Boris G. Yuabov
Dear Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim, Thank you very much for very interesting discussions. I always felt very lonely in my belief that reincarnation is not supported by Tanach, Talmud, and Midrashim, as well as Gaonic tradition, Rashi and Rambam and others. Thank you for speaking out loud about it. I have noticed that you quote Rav Saadia primarily with extrapolation from Sforno on Sefer Devarim. I’d like to add many other sources that directly or indirectly refute reincarnation.
1. Reincarnation is not mentioned anywhere in Tanach, Talmud, or Midrashim where as numerous other ideas about afterlife are discussed. The only one who sees evidence of gilgul (reincarnation) in Tanach, Talmud, or Midrashim is strong BELIEVER of that idea. But that is similar to Christian philosopher who sees idea of trinity in pasuk Shema Yisrael. (Green glasses will easily make entire world green in observer’s eyes). The only gilgul that is discussed in Talmud is gilgul shevua (when person makes additional swearing in bet din).
2. Statements by proponents of reincarnation that it was hidden and unknown subject are historically false. (Many nations had that belief for thousands of years and many authors - Greek and others – had written about it explicitly) yet Chazal never cared to mention it even once. Making old Platonic, Egyptian, Hindu, or Buddhist belief into Jewish belief is not called revelation of secrets, but philosophical plagiarism.
3. In the text of prayer, Chazal never state reincarnation as form of punishment. All mentions of gilgul in prayers are later additions by anonymous editors. For example compare text of Yom Kippur prayer in Mishna Torah, Old Taimani text, or text of Rav Amram Gaon with today’s Sephardic text. Pay careful attention to “al chet shechatanu lefaneicha.” It goes in alphabetical order, from alef to tav, and back. Each letter has one corresponding statement. Letter Gimel however, has two statements assigned to it, one of which is gilgul statement. Anyone can see that this is a later addition to the prayer. For why would original author break his own rule and assign two statements to letter Gimel, while shortchanging all other letters.
4. In sefer Hakuzari, the wise man openly states to the king that any descriptions about afterlife are not discussed by Chazal, but found in other religions, and are nothing but a human fantasy.
5. Chazal instructed us to say every morning “Elokai neshama shenatata bi tehora hi.” That statement of Chazal excludes ideas of reincarnation, but openly speaks of resurrection. From that statement it becomes clear that a soul is created out of nothing (barata) for individual use, and not for multiple recycling.
6. Proponents of reincarnation feel that concept of gilgul is essential in understanding the idea “Tzadik ve ra lo” (evil that happens to the righteous) as well as suffering of innocent children. But Chazal tell us quite opposite that “Tzadik ve ra lo” implies that Tzadik has inner deficiency that needs to be addressed and that suffering in fact is not just form of punishment but an opportunity to reveal to him his own defects (see book of Job with commentaries, see also More Nevuchim and Taniya) and that children suffer for sins of their parents until age of 12-13. Once again there is no smell of reincarnation in words of Chazal. I am aware of the statement of Zohar about gilgul, but that in my opinion is yet another one of numerous, strong arguments that Zohar is of very controversial origin and unlikely to be work of Chazal.
7. Some suggest that statement “Pinchas hu Eliyahu” refers to idea of reincarnation. But that is at least naive. Chazal mention “Pinchas hu Eliyahu” from the possibility of Eliyahu being a cohen (see Gemara or Midrash were Rabbis ask Eliyahu “are not the master a Cohen” see Rashi there) I don’t know of any proponent of gilgul that would suggest that kehuna can be transmitted by gilgul.
8. Rashi to sefer Bereshit 2:6 clearly states that animals are not subject to divine judgment, as suggested by proponents of reincarnation of a human soul into the animal.
9. Chazal openly rejected opinion of Tzedukim that Shore HaNiskal (the stoned bull) is a “punishment to the bull”; rather it is a punishment to the owner who will now loose his property. Proponents of reincarnation however, are clearly favoring opinion of Tzedukim.
10. Rambam, in his Eight Chapters, makes a clear and unequivocal statement that soul of the human being and soul of the animal are totally different spiritual entities, by quality and quantity. He also warns against equating the human or animal soul in any way, stating that this led many to serious philosophical errors. How strange to the Jewish eye are the ancient Egyptian or Greek pictures of humanized animals or animalized humans. How strange to a Jewish mind are these ideas. (Review Bereshit with commentators to “Naase adam betzalmeinu kidmuteinu.”)
11. Ramban mentions the possibility of gilgul in explanation to the book of Job. He explains the words of Elihu as referring to reincarnation that can happen only 2-3 times. Chazal however state openly that words of Elihu refer to gravely ill, but not a dead patient that recovers.
12. Sefer Hayekarim (Rabbi Yosef Albo) who was aware of the statements in the Zohar, nevertheless rejects the opinion of reincarnation by means of logical argument, and even points out to the thought that made some thinkers accept the idea of reincarnation.
13. Rav Poalim (Rabbi Itzchak ben Latif) page 9 sentence 21 states, “every soul that comes to the world is brand new and even if it’s similar to another soul it’s still different from it and idea of gilgul is already refuted.”
14. Some feel that only reincarnation can truly explain mitzvah of yibum. However, this is so only if you believe in reincarnation. If you don’t, this mitzvah makes perfect sense without idea of reincarnation (see Moreh Nevuchim regarding mitzvah of yibum).
15. See the opinion of recent authorities such as Hegyonei Uziel [HaRav Ben Zion Uziel] Vol. 1 pg. 371 and Rav Yosef Kapach (pirush on Emunot va deot)
These are only a few points out of many that prove that reincarnation is not from Chazal but a medieval novelty adapted ether from Plato and Pythagoras (most likely together with many other “kabalistic” ideas) or from Hindu or Buddhist sources. The rise of Neo-Platonism in Western Europe of 13-15 century affected very deeply, not only the Jewish, but also the gentile world. And even though some Rabbis don’t find it conflicting with the fundamentals of Judaism and they embrace it, there is no mitzvah or chiyuv to believe in it, because it’s not from Chazal. Moreover one that rejects the belief in this idea is clearly in no violation of Torah; on the contrary, such a person can be called a strong follower of authentic tradition of Chazal with all honors that come with it.
My fellow Jews, brothers and sisters, Torah prohibits us to speak lashon hara even if it’s true, even with the best intentions, even if it’s a praise. The best and in my opinion only way to accomplish that is not to discuss a person, group of people or other particulars, but to discuss ideas. Ideas can and should be discussed, criticized, rejected, accepted, and scrutinized. This is what our Talmud is all about. This, at no point, is diminishing the person or group of people that expresses this idea. As an example, 99.9% of Halachic and philosophical opinions of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai are rejected by Talmud; however they constantly refer to him as one of the greatest Sages. We should never allow ourselves to mix discussions of ideas, with discussions of personalities. Naming authors of statements can help only on the level of belief and trust, but on the level of understanding, naming authors has absolutely no bearing. Having said that, I’d like to state that any names of the Rabbis and books mentioned above are there for quick reference of ideas and for indication that idea of gilgul is not universally accepted.
If anyone chooses to accept the concept of reincarnation because of its acceptance by many, relatively late Jewish scholars, he/she is on the level of trust and belief, and his/her arguments are useless on the level of understanding truth. At the same time, any logical statements are useless for pure believer. It’s important to note that classical Judaism limits our beliefs to words of prophets and tradition of Chazal. All other ideas are not obligatory. Dear readers, if you can, count how many beliefs Torah prohibits, and how little it leaves for realm of belief. See how Torah encourages knowledge and understanding. This in fact is one of the key differences between Judaism and other religions. May God bless us with understanding to differentiate between truth and its opposite.
Boris G. Yuabov