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Heaven or Hell

January 12, 2010

Whether you are talking about Evangelism Explosion, Ray Comfort or Jews for Jesus, the first question almost always being asked in a witnessing scenario is something along the lines of “do you know for certain that you will go to heaven when you die?”

It may shock Christians and Jews alike to know that the simple answer for Jews is, “yes.”  How can that be?  The missionary is often caught off-guard by this answer because the usual answer from non-Christians is, “I hope so,” or “nobody can know for certain.”  To which the missionary has an answer because the New Testament tells them that one CAN know for certain that they are going to heaven.  Such a response is usually an open door for the missionary to then proceed to share the gospel message.

However, as Jews, we have a very different understanding of what happens to us after we die and therefore a different definition of hell and how one gets to heaven.  Judaism understands “hell” not as a place but a process.  You see, according to Judaism, not only are we all going to heaven, we are also all going to hell!

This is one of the reasons that Jewish people are not as concerned about heaven and hell as we are about doing what is right in the here and now.

One of my students described the process as a big washing machine.  When we are born, our soul is not only housed in a body of flesh and blood, but clothed with spiritual garments of pure white.  As we live in this world, fighting our inner evil inclination (and occasionally giving in), we get our garments dirty.  Some dirt is easily removed through good deeds or hardships in this life, other dirt becomes stains which may or may not lighten throughout the course of our life.

When our time in this world is through, we go to hell – literally, “the grave”.  It is at this time that our soul, in its spiritual garments alone (for the body is in the ground) stands before God in judgment.  We must give an accounting for everything we have done in our lives, and we must have our garments cleansed, for only those with clean garments may enter the presence of Hakadosh Baruch Hu – the Holy, Blessed One.

How difficult the cleansing process is and how long it takes depends on how badly stained we are and how “ground-in” the stains are.  Are they blood stains?  Or simply grass stains? According to Jewish tradition, this process doesn’t take more than 11 months.  Then, once purified, we enter the presence of the Divine.

But what about those who are wicked?  Surely they must suffer more!  They couldn’t possibly go to heaven!  Those who are truly wicked wear garments that are so stained that no amount of cleansing will clean them and they are destroyed in the process.  They no longer have spiritual garments and their only other clothing – their earthly body is left to Sheol – Hell – the grave.  They decompose into the earth and are no more.

Many missionaries claim that the “Christian God” is a God of love while the “Jewish God” is a God of rules, regulations and judgment.  The truth is that the Jewish understanding of God makes much more sense and is far more loving.

According to Christianity, God is perfect and requires us to be perfect (Holy). It is impossible for us to be holy and we therefore are condemned to die not just physically, but spiritually as well. (This, it is explained, is why we “need” Jesus).

It’s like a father who tells his child that he must complete a certain task.  Only, the task is impossible to complete, and the father knows this.  The father explains to the child that if he does not complete this (impossible) task, the father will kill him – he will die!  What kind of a loving father would condemn his child to a death sentence for not completing a task that is impossible for him to complete?  This is the model of the God of Christianity.

The God of Judaism is also perfect and also requires holiness from us, but holiness is only partly about what we do.  Holiness is about a heart-attitude.  Look at Abraham and King David, for example.  And the Scriptures tell us exactly what it is that God wants from us:

Micah 6:8

He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what the Lord requires of you – only to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.


Devarim (Deuteronomy) 10:12-13

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes which I command you today for your good?


According to Judaism, God has not asked us to do anything we are not capable of doing and repairing our relationship with God has always been about Teshuvah (repentance) and not about sacrifices. Heaven is a place where the righteous of all nations will go and hell is simply the process of getting there.


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3 Comments leave one →
  1. apostaterebel permalink
    January 14, 2010 11:28 pm

    I’m curious as to if this concept of everyone going to Heaven, and everyone going to Hell is where to Catholic concept of purgatory comes from? I was raised Catholic, left the church in my mid-teens before converting to Evangelical Christianity. I since de-converted from Christianity.

    • Penina permalink
      January 15, 2010 12:29 am

      I do believe that this is where the Catholic doctrine of purgatory comes from. There are many things to be found in the Catholic Church that are not found in Protestantism that are similar to Judaism (except transubstantiation). But prayer books, incense, candles, the priese wearing a yarmulke, etc…

  2. Folke Holtz permalink
    April 1, 2010 2:57 pm

    How important you ministry is Penina. We must fight the wrongteaching of the missionaries who promote such teachings.

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