What is beyond the world as we know it, and where will the soul of a dead person dwell? Is it going straight to Gan Eden (Garden of Eden) or Gehinom (Hell) ?
Although Judaism focuses primarily on life in the here-and-now, the belief in an afterlife is well established in the Torah. In several places, there are indications that the righteous, but not the wicked, will be reunited with their loved ones. A number of biblical luminaries (Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and others) are said to have been “gathered to their people” after their death.
While the idea of an afterlife is firmly established in traditional Judaism, little in the way of doctrine and tenets surrounds it. As a result, you will find different concepts of the afterlife within Judaism, including some that consider the entire notion irrelevant.
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Some Orthodox are of the opinion that wicked souls will be tormented by demons of their own making or they will cease to exist. There are those, such as many Hasidic sects, who believe in reincarnation—an element in Kabbalah. Some hold that the souls of the righteous are reborn to continue their good work, while other sources indicate that a soul is reincarnated only if there’s a need to complete some unfinished business. Still others think life after death is a matter of waiting for resurrection.
Reincarnation and resurrection are not incompatible, and one does not preclude the other. Regardless of what ideas a person chooses to accept or reject about the soul and the afterlife, a Jew is still expected to live his or her life in accordance with the Jewish laws and principles.
Gan Eden (Garden of Eden)
During biblical times, the Jews believed in sheol, a world of shadows wherein dwell the dead. Later, they came to believe in a paradise called Gan Eden (Garden of Eden), not to be confused with the famous garden inhabited by Adam and Eve. This concept is somewhat similar to the Christian idea of Heaven.
Only the righteous will go directly to Gan Eden. Most souls descend to Gehinnom, the valley of Hinnom, which is a place of punishment or purification. (Conceptually, this notion of Gehinnom has some similarity to, and may have exerted influence on, the development of the idea of purgatory in the Roman Catholic tradition.) Gehinnom is named for a place that really existed in biblical times. Located outside Jerusalem, the historical Gehinnom was inhabited by pagans who offered their children as sacrifices, thus earning a reputation as the most abominable place imaginable.
Souls are not consigned to Gehinom for eternity but only for a limited time. The idea of a soul being damned forever is not consistent with Judaism. In fact, the Jewish tradition maintains that all souls will ultimately be resurrected.