After sleeping on it, I have to amend my earlier comments about the lack of an afterlife in Judaism.
When I posted earlier, I was responding to the content of some of the material linked eariler (which contined, IMHO, the real meat of the discussion), not directly to any post in this thread, and therefore I may have seemed to be beating a straw man.
However, I was so put off by some of the bald assertions (which, I admit, are a constant challenge for anyone trying to write a brief, comprehensible summary) that I overstated the case in the opposite direction.
Judaism, the religion of “The People of the Law” (as they sometimes call themselves) has a long history of reliance on scholarly debate and interpretation, and there is, indeed, a recurrent rabbinical debate on the nature and role of Heaven and Hell (if any) in Judaism. The two terms most often associated with “Hell” are Sheol and Gehenna (Ge-Hinnom). The concepts embodied in each likely had pre-Judaic “pagan” roots
Sheol is not a Hell in the sense of punishment, but is “The Valley of the Bones”, a place of inactivity and rest, not torment, which many feel is primarily a metaphorical or poetic term. It was translated into the Greek as “Hades” leading to much conflation of two very different visons of what comes after life. I would argue that Hades is an ‘afterlife’ and Sheol is not, except in the sense that the ultimate stillness and isolation of the handfull of Jain Tirtankaras is called an afterlife.
Gehenna was/is a literal place, “The Valley of Hinnom” outside Jerusalem (in that sense, I have been to Hell and back) where a great slaughter of children took place. It became an ancient garbage disposal site, populated by the ‘wailing’ poor and homeless, and filled with the stench of burning rubbish (with a great deal animal hides and other by-products, since wood and paper wastes could be usefully burned in households for heat and cooking) Since the structural proteins of animals gain a great deal of their strength from sulfur-containing amino acids (e.g. cystine/cysteine bonds and bulky histidine residues which inhibit flexion of the peptide secondary structure) this considered the likely origin of the “fire and brimstone” imagery (think of the stench of burning hair)
Gehenna also has a more metaphysical meaning, according to some rabbinal interpretations, which does include possible interpretations consistent with purgatory. It is open to debate whether these are mere justifications of folk beliefs (as I believe they are) or actual tenets of Judaism. In wither case, Gehenna is not Hell in the sense of Eternal Damnation. No one remains in this version of Gehenna forever (some limit the stay to a maximum of a year), and it is often allied with the notion of Gan Eden, which some consider the Jewish Heaven, but others consider a state of nonconscious unity with God. (Some Christian factions see the Christian Heaven as a similar union without consciousness)
To those who take Gan Eden to be a Heaven in which some sort of conscious, self-aware existence of the person or soul is possible, the transient residence in or passage by the ‘torment’ version of Gehenna can be seen as bearing a resemblance to the Christian notion of purgatory, though often this view of Gehenna is seen as more of a ‘tempering and strengthening if the spirit/soul’ in preparation for Gan Eden, than as a punishment. To some, the less adherent and disciplined the person was in life, the longer and more rigorous the ‘tempering’ required.
As regards the German “Christkind”, I admit I got some of my facts confused. I was aware that this is a generally German tradition with less dour imagery, but I was primarily thinking of an interview with one of the leaders of the Austrian “anti-Santa” (American version) movement (they are a not-uncommon human interest story this time of year). That interview (over?)emphasized the differences between the Bavarian/Austrian folk traditions (the ominous Sankt Nicolaus, known more for his lump of coal than his dowries to poor girls) and the American Jolly Old St. Nick. This badly skewed the phrasing and statements of my late night post. My apologies.