Do the Jews believe in an eternal hell like Christians do? What are the Jewish views of hell?
Jewish View of Hell
Some Jews, not all, believe in a type of hell, but the Jewish mystics call it “Gehinnom,” but it’s nothing like we might imagine hell is. To them, it’s like a deep cycle of cleansing activity, much like putting clothes in a washing machine, where they are washed clean from their unrectified grievances in life, and then their soul is flung across the vast universe, passing through an intense spiritual heat to rid them of any further “residue,” and only then, the cleansed ones will be gathered together and be able to enter into Heaven. Jewish Rabbi Ya’akov said that a righteous person might suffer in this lifetime, but they will certainly be rewarded in the next world, and that reward will be much greater that their suffering was. Jesus also promised rewards for the righteous after death, and promised them that they would suffer for His name’s sake, so the Jewish Rabbi is not far off. Where he comes up short is the need to put your trust in Jesus Christ. He is their Messiah…and their Savior and ours, whether they recognize Him or not…but someday, they will!
Jewish View of the Afterlife
Sheol is the place of the departed and is described as a “pit” or “darkness” from which there is no escape. The Bible says that after the saints of the Old Testament died, they wrote that the patriarchs were “gathered to his people” (Gen 25:8, 17, 35:29, 49:33, Num 20:26), indicating there were people there waiting for them when they died. The same was said of Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Aaron, Isaac, Joseph, and so on, so the Bible does teach that there is life after death. Jesus said God was the God of the living and not the dead (Luke 20:38), therefore, He still refers to God as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as if alive…and they are (Matt 22:32)! Jesus reassures us that even if we die, we shall live again if we put our trust in Him (John 11:25-26). We also know that death awaits all of us, with the exception of Jesus’ coming before we die, but even Job understood that in the grave, both “The small and the great are there, and the slave is free from his master” (Job 3:19). Death does not discriminate, but neither does God as any who come to Him can be saved. Rabbis use the term Olam Ha-Ba to refer to a heaven-like afterlife as well as to the messianic era or the age of resurrection, but it’s difficult to know which one is being referred to; the one referred to in the Talmud which is similar to the Garden of Eden (Gan Eden), or just being in an eternal, spiritual existence. Certainly there is some similarities when we see the new heavens and the new earth (Rev 21: 22:1-5), but it’s so much more than that! The Jews don’t have much to say or teach about life after death, but the Bible has a lot in both the Old Testament and the New Testament!
As far as the Jews are concerned, only those who are righteous enough can make their way to the “Garden,” but those who fall short of this standard end up in Gehenna. The name is taken from a valley (Gei Hinnom) just south of Jerusalem, once used for child sacrifices by the pagan nations of Canaan and it was so detestable to the Jews that it ended up being a place of refuse, where dead bodies were sometimes cast and burned…and the fire was said to never go out. The formal name of this place is Gehinnom, and it is the fate of the average person. Rabbinic teachings basically say that, after death, those not good enough must endure a place of torture and punishment in fire and brimstone, but others view it as a place to reflect and repent of their life’s sins. For the Jew, it is either Gehenna, a sort of Jewish purgatory or ongoing punishment, or Gan Eden, (Heaven or Paradise or the Garden). Jesus Himself said hell (Gehenna) is a place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). Just like the valley of Gei Hinnom (Gehenna) burned continually, and the worms there (or maggots) never die, hell is personal. Jesus said it is “their worm” or their own worm that never dies, not just “a” worm, so it’s the idea of personal regret. Jesus said someday, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear” (Matt 13:41-43).
Where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.
Where is Hell?
Is hell down or is it somewhere else? Is it beneath the earth’s surface because Jesus did ask, “Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades” (Luke 10:15). Also, the Apostle Paul wrote that Jesus “ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also “descended into the lower regions, the earth” (Eph 4:9), possibly referring to Jesus death and subsequent burial. The Apostle John wrote that he “saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done” (Rev 20:12), “And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done” (Rev 20:13), and “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15). Whether this is below the earth or some other place, it won’t really matter to those who are there forever. All we know for certain is that it includes “the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Rev 21:8).
Most Rabbinic teachings about the afterlife are so varied about the places, times, and circumstance of the dead, that there is really no general consensus about life after death in Jewish thought since even Rabbinic teachings differ, but even in Jesus’ day, the Sadducees didn’t believe in the afterlife, while the Pharisees did, so what is hell like? Hell includes being separated from God for eternity. That is hell enough. Daniel the Prophet wrote about the end of the age in Daniel 12:2-3 where it says that “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever,” but Jesus says, “unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24), so repent today and trust in Christ before you die and face God’s judgment (Heb 9:27). Today is the day of salvation (2nd Cor 6:2). Tomorrow may never come for some. There is no chance for repentance in hell and none is needed in heaven.
Here is some related reading for you: Is There A Difference Between Hades, Hell, and Sheol? A Bible Study 
Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible : English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.