Project Genesis

Basics of Judaism

Heaven and Hell

Reincarnation and Resurrection

Question: The concept of a reincarnation intrigues me. What does it mean to have had a previous life? Is it mentioned in the Torah at all or is it just a superstition? Also, if my soul has been used more than once, who will I become during the resurrection of the dead at the end of days?

Answer: There is, I understand, no explicit reference to reincarnation in either Tanach or the Talmud. In fact, some particularly great authorities (most notably R’ Saadiya Gaon) entirely rejected reincarnation as a Jewish idea. However, with the gradual popularization of Kabbalah works over the past 800 years, it seems that it is quite widely accepted. Nachmanides, for instance, writes that God’s answer to Job (as to why bad things happen to good people) is that looking at this lifetime alone is not enough to understand His justice; you have to think about things in the context of previous lives as well.

So, if the Nachmanides accepts it, I think it’s reasonable for us to entertain the idea of reincarnation ourselves.

With regard to who the reincarnated soul will return to in the time of the resurrection, I remember hearing from Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb that he and his wife, in the early years after they became religious, once asked the Bostoner Rebbe a variation of that question. The Rebbe first replied (in his friendly way) that it was a bit strange that there was no other issue or question that bothered them more than that particular one.

Still, continued the Rebbe, it should be observed that virtually every single cell in our bodies is regenerated every seven years anyway, so you could just as easily ask which of the ten or twelve bodies we’ll use during our lifetime will be the one to enjoy the resurrection…

The bottom line is that we should just trust God to take care of this as He sees fit.

I appreciate the intelligent thought that went into your questions, and I hope things have been made a bit clearer.

With my very best wishes,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton

[Editor – See here for more posts on the topic of reincarnation.]

[Reposted from the Archives]

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