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REINCARNATION AND THE JEWS


Belief in reincarnation, literally "to be made flesh again", is an ancient phenomenon. This doctrine is a core of the majority of different Indian and Buddhist religious traditions. The idea was also explored by ancient Greek philosophers and Persian religious teachers already over 2,000 years ago. But what about the Judaism? Many Jews might be surprised to realize, that reincarnation - the "revolving" of souls through a succession of lives, or "gilgulim" - is an integral part of general Jewish belief today. But how has it happened?

It took a long time until this idea has managed to penetrate and get deeply rooted in the Jewish thought. We have nothing like reincarnation mentioned in the Bible. Moreover, out of 24 Jewish Bible books, in 23 there is nothing said even about an after-life. The Ancient Jewish thought was highly deterministic, and the souls of the dead were simply expected to descend the World of Dead, Sheol, which was very similar to Hades of the Ancient Greeks. It was no way back, no after-life and no resurrection, no reward of punishment after the death. The God' rewords for rightfulness and punishments for sins were all confined to the person' life time (like it was the best described in the Book of Job).

The first time the after-life and the resurrection of the dead are mentioned in the Book of Daniel, written "only" 2,200 years ago. By that time and on, the general belief in after-life and resurrection of the dead has become the core of the Jewish Religion. And still, the idea of the reincarnation is never mentioned in an Oral tradition – Mishna and Talmud. This might be surprising as it already became a part of many religions in the countries of Jewish Diaspora.

Moreover, very soon after the Babylonian Talmud was concluded, already in the 8 Century CE, the question of the reincarnation became a subject of the hot discussion among the Jewish religious leaders. The earliest possibly outspoken believer in Reincarnation among the Jews was Anan ben David who was one of the leaders of the Babylonian Jews and is considered as a founder of the religious Jewish group called Karaite, which still exists.

But the major change had to wait another 400 years. In the late 12th Century, in the South France, in the area called Languedoc, a book called "Sefer Ha-Bahir" (Book of Brightness) appeared for the first time. This was the first book of the mystical teachings of Kabbalah, and a part of it was, for the first time, dedicated to the Reincarnation.