Saturday, 17 July 2010

There is a Hell In Judaism

Picture: The Valley of Hinnom from where the Hebrew Hell - "Gehennom" gets its name

Even if its a little less eternal than the Christian Hell Judaism still has a Hell. Fine it's more of a purgatory but its still a place where "the bad folks go when they die ... a land of fire and fry."

Wherever I go I meet Jews saying "there is no Hell in Judaism". To which I say "What Talmud have you been reading?"

In the Tanakh There is no real Hell of sinners burning (there is sinner burning - just not in a special place) there is merely some sort of gloomy underworld/afterlife which we hear very little about but apparently you can summon dead prophets from there. However the Tanakh is not Judaism. Judaism is the Tanakh+Talmud. Biblical religion was a lot different than Judaism.

Reform Judaism (correct me if I'm wrong) does not believe in Hell. But that does not mean that there is "no Hell in Judaism" it simply means "We Reform Jews don't currently believe in Hell even though our ancestors did."

I'm not such a fan of Hell because it is clear the the Rabbis of the Gemara took it literally (Gehennom- the Hebrew word for Hell is a location outside of Jerusalem where the entrance of Hell is supposed to be) and because I'm skeptic.

Maybe I'm misreading the situation but it seems that more modern thinking Jews find the idea of Hell rather unpalatable and therefore have decided that "it's not part of Judaism." If this is indeed the case then I have to disagree with this "whitewashing" of our religion. One should not be embarrassed that our ancestors believed in these things even if we don't, and say things like "There is no Hell in Judaism" when there clearly was.

The words of Achad Ha'am come to mind.

In his article נחלת אבות (Inheritance of Fathers) He discusses an article written by a contemporary reformer who said that we must repudiate the Shulkhan Aruch, because it contains superstitions and magic (which it does) and he says that we must "ולהכריז בפה מלא ובכל עת, שאין זו תורתנו". ("announce with a full mouth at every time THIS IS NOT OUR TORAH")

He says:

היה הספר המתאים ביותר לרוח עמנו לפי מצבו וצרכיו באותם הדורות שקבּלוהו עליהם ועל זרעם. ואם נכריז עליו "שאין זו תורתנו", תהיה הכרזתנו מתנגדת אל האמת. כי אמנם זו היא תורתנו בצורה שקבּלה בהכרח בסוף ימי הבינַים, כמו שהתלמוד הוא תורתנו בצורה שקבּלה בסוף ימי הקדם, וכמו שהמקרא הוא תורתנו בצורה שקבּלה בהיות העם עוד חי חיים לאומיים בארצו; שלש אלה יחד אינן אלא שלש נקודות שונות בדרך התפתחותו של עצם אחד – של רוח האומה הישׂראלית – בהסכם למצבו וצרכיו בתקופות שונות.

(The Shulchan Aruch) was the most fitting book for the spirit of our nation according to its situation and needs in those generations when it was accepted. And if we declare “This is not our Torah” our declaration will be untrue. Because this is indeed our Torah in the form that it was accepted at the end of the Middle Ages … (The Torah, Talmud and Shulchan Aruch) are three different points in the evolution of one thing-of the spirit of the Jewish nation-in accordance with its situation and needs in different eras.

So even if you are a Reform Jew or a skeptic or whatever, you should not say there is no Hell in Judaism when in fact there historically is. Just because you don't like the idea, and don't believe in it does not mean that you have to whitewash the less palatable bits of our past. One can have his/her own modern views without pretending that the past did not happen. Judaism is more than just your current Jewish belief (whatever that mey be) - it is a long tradition of many very different views and ideas which all are included in "Judaism". So there is a Hell in Judaism even if you practice a form of Judaism which does not have a Hell.


MKR said...

Doesn't the business of whitewashing the Jewish past start with the sages who, e.g., would have us believe that "An eye for an eye" doesn't mean that if you put out someone's eye then you get your own eye put out but rather that you have to pay damages?

Shilton HaSechel said...

True but nowadays we should know better.

Back to my original point - they (i.e. the Rabbis of the past) were unable to conceive an evolving religion/culture and therefore found it necessary to rewrite history.

We, however, are more "enlightened" than that and should not feel the need to do the same.

Baruch Spinoza said...

Hello Shilty,

Did you ever realize that the most interesting people in history are in hell? Only the boring mindless following sheeple who listen to authority and give their obedience will be in heaven. How boring. The real excitement is in hell.

Anonymous said...

i think when people say judaism doesnt have a hell, they mean we dont have a CHRISTIAN hell, where all non-believers go to suffer for eternity.

Shilton HaSechel said...

Firstly I might be wrong but I think Catholics also believe in a temporary purgatory. SO I wouldn't say Judaism is particularly unique in that respect.

Secondly people should make that clear. There is a significant difference between NO HELL and NO CHRISTIAN HELL. When you omit that strategic word "christian" you are being intentionally misleading.

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