The Wikipedia article on Sheol is very unclear as to what it is and combined with the Christian understanding: quoting the New Testament in several places.

  • Who goes to Sheol once they die (Jews and/or Gentiles and/or Idolaters/Heathen)?
  • Is there consciousness, if so is it an uncomfortable place to be in or neutral?
  • What comes after this place (for the groups mentioned above)?

2 Answers 2


The general consensus is that Sheol/Gehinom/Hell is a place the soul is sent to post-mortem for a Purgatory-like cleansing for up to 12 months. According to Nachmanides in Sha'ar HaGemul quoting Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer, She'ol is the lowest level of Hell, also known as Gehinom. He also has the best description of what it is and is cited by pretty much everyone else. I wrote a paper about this for an English class in college - here's a rough translation of the section describing Gehinom (feel free to correct as necessary - I don't have the Sefer on hand):

There are seven levels of Gehinom: Gehinom, Sha’arei Tzalmavet, Tit HaYavein, Bor Shachat, Avdon, and Sheol. In each level of Gehinom there is a major sinner in Jewish History and ten nations: Avshalom (Absalom) in Gehinom, Doeg (Doeg) in Sha’arei Tzalmavet, Korach in Tit HaYavein, Achav (Ahab) in Bor Shachat, Micha (Micah) in Avdon, Elisha ben Avuya in Sheol. In addition to Gehinom, there is a lesser known area below Gehinom called Arka where a small percentage of sinners go. (Arka is similar to Hell in that sinners never leave. However, it differs in that sinners burn eternally in a river of fire, rather than suffer different punishments for different sins.)

From what I recall, it's very difficult to end up in Arka. However, everyone - whether Jew or Gentile - goes through some level of Gehinom before going to Olam Habah.

I know there is a section in Eruvin about it as well, but that discussion is about where the physical entrances to are (whether you can take that literally or not is a discussion for a different time). Derech HaShem and Gesher HaChaim cite both the Ramban and the Gemara in Eruvin.

I hope that helps.

  • Welcome to Judaism.SE, and thanks very much for this source!
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented May 15, 2011 at 5:15
  • Interesting, Tzvi. 2 questions: Is there a source for the 11 monthe geihinom? My recolection is that it is 12 months, but kaddish is only for 11. Also, is it impossible for someone to escape geihinom? What about those who died with no sin?
    – YDK
    Commented May 15, 2011 at 5:43
  • @YDK - You're right. It is 12 months - I totally confused the Minhagim for saying Kaddish with the actual duration. My bad. As for escaping Gehinom, I don't remember what the Ramban said there.
    – Zvi
    Commented May 15, 2011 at 7:22
  • @YDK - I assume that sinless individuals would obviously not endure Gehinom unless the person is a Gilgul - very contentious topic in of itself - and the need to rectify sins from previous lives, in which case that person could be sent there. But that's a totally different discussion.
    – Zvi
    Commented May 15, 2011 at 7:40
  • Hello @Zvi thank you for your enlightening answer. I was hoping you might also consider responding to this question concerning the date of these sources.
    – Dan
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 2:16

Sh'ol is a word common in T'hilim (Psalms) and is most easily translated (e.g., Radak 6:6) as "grave".

But it's sometimes (e.g., Radak 30:4) translated as "Hell". I'm sure another answer will address this possibility more fully, but those who did bad go there and it's unpleasant.

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