What do Jews believe about Heaven, Hell and the 'after life' in general?
A traditional Jewish view holds that death is not the end of human existence.
However, contemporary Judaism lays emphasis on the 'here and now' concept and stresses on living a good moral life.
Jewish theology for the most part contains little on the subject of the
after life and leaves a great deal of room for personal interpretation.
This is why some Jews believe that we are continually 'reincarnated'. It would be
a more 'liberal' or 'secular' Jew who would generally ascribe to this view.
An orthodox or conservative Jew is more likely to believe that the righteous
dead go to a place similar to the Christian view of Heaven. This is referred to as Olam
Ha-Ba (the world to come) or Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden).
Those who believe in a Heaven also believe in a place similar
to a Christian view of Hell. The Jewish reference to Hell is "Gehinnom" or "She'ol."
The Gehinnom view sounds very familiar to the Catholic doctrine of purgatory.
According to most Jewish sources, the period of punishment or purification is limited to twelve months, after which the soul ascends to Gan Eden or is destroyed, if that person was utterly wicked.
In addition, some Jewish sources are of the opinion that your time in Gehinnom
can be shortened if living friends and relatives pray for you and do good works
on your behalf.