Learning Biblical Hebrew
12/15/09 at 01:38 PM 0 Comments

Hell in Judaism- Gehenna-part 1,2

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Most of us are familiar with the concept of Hell from what we see in the Media: Hell is a place where sinners and evil people go after death.

We are told that hell is a fiery place of torment and the souls are suffering for eternity.
In Judaism however, and in the Bible particularly, there is no mention of a place called hell. In Judaism hell has another name: Gehenna or Gehinom.
The name "Gehinom "derived from a valley in south Jerusalem which belonged to a man named Ben Hinom. The word valley in Hebrew is Gai and therefore this place is called Gai Ben Hinom.

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-

" וְטִמֵּא אֶת-הַתֹּפֶת, אֲשֶׁר בְּגֵי בני- (בֶן-) הִנֹּם: לְבִלְתִּי, לְהַעֲבִיר אִישׁ אֶת-בְּנוֹ וְאֶת-בִּתּוֹ בָּאֵשׁ--לַמֹּלֶךְ."

"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."

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.

 Main phrases of the post + transcription + translation

Hebrew      Transcription     Translation
גֵּיא בֶּן הִנֹּם Gê' ben hinnōm Hinnom valley
חוֹטֵא          Hōtē'               Sinner
מֹלֶךְ          mōlek                Moloch (deity to whom parents sacrificed their children)
תֹּפֶת          tōpet              Inferno

Gehenna has seven names: Nether-world (or Sheol), Destruction, Pit, Tumultuous Pit, Miry Clay, Shadow of Death and the Underworld. The name Nether -world is mentioned in Psalms 55:16-

" ישימות (יַשִּׁי מָוֶת), עָלֵימוֹ--יֵרְדוּ שְׁאוֹל חַיִּים: כִּי-רָעוֹת בִּמְגוּרָם בְּקִרְבָּם."

"May He incite death against them, let them go down alive into the nether-world; for evil is in their dwelling, and within them."

The name pit is mentioned in The Book of Ezekiel 26:20-

" וְהוֹרַדְתִּיךְ אֶת-יוֹרְדֵי בוֹר אֶל-עַם עוֹלָם, וְהוֹשַׁבְתִּיךְ בְּאֶרֶץ תַּחְתִּיּוֹת כָּחֳרָבוֹת מֵעוֹלָם אֶת-יוֹרְדֵי בוֹר."

" then will I bring thee down with them that descend into the pit, to the people of old time, and will make thee to dwell in the nether parts of the earth, like the places that are desolate of old, with them that go down to the pit, that thou be not inhabited;"

The name shadow of death appears in Psalms 107:10

" יֹשְׁבֵי, חֹשֶׁךְ וְצַלְמָוֶת; אֲסִירֵי עֳנִי וּבַרְזֶל"

"Such as sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron"

In the Kabbalah, Gehenna is called a "waiting room" for all souls and not just the souls of the sinners.
According to rabbinic literature, people don't stay in Gehenna forever. Gehena is a place or state where the wicked are temporarily punished after death.
Rabbi Akiva claims that the longest that one can be there is 12 months.

In legendry stories, the sinners must pass "the seven stages of hell" (shiv'a medorei geihinom). In each gate, the sinners are suffering a different punishment.

Main phrases of the post + transcription + translation

Hebrew  Transcription Translation
בּוֹר         bôr               Pit
רוֹגֵשׁ       rôgēš           Tumultuous
צַלְמָוֶת      tsalmāwet   Shadow of death
שְׁאוֹל       Še'ôl           Netherworld
מָדוֹר       mādôr         Department
שִׁבְעָה      Šib'āh         Seven
הַמְתָּנָה    hamtānāh   Waiting


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