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    Is “Sheol” hell? – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Can you explain the word Sheol? Does it mean Hell?

    A. Sheol (better pronounced Sh’ol) is of uncertain etymology. It was a place where those who had died were believed to congregated. Jacob, refusing to be comforted at the death of Joseph, says: “I shall go down my son as a mourner to Shol” (Gen. 37:36). Sh’ol was very deep (Prov. 9:18) and it marks the greatest possible distance from Heaven. Sh’ol is described as a land (Job 10:21,22) with gates (Job 17:16) and divided into compartments (Prov. 7:27). All the dead meet there (according to Ezek. 32; Isa. 14, etc.) and it is a place of silence (Ps. 6:6, 30:10, etc). It is not a bad place, nor is it necessarily the equivalent of Hell.

    The idea that a person does not go to Sh’ol until gathered unto their fathers was taken literally. The dead bones were sometimes carried around till “families” could share the same grave (e.g. the Cave of Macphelah, where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were buried). To be buried “with one’s fathers” was important in early Biblical narrative and in other cultures.

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