What does Judaism Believe Regarding the Transmigration of Souls? (8 April, 2013, Nisan 28, 5773)
Mr. Davidiy, I'm asking a question as to the reincarnation, is reincarnation an accepted view of Judaism and if so, would it be confined to the belief or religion of the soul or spirit of past lives to new lives? I'm not sure if I'm asking this in the right way but hope you understand what I'm asking.
First of all I may not be the right person to ask about Judaism or Jewish matters. Also we do not wish to get involved in discussions about Jewish issues.
On the other hand the matter does connect up with us obliquely and may be seen as an extension of our explanations concerning Biblical matters.
Judaism neither believes nor disbelieves in Reincarnation.
In the past there were great authorities who denied and others who accepted it. It may be considered in a "take it or leave it" category.
The articles of faith of Judaism according to all authorities do not include Reincarnation.
Here are the articles of faith according to the two main authorities.
Articles of Faith
1. The world is created;
2. God is one and incorporeal;
3. belief in revelation (including the divine origin of tradition);
4. man is called to righteousness and endowed with all necessary qualities of mind and soul to avoid sin;
5. belief in reward and punishment;
6. the soul is created pure; after death it leaves the body;
7. belief in resurrection;
8. Messianic expectation, retribution, and final judgment.
1. The existence of God;
2. His unity;
3. His spirituality;
4. His eternity;
5. God alone the object of worship;
6. Revelation through his prophets;
7. the preeminence of Moses among the Prophets;
8. God's law given on Mount Sinai;
9. the immutability of the Torah as God's Law;
10. God's foreknowledge of men's actions;
12. the coming of the Messiah;
In practice I would also say that, in a de facto sense, an acceptance of the consensus regarding the Law as decided upon by the Sages is also required. This is not to be found in the above list of Maimonides since according to that authority it is encompassed by belief in Moses and the Prophets as being emissaries of the Almighty.
In practical terms one could say that the requirements are:
Belief in God.
Belief in the Bible.
Belief in the Sages as expounders of the Bible concerning the practical application of the Law. All the rest is detail.
Rabbi Saadia Gaon wrote against Reincarnation.
Belief in Reincarnation however is found amongst great Rabbinic authorities such as Nachmanides.
The Bible does not say anything expressly either for or against Reincarnation. There are a few verses that are quoted in favor of it but their relevance to someone who is already skeptical seems an obscure one.
In the Talmud it would appear (as far as I know) that reincarnation is not referred to and not believed in.
On the other hand a passage in Josephus could be understood to say that the Pharisees did believe in it. Judaism today is basically a development of the Pharisee outlook.
# ....the Pharisees are those who are esteemed most skillful in the exact explication of their laws, and introduce the first sect. These ascribe all to fate [or providence], and to God, and yet allow, that to act what is right, or the contrary, is principally in the power of men, although fate does co-operate in every action. They say that all souls are incorruptible, but that the souls of good men only are removed into other bodies, - but that the souls of bad men are subject to eternal punishment. #
Wars of the Jews ch. 8:14
This passage could indicate that the Pharisees believed in reincarnation, "the souls of good men only are removed into other bodies".
Alternatively it could also be a garbled reference to a future resurrection. Elsewhere Josephus again describes the Pharisees and here the reference does seem to be to resurrection rather than reincarnation:
# They [the Pharisses] also believe that souls have an immortal rigor in them, and that under the earth there will be rewards or punishments, according as they have lived virtuously or viciously in this life; and the latter are to be detained in an everlasting prison, but that the former shall have power to revive and live again; on account of which doctrines they are able greatly to persuade the body of the people; and whatsoever they do about Divine worship, prayers, and sacrifices, they perform them according to their direction; insomuch that the cities give great attestations to them on account of their entire virtuous conduct, both in the actions of their lives and their discourses also.'' (Flavius Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XVIII, chapter 1.3
Belief in reincarnation belongs to the esoteric mystical aspect of Judaism popularly known as the Kabballah. In the past popular learning of the Kabballah was frowned upon. At one point only someone who was married, over forty years old, thoroughly versed in all other aspects of Judaism, and who had an overwhelming desire to learn these matters would do so. Nowadays however anyone and everyone can and does learn it. Leading Rabbis however do not usually encourage learning the Kabballah but rather emphasize first becoming thoroughly familiar with other disciplines.
After this longish and perhaps wearisome pre-amble let us get to the other part of your question.
What exactly Reincarnation means is not that clear but it does involve the passage of some facet of one person's personality, effects of life-time experience, etc, to another body.
It would seem that Reincarnation is considered to usually take place within the same family or group and within the same sex. There are however exceptions. It also happens (they say) on occasion that the soul of a Jew is reborn in a Gentile body and the soul of a Gentile in that of a Jew.
It is worth noting that the concept of Reincarnation as well as being believed in by the Hindus was also known to the ancient world. Plato speaks of it. The Egyptians (or some of them) apparently believed in it. So did the Druids and Celts of the west. Irish mythology speaks of it. Members of the Druze community in Israel, Lebanon, and Syria are famous for their belief in reincarnation. It is claimed that many cases are known amongst of them of young children having knowledge of previous lives.
I hope this has helped. God bless you, Yair