Gehenna is not mentioned in the Torah and in fact does not appear in Jewish texts before the sixth century B.C.E. Nevertheless, some rabbinic texts maintain that God created Gehenna on the second day of Creation (Genesis Rabbah 4:6, 11:9). Other texts claim that Gehenna was part of God's original plan for the universe and was actually created before the Earth (Pesahim 54a; Sifre Deuteronomy 37).


Gehenna (Greek yéswoi), Gehinnom (Rabbinical Hebrew: mm/nianzi) and Yiddish Gehinnam, are terms derived from a place outside ancient Jerusalem known in the Hebrew Bible as the Valley of the Son of Hinnom (Hebrew ); one of the two principal valleys surrounding the Old City.


In the Hebrew Bible, the site was initially where apostate Israelites and followers of various Ba'als and Caananite gods, including Moloch, sacrificed their children by fire (2 Chr. 28:3, 33:6). Thereafter it was deemed to be cursed (Jer. 7:31, 19:2-6). The Hinnom Valley is a deep, narrow ravine located in Jerusalem, running south from the Jaffa Gate on the west side of the Old City, then eastward along the south side of Mount Zion to the The Hinnom Valley is a deep, narrow ravine located in Jerusalem, running south from the Jaffa Gate on the west

side of the Old City, then eastward along the south side of Mount Zion to the Kidron Valley which separates the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives on the east side of the city. It's named from a certain "son of Hanno" who owned the valley (Joshua 15:8). One section of the Hinnom Valley was called Topheth, where the children were sacrificed to the god Molech by placing the babies into the hands of the burning hands of Molech. (2 Kings 23:10). Molech had the head of a bull with two horns and the body of a man. The idol’s stomach was hollow and was the furnace for the fire used during the sacrifice. When hot enough, the infant was place into the arms of the idol.



Leviticus 18:21: “And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Moloch"


The name Topheth is derived from either, or both, the Hebrew word toph, meaning a drum, because the cries of children being sacrificed by the priests of Moloch were masked by the sound of the beating on drums, or from taph or toph, meaning to burn..

2Chron. 28:3 and he (King Ahaz) made offerings in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom and burned his sons as an offering, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel.

Jeremiah 7:31 And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.

Jeremiah 32:35 They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech. though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.

2 King 23: 10 King Josiah destroyed the high places at Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom. He didn't want anyone to use them to sacrifice his son or daughter in the fire to the god Molech.


After their return from the Babylonian exile, the people of Judah turned the Hinnom Valley into the city dump where garbage and anything deemed unclean (including the bodies of executed criminals) was incinerated. For that purpose, a fire was kept constantly burning there.

Thus, by the time of Christ the wickedness which had become associated with the Valley of Hinnom (in Greek, Ge=land + Henna=Hinnom, thus: Gehenna) became synonymous with the Place of the Wicked, or- "Hell."


In the Christian concept Gehenna is associated with the final judgement and is often equated with hell. Here are some descriptions:


"HELPS Word-studies

1067 géenna (a transliteration of the Hebrew term, Gehinnom, "the valley of Hinnom") -

Gehenna, i.e. hell (also referred to as the "lake of fire" in Revelation

Gehenna ("hell"), the place of post-resurrection torment (judgment), refers strictly to the everlasting abode of the unredeemed where they experience divine judgment in their individual resurrection-bodies. Each of the unredeemed receives one at the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:11-15), i.e. a body that "matches" their capacity for torment relating to their (unique) judgment."


"NAS Exhaustive Concordance

Word Origin: of Hebrew origin gay and Hinnom

Definition: Gehenna, a valley W. and S. of Jer., also a symbolic name for the final place of punishment of the ungodly

NASB Translation: hell.


"Thayer's Greek Lexicon


 (others would accent   deriving it through the Chaldee. In Mark 9:45  (Buttmann, 17 (15)), , (from  Nehemiah 11:30; more fully  Joshua 15:8; Joshua 18:16; 2 Chronicles 28:3; Jeremiah 7:32;  2 Kings 23:10 Kethibh; Chaldean  the valley of the son of lamentation, or of the sons of lamentation, the valley of lamentation,  being used for  lamentation; see Hiller, Onomasticum; cf. Hitzig (and Graf)

on Jeremiah 7:31; (Bottcher, De lnferis, i., p. 82ff); accusative to the common opinion  is the name of a man), Gehenna, the name of a valley on the south and east of Jerusalem (yet apparently beginning on the Winer's Grammar, cf. Joshua 15:8; Pressel in Herzog, under the word), which was so

called from the cries of the little children who were thrown into the fiery arms of Moloch (which see), i. e. of an idol having the form of a bull.


The Jews so abhorred the place after these horrible sacrifices had been abolished by king Josiah (2 Kings 23:10), that they cast into it not only all manner of refuse, but even the dead bodies of animals and of unburied criminals who had been executed. And since fires were always needed to consume the dead bodies, that the air might not become tainted by the putrefaction, it came to pass that the place was called  (this common explanation of the descriptive genitive is found in Rabbi David Kimchi (fl. circa A.D. 1200) on Psalm 27:13. Some suppose the genitive to refer not to purifying fires but to the fires of Moloch; others regard it as the natural symbol of penalty (cf. Leviticus 10:2; Numbers 16:35; 2 Kings 1; Psalm 11:6; also Matthew 3:11; Matthew 13:42; 2 Thessalonians 1:8, etc.). See Bottcher, as above, p. 84; Meyer (Thol.) Wetstein (1752) on Matthew 5:22); and then this name was transferred to that place in Hades where the wicked after death will suffer punishment: Matthew 5:22, 29; Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:5; Mark 9:43, 45; James 3:6;

 Matthew 5:22; Matthew 18:9; Mark 9:47 (R G Tr marginal reading brackets); , Matthew 23:33 , worthy of punishment in Gehenna, Matthew 23:15. Further, cf. Dillmann, Buch Henoch, 27, 1f, p. 131f; (B. D. American edition; Bbttcher, as above, p. 80ff; Hamburger, Real-Encycl., Abth. l. under the word Holle; Bartlett, Life and

Death eternal, Appendix H.).


In biblical times, Gai Ben Hinom was the site of a cult where children were burned as offerings to the god Moloch as mentioned in 2 kings 23:10-

 “And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech.”


"Vincent’s Word Studies says:

“Mat 5:22 Hell-fire more accurately, the hell of fire. The word Gehenna, rendered hell, occurs outside of the Gospels only at James 3:6. It is the Greek representative of the Hebrew Ge-Hinnom, or Valley of Hinnom, a deep, narrow glen to the south of Jerusalem, where, after the introduction of the worship of the fire-gods by Ahaz, the idolatrous Jews sacrificed their children to Molech. Josiah formally desecrated it, "that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire to Molech" (2Kings 23:10). After this it became the common

refuse-place of the city, into which the bodies of criminals, carcasses of animals, and all sorts of filth were cast. From its depth and narrowness, and its fire and ascending smoke, it became the symbol of the place of the future punishment of the wicked. As fire was the characteristic of the place, it was called the Gehenna of fire. It should be carefully distinguished from Hades, which is never used for the place of punishment, but for the place of departed spirits, without reference to their moral condition.”


R. Joshua b. Levi stated: E Gehinnom has seven names, and they are:


  • Nether-world (or ‘Sheol’), Destruction, Pit (or, ‘pit of destruction‘), Tumultuous Pit, Miry Clay, Shadow of Death and the Underworld.
  • ‘Nether-world’, since it is written in Scripture: Out of the belly of the nether-world cried l, and Thou heardest my voice (Jonah 2.3);
  • ‘Destruction’, for it is written in Scripture: Shall Thy Mercy be declared in the grave? Or thy faithfulness in destruction (Psa 88.12);
  • Pit’, for it is written in Scripture: For Thou wilt not abandon thy soul to the nether-world; neither wilt Thou suffer Thy godly one to see the pit (Psa 16.10);
  • ‘Tumultuous Pit’ and ‘Miry Clay’, for it is written in Scripture: He brought me up also out of the tumultuous pit, out of the miry clay (Psa 40.3);
  • ‘Shadow of Death’, for it is written in Scripture: Such as sat in darkness and in the shadow of death (Psa 107.10);
  • and the [name ot] ‘Nether-world‘ is a tradition.


But are there no more [names] (to Gehinnom)

ls there not in fact that of Gehinnom? — [This means,] a valley that is as deep as the valley of Hinnom and into which all go down for gratuitous acts.


ls there not also the name of Hearth, since it is written in Scripture: For a hearth is ordered of old? (Isa 30.33) — That [means] that whosoever is enticed by his evil inclination will fall therein

(Erbin 19b)"


Gehenna is not Hell but Purgatory


However the original Jewish understanding of Gehenna was more akin to Purgatory rather than hell.


Gehenna is not hell, but rather a sort of Purgatory where one is judged based on the things he has done while he was alive. This life itself is a Gehenna where every one receives their suitable reward based on their performance. The ultimate reward is not complete here and “Gehenna“ appears in the Greek Scriptures twelve times (Matt.5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mark 9:43,45,47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6). Not one of these passages indicate that this is the final state of existence of those in it.

“And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind" (Isaiah 66).


The picture of Gehenna as the place of punishment or destruction of the wicked occurs  frequently in the Mishnah in Kiddushin 4.14, Avot 1.5; 5.19, 20, Tosefta t. Bereshith 6.15, and Babylonian Talmud b.Rosh Hashanah 16b:7a; b. Bereshith 28b. Gehenna is considered a Purgatory-like place where the wicked go to suffer until they have atoned for their sins. It is stated that the maximum amount of time a sinner can spend in Gehenna is one year, with the exception of five people who are there for all of eternity. After this the soul will ascend to Olam Ha-Ba (the world to come), be destroyed, or continue to exist in a state of consciousness of



Beit Shammai taught:

"There are three groups —

  • one is destined for eternal life,
  • another consigned to eternal ignominy and eternal abhorrence (these are the thoroughly wicked)
  • while those whose deeds are balanced will go down to Gehinnom, but when they scream they will ascend fro there and are healed...but Beit Hillel taught: [God is] rich in kindness‘ (Ex. 34:6) [He is] inclined toward mercy (Tosefta Sanhedrin 13:3)"


Twelve months?

‘The judgment

  • on the generation of the Flood was for twelve months,
  • on Job for twelve months,
  • on the Egyptians for twelve months,
  • on Gog and Magog in the Hereafter for twelve months,
  • and on the wicked in Gehinnom for twelve months." (M. Eduyot 2:10; Gen. Rabbah 28:8)

Rabbi Akiba said:"The duration of the punishment of the wicked in Gehinnom is twelve months." (Shabbat 33b)


Origins of Gehenna


Gehenna is not mentioned in the Torah and in fact does not appear in Jewish texts before the sixth century B.C.E. Nevertheless, some rabbinic texts maintain that God created Gehenna on the second day of Creation (Genesis Rabbah 4:6, 11:9). Other texts claim that Gehenna was part of God's original plan for the universe and was actually created before the Eanh (Pesahim 54a; Sifre Deuteronomy 37). The concept of Gehenna was likely inspired by the biblical notion of Sheol.

Who Goes to Gehenna?


According to the rabbis some of the transgressions that would merit a visit to Gehenna included

  • idolatry (Taanit 5a),
  • incest (Erubin 19a),
  • adultery (Sotah 4b),
  • pride (Avodah Zarah 18b),
  • anger and losing one's temper (Nedarim 22a). and,
  • they also believed that anyone who spoke ill of a rabbinic scholar would merit time in Gehenna (Berakhot 19a).
  • one who indulges in unseemly speech (Shab. 33a; Enoch, xxvii.);
  • who always follows the advice of his wife (B. M. 59a);
  • who instructs an unworthy pupil (Hui. 133b);
  • who turns away from the Torah (B. B. 79a; comp. Yoma 72b).


For the most part the rabbis did not believe souls would be condemned to eternal punishment.

"The punishment of the wicked in Gehenna is twelve months," states Shabbat 33b, while other texts say the time-frame could be anywhere from three to twelve months. Maimonides believed that some souls are destroyed after the 12 months of punishment if they are irreparably lost.


He does not, however, believe that anyone stays in Gehenna forever (neither did the Talmudic Rabbis).

Yet there were transgressions that the rabbis felt did merit eternal damnation. These included:

  • heresy,
  • publicly shaming someone,
  • committing adultery with a married woman and
  • Rejecting the words of the Torah.

However, because the rabbis also believed that one could repent at any time, the belief in eternal damnation was not a predominant one. Only a limited group, chiefly those who by word and deed have repudiated their loyalty to the Jewish people and the basic doctrines of Jewish faith, will endure endless torment (Tosef., Sanh. 12:4, 5; RH 17a). However, R. Akiva cited Isaiah 66:23 concerning the 12-month sentence, indicating that even the wicked after having atoned for their sins in purgatory will join the righteous in Gan Eden (Eduy. 10).


However, “the Gehenna of fire” is “fire eonian" (aionion; Matt.18:8,9) “fire of ages" cannot be endless fire, or “everlasting punishment." It pertains to the period or age to which it denote.


The valley of Gehenna, together with the entire earth, will be dissolved by combustion (2 Peter 3:10-13; cp Rev.20:11; 21:1),



The Jewish View of Gehenna based on Jewish Views of the Afterlife by Simcha Paull Raphael


Part 1: The Rabbinical view laid out in the Talmud and Rabbinic Lit.

The Rabbis saw Gehenna as a place of punishment for a person who did not live a righteous life, as defined by God and Torah for Jews, or the seven laws of Noah for non-Jews. The majority view of the Rabbis is that punishment in Gehenna is of limited duratation. The maximum punishment was believed to be 12 months. The Talmud says, in tractate "Shabbat" page 33b that "The duration of punishment in Gehenna is twelve months". This is also stated in both early and late rabbinical literature (i.e., texts of the Rabbis of the Talmud). This 12 month limit is true for both Jewish and Gentile sinners ("Rosh HaShanah" 17a). This is true even of the generation of the flood, who were said to be very wicked. (Mishneh, Eduyyot 2:10; Genesis Rabbah 28:8). Though some individual Rabbis (a minority) expressed the view that certain sinners stayed in Gehenna forever, it was not the majority, accepted view.

"During the twelve-month period in Gehenna, the soul goes through a process of purification and atonement, and, as described in Midrash Pesikta Rabbati, ‘After going down to Gehenna and receiving the punishment due him, the sinner is forgiven from all his iniquities, like an arrow from the bow he is flung fonh from Gehenna‘ (Pesikta Rabbati 53:2). After this experience, the soul is sufficiently purified and able to enter the supernal postmortem realm of Gan Eden, the Garden of Eden (Exodus Rabbah 7:4)" (Raphael,Jewish Views of the Afterlife,



Part 2: Medieval Views

I will consider a number of Medieval views of Gehenna in this section.

I remind you, that a Midrash is non-binding and usually is written to teach a lesson, or to encourage certain behavior (such as the desirability of not committing adultery, perjury, or blaming a neighbor in public). It is not extended to be the literal truth in any way. As Raphael says, "ln the medieval period an extensive MYTHICAL tradition was developed" on the after-life, including punishment in Gehenna. Masekhet Gihinnom (a Medieval Midrash on Gehenna)

says that 3 types of sinners go to Gehenna forever: men who commit adultery, blames his neighbor in public, and one who is guilty of perjury. The same tractate latter says that every 12 months the sinners are burned to ashes and dispersed by the wind, so that the righteous can walk on their ashes, fulfilling Malachi 3:21. Afterwards, their soul is release from Gehenna, they acknowledge the justice of their punishment.


Maimonides believes that some souls are destroyed after the 12 months of punishment. He does NOT, however, believe that anyone stays in Gehenna forever (neither did the Talmudic Rabbis). Maimonides also thought that one was immortal to the extent that they attained intellectual perfection while alive. This is a view that Maimonides shared with Gershonides, another medieval philosopher/rabbi who lived 84 years after Maimonides death and was greatly

influenced by Maimonides views on the after-life. The book does not state Gershonides view of Gehenna.


Nachmanides, a medieval Jewish philosopher/rabbi born 10 years before the death of Maimonides, agrees with the majority of Talmudic Rabbis as outlined above in the previous section. The souls of sinners are punished for a maximum of 12 months (NOT forever). He also refutes those medieval Jewish philosophers that say that the souls of some sinners are destroyed. So, he disagrees with Maimonides. He also believed that the after-life of sinners after they leave Gehenna and go to Gan Eden is not of the same quality as those who go to

Gan Eden directly (i.e., the righteous). While it is pleasant, it is to a lesser degree than what the righteous experience.


In the Zohar, part of Kabbalah (which I feel is a medieval document, though many Hasidic Jews would disagree), it states "The punishment of sinners in Gehinnom last twelve months, after which the Holy One raises them out of Gehinnom, where they have undergone purification. They remain then sitting at the gate of Gehinnom, and when they see sinners enter there to be punished, they beseech mercy for them. In time the Holy One takes pity on them, and causes them to be brought to a certain place reserved for them. From that day

onward the body rests in the dust and the souls is accorded her proper place (I, 107b-108a)" -- from the Zohar, as quoted on pp 303-304 of Raphael, "Jewish Views of the Afterlife". The soul undergoes trials in Gehenna for the purpose of purification. This purification lasts for 12 months, at the end of which, the soul is pure. After the 12 months, the soul is seen as being clad in "luminous vestments". (This is the main view of the Zohar, but the Zohar also allows for

the possibility that some souls will not repent and will therefore stay in Gehenna. This possibility seems to have been place in there to encourage sinners to repent, since it also says that the Holy One will forgive those who repent.)

R. Moses ben Israel lsserles of Cracow (1525-1572) limited the length of time we can mourn for our parents to 11 months, since he did not want to assume that anyone’s parents got the maximum 12 month punishment in Gehenna. Notice that the maximum of 12 months is assumed. This "demonstrates the extent to which beliefs about the state of the soul in the afterlife influenced Jewish community death practices. To this day, Kaddish [the mourner's prayer] for a parent is recited for only eleven months." (P306, Raphael).


As you can see, the majority of Medieval Jewish Rabbis did NOT believe that "Hell" was forever. That view was a minority view.


Thus ends my answer to your (i.e., D.S.'s) statement about MOST Jews in the middle ages believing that people go to "Hell" forever. It is simply not true; you have been given incomplete information by Mr. Shane. (Note: this is the end of the correspondence with D.S.--he actually tried to revive this discussion after a 6 month break, referring again to something Rabbi K said.


I wrote Rabbi K, and he sent me an e-mail that basically said what this does. DS simply wants Judaism to believe something other than what it does, but he does not define Judaism and never will)."