judaism sometimes describes Olam haBa in a physical manner (everyone sits and learns Torah) it is just an analogy for ultimate peace. A physical heaven and hell.......
    – JJLL
    Nov 1, 2014 at 12:12
  • ......with harps, soft puffy clouds, etc. is not part of Judaism. Heaven and Hell are purely spiritual. The separation of body and soul is a difficult transition for most people, so that twelve month period also asssts with that. Perhaps that's why mourners sometimes sense a presence of their dearly departed. Neither the body or soul wants to separate and the soul hovers around the body for awhile after death. Since I do not have references for any of my comments, please don't accept anything I've said as an answer. May you live a long, happy and healthy life.
    – JJLL
    Nov 1, 2014 at 12:17
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    OP here. Thank you all for your answers, especially JJLL and Kordovero. I shall also check out the book that Kordovero recommended. Thanks again. Nov 2, 2014 at 1:03
  • @A.Concerned.Lurker I've removed the part of your question that has been asked already. See judaism.stackexchange.com/q/883/5323
    – MTL
    Nov 2, 2014 at 2:14

4 Answers 4


Orthodox Judaism believes in Heaven (Gan Eden or Olam HaBa) and Purgatory (Gehenna or Gehinom). Hell isn't the right word, because Gehenna (Purgatory) isn't permanent. Kaddish is only said for less than a year for the dead because we presume they won't be in gehenna that long. However, according to some views there are a few extremely evil individuals whose souls are extinguished with death, or who experience eternal punishment.

After the Resurrection of the Dead, souls will again live in bodies (either for a long time or permanently -- there are different views). This is what is often referred to as Olam HaBa. Before that occurs, however, the souls will be in "Heaven," often called Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden).

In any case, Heaven or Purgatory are not physical places. The Resurrection, however, will occur in a physical place.

Kabbalistic Judaism also believes in reincarnation. Although belief in reincarnation did not become widespread until after the popularization of the Zohar, it is widely accepted by many Jews. It is difficult to find a widely-respected Orthodox rabbi in the last few hundred years who questions or opposes this belief. However, it is not technically required to believe in it (because Kabbalah is not considered a binding source of belief by all Orthodox Jews), and most Jews rarely discuss it.

The Talmud states that all nations (that is, all non-Jews) have a share in the World to Come (Olam HaBa). Some sources say that non-Jews will go to Heaven as long as they observe the Seven Noahide Laws (basic rules of morality that apply to all people).

Many books and articles are available on this topic. The only one I can think of that I have read and recommend is Soul searching: Seeking scientific ground for the Jewish tradition of an afterlife by Rabbi Yaakov Astor.

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    The Rambam says Heaven (or at least Gan Eden) is a place on Earth. See hakdama to Perek Chelek. Nov 2, 2014 at 2:14
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    @YeZ So does Madonna! :p Sorry... I couldn't resist... Feb 26, 2015 at 16:46
  • if you could source some of these assertions it would be greatly improved. ex. "the Talmud states that all nations (that is, all non-Jews) have a share in the World to Come even without keeping the 7 mitzvot." where did that come from?
    – ray
    Feb 26, 2015 at 19:40
  • Ray, you're not quoting me accurately.
    – Kordovero
    Feb 26, 2015 at 22:26

Maimonides explains this in his "Laws of Repentance" ch.8:

The good that is hidden for the righteous is the life of the world to come... The reward of the righteous is that they will merit this pleasure and take part in this good. The retribution of the wicked is that they will not merit this life. Rather, they will be cut off and die.

Whoever does not merit this life is [truly] dead and will not live forever. Rather, he will be cut off in his wickedness and perish as a beast...

In the world to come, there is no body or physical form, only the souls of the righteous alone, without a body, like the ministering angels. Since there is no physical form, there is neither eating, drinking, nor any of the other bodily functions of this world like sitting, standing, sleeping, death, sadness, laughter, and the like...


orthodox jews believe that souls go to heaven or hell depending on how you did in your lifetime. Also, people can pray for the soul to go higher up in the heavens. I'm not sure if there's a physical place for heaven or hell in Judaism, but this concept is accepted.

I hope it helps.


From the TaNaKH and from the Talmud, we read about these ultimate "afterlife"-destinations, inclusive of a time-frame:

"And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence."

(Daniel 12:2)

Death is like sleep. Just as we wake-up from sleep, we also wake-up from death.

Yochanan Ben-Zakkai said, "I have two paths before me, one of the Garden of Eden and one of Gehenna, and I do not know on which they are leading me;"


Dying is like walking, a continuous process of being, and therefore "after death" (upon the continuous process of being), we encounter a fork on the road, one fork leads to Gan-Eden, and the other to Gehenna.

Master of the Universe, You have judged properly, You have acquitted properly, You have condemned properly, and it is befitting that You have prepared Gehenna for the wicked and the Garden of Eden for the righteous.


This quote, from the Talmud, tells us the courtroom time-frame after death or "afterlife", there is judgment ("You have judged properly"), which either leads to acquittal ("You have acquitted properly") or condemnation ("You have condemned properly"). A sentence of condemnation condemns one into the hellish "Gehenna"-Destination, whereas an acquittal leads into the heavenly "Garden of Eden"-Destination.

Thus is the "nature of life after death, according to Orthodox Judaism" as fleshed-out in both the above sources from the TaNaKH and Talmud.

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