Reader: (IsraelWire-8/6) In his weekly Saturday night address, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, stated the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust were the reincarnated souls of sinners being cleansed. The rabbi stated the victims were paying for their previous sins.
I would be interested in your opinion concerning his “answer.”
Mesora: I will begin by stating that any valid Torah ideal - by definition - must be based on rationale. As all Torah ideals emanate from God, all His wisdom is true, and must follow reason. When Saadia Gaon calls reincarnation “absurd”, he goes through an analysis of the theory, and dispels its false foundations. (See his work, “Beliefs and Opinions” Yale Univ. Press pg. 259).
Saadia Gaon - unlike many of today’s Jews - did not say that since a reputable rabbi held a view, I cannot oppose him. Not one of our Sages or Rabbis “followed the leader”. They followed reason, and as the Talmud states, a Sage once said, “even if Joshua the son of Nun said it, I wouldn’t accept it....”. (Talmud Chulin 124a, at the very bottom). This teaches that reputation is of no consequence in deciding truth. We do not follow an “authority”, even one who was under the direct tutelage of Moses, as was Joshua. What do we follow? One answer: “Reason.” When following any view, one’s opinion should be based on reason and well thought out argument. “Following the leader” is of no merit to the follower, as his mind is absent in any selection of his actions. He is akin to a parrot that mimics out of sheer instinct. Just as the parrot cannot be praised for its actions, as its actions are not the result of analysis and intelligence, so too the follower in our example claims no credit for his parroting.
How would Ovadia Yosef explain God’s accusation of Sodom? Is Sodom also sacrificed for the sins of previous generations? God’s words don’t say this. God said “their sin is great”. And if this is so, that Ovadia Yosef feels people may be created by God to rectify previous generations’ sins, perhaps the original sinners themselves were in reality only reincarnated souls of an even more previous generation. Why does Ovadia Yosef assume the previous generation for whom the Holocaust victims died were in fact original sinners? You see, this argument entertains the possibility of numerous generations not living for themselves, but as second, third, fourth and even100th chances for original sinners from time’s beginning to “make good”. This would also assume that the Holocaust victims matched the exact number of original sinners. When, and by what rules does Ovadia Yosef make such claims? Will he say that Sodom, the Flood, the Jews in the desert were also paying for a previous generation’s sin? Rabbi Reuven Mann added, “What prevents God from punishing a sinner in his “first” life? Why must God punish him in a subsequent life?”
What does the Torah teach? God’s words are, “ish bi-cheto yamus”, “a man in his own sin will be killed”. Moses too urged the people to “choose life”. Menaing, there is an alternative: death, with no second life.
Many times we hear something in the name of a great person, but this must not be the criterion for following a concept. As Jews, we live rational lives and would not even follow a command in the Torah if it did not make sense as stated by Ibn Ezra in parshas Yisro. Judaism requires one to have “knowledge” of what one does and believes as true - in all areas. As the Ibn Ezra says in Parshas Yisro, “if we had found a command and after careful study and consulting with the Rabbis we saw no way to understand it and perform it, we would abandon it”.
I would also suggest that reincarnation poses a serious problem to one of the most basic tenets of Judaism - the institution of reward and punishment: If one has the ability to become another human via reincarnation, he thereby bypasses punishment for his own actions. As he has another chance, his original sin isn’t necessarily addressed by punishment, if he gets it right in his “next life”. So there is no punishment for a sin, he can “try again” as another soul. But God did not say this. God said there are punishments for corrupt acts. God did not say you can “try again”. The Torah also teaches of Karase – excision, where one’s soul is destroyed after death. How can our great rabbis suggest that excision exists, if reincarnation also exists? Wee see that reincarnation is again refuted.
Becoming another person poses other problems, as the believers of reincarnation hold the goal to be self-rectification. I ask, “who remembers being another person from a previous life, in that he would recall previous sins so as to rectify them?” No one would admit to such an absurdity. One may also ask, “How many times may one be reincarnated?” If limitless times, there is no future world, no reward, and no punishment, clearly against the Torah.
There will be disputes in many areas of Jewish thought. To determine your position, one cannot follow the “man with the best reputation”. Perhaps after accepting one opinion, a person will read of another man who is yet greater, and disagrees with the first. Do we now abandon the first view in favor of a second, more prominent rabbi? This method of “following the reputable” is contrary to following truth. Nor does such a method incorporate the use of reason given to us by God, so as to engage it. Such a position of constantly swapping one’s accepted authority is a reaction to fear of being wrong. But if you do not select a view based on your own reasoning, you can never be wrong or right.
For our choices to truly be ours, to use our own free will, we must choose philosophical positions based on our reasoned principles, not via reputations.
How sublime: Man has no other choice than to actually choose!
God did not say you can “try again” through reincarnation.