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Judaism Religion

The Mystical Vision of Kabbalah

Kabbalah (literally “receiving” in Hebrew) is an esoteric method, discipline and school of thought. Its definition varied according to the tradition from its religious origin as an integral part of Judaism, to its later Christian, New Age, and occult adaptions. Kabbalah is a set of esoteric teachings meant to explain the relationship between the unchanging, mysterious eternal God and the finite universe of God’s creation. Kabbalah seeks to define (1) the nature of the universe and the human being, (2) the nature and purpose of existence, and (3) various other ontological questions. Kabbalah presents methods to aid understanding of these concepts and to thereby attain spiritual realization.

Table of Contents

  1. A Brief Introduction to Kabbalah
  2. An Overview of the Kabbalah
  3. The History of Jewish Mysticism
  4. Hasidic Judaism
  5. The Concealed and Revealed God
  6. Sephirot and the Divine Feminine of Shekhinah
  7. The Ten Sefirot as the Process of Creation
  8. Descending Spiritual Worlds
  9. The History of Reincarnation in Judiasm
  10. Important Kabbalah Links

1. A Brief Introduction to Kabbalah

Kabbalah originally developed entirely within the realm of Jewish thought and kabbalists often use classical Jewish sources to explain and demonstrate its esoteric teachings. These teachings are thus held by followers in Judaism to define the inner meaning of both the Hebrew Bible and traditional Rabbinic literature, their formerly concealed transmitted dimension, as well as to explain the significance of Jewish religious observances.

Traditional practitioners believe its earliest origins pre-date world religions, forming the primordial blueprint for Creation’s philosophies, religions, sciences, arts and political systems. Historically, Kabbalah emerged, after earlier forms of Jewish mysticism, in 12th- to 13th-century Southern France and Spain, becoming reinterpreted in the Jewish mystical renaissance of 16th-century Ottoman Palestine. It was popularized in the form of Hasidic Judaism from the 18th century onwards. 20th-century interest in Kabbalah has inspired cross-denominational Jewish renewal and contributed to wider non-Jewish contemporary spirituality, as well as engaging its flourishing emergence and historical re-emphasis through newly established academic investigation.

2. An Overview of the Kabbalah

Kabbalah is considered by its adherants as a necessary part of the study of Torah and as an inherent duty of observant Jews to follow. Kabbalah teaches doctrines which are accepted by some Jews as the true meaning of Judaism while other Jews have rejected these doctrines as heretical and antithetical to Judaism.

After Biblical Hebrew prophecy, the first documented schools of mysticism in Judaism are found in the 1st and 2nd centuries as described in the earliest book on Jewish mysticism called the Sefer Yetzirah. Their method for mystical experiences is known as “Merkabah mysticism” (i.e., contemplation of the Ezekiel‘s divine “chariot”) which lasted until the 10th century, where it was incorporated into the medieval emergence of the Kabbalah in Europe during the 12th and 13th centuries. Its teachings as embodied in the Zohar (a foundational text for kabbalistic thought) and became the foundation of later Jewish mysticism. Modern academic study of Jewish mysticism refers to the term “Kabbalah” as being the particular doctrines which emerged fully expressed in the Middle Ages, as distinct from the earlier Merkabah mystical concepts and methods. The “ecstatic tradition” of Jewish meditation strives to achieve a mystical union with God.

3. The History of Jewish Mysticism

According to the traditional understanding, Kabbalah dates to the days of Adam and Eve. It came down from a remote past as a revelation to elect righteous people and was preserved only by a privileged few. Talmudic Judaism records its view of the proper method for teaching Kabbalah wisdom. Ezekiel and Isaiah had prophetic visions of an angelic chariot and divine throne which later Kabbalah writings incorporated into to the Four Worlds. According to Kabbalists, the Kabbalah’s origin began with secrets which God revealed to Adam. According to the rabbinic Midrash, God created the universe through the Ten Sefirot. When read by later generations of Kabbalists, the Torah’s description of the creation in the Book of Genesis reveals mysteries about the godhead itself, the true nature of Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life, as well as the interaction of these supernal entities with the Serpent which leads to disaster when they eat the forbidden fruit, as recorded in Genesis 3. The Bible provides ample room for mystical interpretations: the prophet Ezekiel’s visions, Isaiah’s vision of the Temple in Isaiah (Chapter 6), Jacob’s vision of the ladder to heaven and Moses’ encounters with the Burning bush and God on Mount Sinai are evidence of mystical events in the Tanakh that form the origin of Jewish mystical beliefs.

Talmudic doctrine forbade the public teaching of esoteric doctrines and warned of their dangers. In the Mishnah (Hagigah 2:1), rabbis were warned to teach the mystical creation doctrines only to one student at a time. To highlight the danger, one Jewish legend called “The Four Who Entered Paradise” describes the outcome of four prominent rabbis of the Mishnaic period (1st century A.D.) who had visions of paradise: one rabbi looked and died, another rabbi looked and went insane, another rabbi destroyed his plants, and the last rabbi found peace and was fit to handle the study of mystical doctrines.

The mystical doctrines of Hekhalot (heavenly “chambers”) and Merkabah texts lasted from the 1st century B.C, through to the 10th century A.D. before giving way to the emergence of the Kabbalah. Initiates were said to “descend the chariot” – a possibly reference to meditating on the heavenly journey through the spiritual realms. Their goal was to arrive before the transcendent awe of God rather than entering into the divinity. From the 8th through the 11th centuries, Sefer Yetzirah and Hekhalot texts made their way into European Jewish circles. The Kabbalah’s medieval beginnings originated from mystical circles in 12th century France and 13th century Spain. Also in the 13th century a classic Rabbinic figure named Nachmanides helped Kabbalah gain mainstream acceptance through his Torah commentary. There were also certain elder sages of mystical Judaism who are known to have been experts in Kabbalah. One of them was Isaac the Blind (1160-1235) who is widely argued to have written the first work of classic Kabbalah, the Sefer Bahir, which laid the groundwork for the creation of the Sefer Zohar, written by Moses de Leon and his mystical circle at the end of the 13th century. One of the best known experts in Kabbalah was Nachmanides (1194-1270), a student of Isaac the Blind, and whose Torah commentary is considered to be based on the Kabbalah. Another expert was Bahya ben Asher (died 1340) who also combined Torah commentary and Kabbalah.

The Zohar was the first popular work of Kabbalah and the most influential. From the 13th century onward, Kabbalah began to be widely disseminated and branched out as extensive literature. In the 19th century, the historian Heinrich Graetz argued the emergence of Jewish esotericism at this time coincided with the rising influence of the philosophy of Maimonides. Scholars have argued that the impact of Maimonides can be seen in the change from orality to writing in the 13th century when Kabbalists began writing down many of their oral traditions in part as a response to the attempt of Maimonides to explain older esoteric subjects philosophically. However, many Orthodox Jews reject this idea of Kabbalah undergoing significant historical change. After the Zohar was published for public consumption in the 13th century, the term “Kabbalah” began to refer more specifically to teachings related to the Zohar. At an even later time, the term “Kabbalah” began to generally be applied to Zoharic teachings as elaborated upon by Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572 A.D.). Historians generally date the start of Kabbalah as a major influence in Jewish thought and practice with the publication of the Zohar and climaxing with the spread of the Luria’s teachings. Luria’s disciples, Rabbi Hayim Vital and Rabbi Israel Sarug, both published Luria’s teachings which gained widespread popularity. Luria’s teachings came to rival the influence of the Zohar itself. Along with Moses de Leon, Rabbi Luria stands as the most influential mystic in Jewish history. In the 20th century, Yehuda Ashlag (1885-1954) of Palestine, was a leading esoteric kabbalist in the traditional mode, who translated the Zohar into Hebrew with a new approach in Lurianic kabbalah.

4. Hasidic Judaism

Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer Baal Shem Tov (1698–1760) was the founder of Hasidism whose teachings were based on Lurianic kabbalah. The ecstatic fervour of early Hasidism developed from historical influences of Jewish mysticism, but sought a communal revival by centering Judaism around the central principle of “devekut” (i.e., mystically cleaving to God). For the first time, this new approach transformed kabbalistic theories for the elite into a popular social and mystical movement complete with its own doctrines, texts, teachings and customs. Rabbi Baal Shem Tov developed schools of Hasidic Judaism, each with different approaches and thought. Hasidism instituted a new concept of leadership in Jewish mysticism, where the elite scholars of mystical texts now took on a social role as embodiments and intercessors of divinity for the masses. With the 19th century consolidation of the movement, leadership became dynastic.

5. The Concealed and Revealed God

The nature of divinity prompted kabbalists to envision two aspects of God: (1) God in essence is absolutely transcendent, unknowable, limitless divine simplicity, and (2) God in manifestation – the revealed persona of God through which He creates and sustains and relates to humanity. Kabbalists believe these two aspects are not contradictory but complement one another. They are emanations revealing the concealed mystery from within the Godhead. The structure of these emanations of God have been characterized in various ways: Sefirot (Divine attributes) and Partzufim (Divine “faces”), Ohr (spiritual light and flow), Names of God and the supernal Torah, Olamot (Spiritual Worlds), a Divine Tree and Archetypal Man, Angelic Chariot and Palaces, male and female, enclothed layers of reality, inwardly holy vitality and external Kelipot shells, 613 channels (“limbs” of the King) and the Divine souls in man. Kabbalists see all aspects as unified through their absolute dependence on their source in the Infinte/Endless.

6. Sephirot and the Divine Feminine of Shekhinah

The Sefirot of Kabbalah

The Zohar elaborates upon the Sephirot – the ten emanations of God sustaining the universe – from its concealment from humanity to its revelation. These emanations are described as one light being poured into ten vessels. These Sephirot emanations are described metaphorically as manifestating in the form of the “Tree of Life and Knowledge” and its corresponding form: humanity as exemplified as Adam Kadmon. This metaphor allows humans to understand the Sephirot as corresponding to their soul’s psychological faculties and corresponding to the masculine and feminine aspects of God. As Genesis 1:27 states, “So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” Corresponding to the last “sefirah” in Creation is the indwelling “shekhinah” (Feminine Divine Presence). The downward flow of divine Light in Creation forms the supernal Four Worlds: (1) Atziluth, (2) Beri’ah, (3) Yetzirah and (4) Assiah. The acts of human beings unite or divide the manifestation of these heavenly masculine and feminine aspects of the Sephirot. But once these manifestations become harmonized, God’s creation is complete. As the spiritual foundation of all Creation, the Sephirot corresponds to the Names of God in Judaism and the particular nature of any being.

7. The Ten Sefirot as the Process of Creation

According to Kabbalah cosmology, the Sefirot corresponds to various levels of creation. The ten Sefirot exists “fractally” within each of the Four Worlds. There are four worlds existing within each of the larger Four Worlds, each containing ten Sefirot which themselves and each containing ten Sefirot, to an infinite number of levels. The Sefirot are considered revelations of the Creator’s will and they should not be understood as ten different “gods” but as ten different ways the one God reveals his will through these levels. So it is not God who changes; it is our perception of God which changes.

Altogether, eleven Sefirot are named. However Keter and Da’at are unconscious and conscious dimensions of one principle; thereby conserving ten forces. The names of the Sefirot in descending order are:

  1. Keter – the supernal crown representing above-conscious will
  2. Chochmah – the highest potential of thought
  3. Binah – the understanding of the potential
  4. Da’at – the intellect of knowledge
  5. Chesed – sometimes referred to as Gedolah-greatness and loving-kindness
  6. Gevurah – sometimes referred to as Din-justice or Pachad-fear (severity/strength)
  7. Rachamim also known as Tiferet (mercy)
  8. Netzach – victory/eternity
  9. Hod – glory/splendor
  10. Yesod – foundation
  11. Malkuth – kingdom

8. Descending Spiritual Worlds

Medieval Kabbalists believed all things are linked to God through these emanations; thereby, making all levels in creation part of one great, gradually descending chain of being. Through these levels any lower creation reflects its particular characteristics in Supernal Divinity. Hasidic thought extends the Divine immanence of Kabbalah by believing God is the only thing that really exists – defined philosophically as monistic panentheism. Among problems considered in the Hebrew Kabbalah is the universal religious issue of the nature and origin of evil. In the views of some Kabbalists this conceives “evil” as a “quality of God,” asserting that negativity enters into the essence of the Absolute. In this view it is conceived that the Absolute needs evil to exist.

The Kabbalah describes the human soul as having three elements: (1) The nephesh: the lower “animal” part of the soul which is linked to instincts and bodily cravings. The nefesh is found in all humans, entering the physical body at birth. It is the source of one’s physical and psychological nature. (2) The ruach: the middle soul (or the “spirit”) which contains the moral virtues and the ability to distinguish between good and evil. (3) The neshama: the higher soul or super-soul which separates man from all other life-forms. The neshamah is related to the intellect and allows humans to enjoy and benefit from the afterlife. It allows one to have some awareness of the existence and presence of God. The (2) ruach and (3) the neshama are not implanted at birth, but can be developed over time. Their development depends on the actions and beliefs of the individual and are said to only fully exist in people awakened spiritually. The Zohar also describes fourth and fifth parts of the human soul – the chayyah and the yehidah. The chayyah is the part of the soul which allows one to have an awareness of the divine life force. The yehidah is the highest plane of the soul where one can achieve the fullest union with God as is possible. The chayyah and the yehidah do not enter into the body like the other three which is why they receive less attention than in other sections of the Zohar.

The Kabbalistic concept of reincarnation is called gilgul – a Hebrew word meaning “cycle.” Souls are seen to “cycle” through “lives” or “incarnations” becoming attached to different human bodies over time. Which body they associate with depends on their particular task in the physical world, spiritual levels of the bodies of predecessors and so on. Gilgul relates to a broader historical process in Kabbalah involving Cosmic Tikkun (Messianic rectification) and the historical dynamic of ascending Lights and descending Vessels from generation to generation. The esoteric explanations of gilgul were articulated in Jewish mysticism by Rabbi Isaac Luria in the 16th century, as part of the metaphysical purpose of Creation.

9. The History of Reincarnation in Judaism

The notion of reincarnation, while held as a mystical belief by some, is not an essential tenet of traditional Judaism. The books of Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism both teach gilgul – a universal tenet in Hasidic Judaism which regards the Kabbalah as sacred and authoritative. Rabbis who believed in reincarnation include: (1) the mystical leaders Nahmanides (the Ramban) and Rabbenu Bahya ben Asher; (2) Levi ibn Habib (the Ralbah) from the 16th-century, and from the mystical school of Safed Shelomoh Alkabez, (3) Isaac Luria (the Ari) and his exponent (4) Hayyim Vital; and (5) the founder of Hasidism Yisrael Baal Shem Tov of the 18th-century, later (6) Hasidic Masters, and (7) the Lithuanian Jewish Orthodox leader and Kabbalist the Vilna Gaon. Rabbbi Isaac Luria taught new explanations of the process of gilgul and identified the reincarnations of historic Jewish figures. The idea of gilgul became popular in Jewish folklore and is found in much Yiddish literature among Ashkenazi Jews.

The main Kabbalistic text dealing with gilgul is called Shaar HaGilgulim or “The Gate of Reincarnations” which is based on the work of Rabbi Isaac Luria. It describes the deep, complex laws of reincarnation which includes the concept of gilgul being paralleled physically through pregnancy. The Kabbalistic view of gilgul is similar to the Eastern view of reincarnation in that they are an expression of divine compassion. Gilgul differs from Eastern views in that gilgul is not automatic and is neither a punishment of sin nor a reward of virtue. Gilgul is concerned with the process of the soul’s individual Tikkun (rectification). Each Jewish soul is reincarnated enough times only in order to fulfill each of the 613 Mitzvot. The souls of righteous non-Jews may be assisted through gilgulim by fulfilling the Seven Laws of Noah. Gilgul is a divine agreement for the individual soul to reincarnate to perform good works toward the goal of becoming perfected. Gilgul is also tied to the Kabbalah’s doctrine of creation where a cosmic catastrophe occurred called the “shattering of the vessels” of the Sephirot in the “world of Tohu (chaos)”. The vessels of the Sephirot broke and fell down through the spiritual Worlds until they were embeded in our physical realm as “sparks of holiness” (Nitzotzot). All Mitzvot involve performing good works because they elevate each particular Spark of holiness associated with its related commandment. Once all the Sparks are redeemed to their spiritual source, the Messianic Era begins. This theology gives cosmic significance to every human being as each person has particular tasks which only they can fulfill. Each soul is assisted through gilgul toward the Cosmic plan of bringing about Utopia on Earth – a lower World where the purpose of creation is fulfilled.

10. Important Kabbalah Links

Kabbalah on Wikipedia – (wikipedia.org)
Category:Kabbalah on Wikipedia – (wikipedia.org)
List of Jewish Kabbalists – (wikipedia.org)
Primary Texts of the Kabbalah – (wikipedia.org)
Practical Kabbalah – (wikipedia.org)
Christian Kabbalah – (wikipedia.org)
Hermetic Qabalah – (wikipedia.org)
Cabala article at Jewish Encyclopedia – (jewishencyclopedia.com)
What is Kabbalah? – (chabad.org)
The Official Site of the Kabbalah Centre – (kabbalah.com)
The Official Site of Bnei Baruch – (kabbalah.info)
An Orthodox Kabbalah Reference Portal – (kabbalaonline.org)

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Judaism Religion

Don Morse’s Near-Death Experience

When he went out for a run one day in 1983, Donald R. Morse, DDS, PhD., a Temple University science professor, was like many of his scientific colleagues, not believing in anything beyond the material world. His views regarding a spiritual world and life after death began to change a few minutes into his workout when he had a near-death experience. At that time, Morse was absolutely certain he was going to die. But when his experience was over, he discovered that he was not actually near death at all. Yet his experience was so profound, it affected him for the rest of his life. In essence, he was reborn. His journey into the spirit realm is a good example of how extreme anxiety can trigger a person into having a near-death experience. It shows that one does not have to be “near death” to have an NDE. As a result of his experience and thorough search for the truth, Morse published his findings into a book entitled, Searching For Eternity: A Scientist’s Spiritual Journey to Overcome Death Anxiety. The following is Dr. Morse’s NDE testimony in his own words.

Table of Contents

  1. Don Morse’s Near-Death Experience
  2. More About Dr. Don Morse

I felt myself spinning around and around in ever widening circles. Then the sounds of the world became more and more quiet. Voices of people and songs of birds began to slow down. It seems that the faster I spun, the slower and less distinct the outside sounds became. Then I heard my heartbeat. First, it was very rapid and loud. Then, when it was beating so fast that I thought it would burst in my chest, it began to slow down. Slower and slower my heart pulsated, and then I could feel it no longer. I quickly fell to the ground, and my heart stopped beating. At least, I no longer heard it. Was I dead? I had no idea, but instead of seeing nothingness, I first saw pitch darkness and then an incredibly bright, white light. It enveloped me so that I could see nothing but this light. I was not afraid. I felt secure, warm, and serene. No one came to greet me but I felt a loving presence around me.

Then in rapid succession, I saw my whole life flash before me: the temper tantrums of my childhood, my winning a dart-throwing contest, my hospital bout with colitis, the asthma attacks, the family visits to Stamford, Connecticut, throwing an opposing player out at home plate, shooting a winning basket, crying when the New York Giants lost a baseball game, seeing my father die an agonizing death from lung cancer, getting married on a cloudy day in Brooklyn, honeymooning in Bermuda, seeing each one of my three children being born, watching a developing rainbow in Las Vegas with my wife and children, vacationing with my wife in Rome, doing a surgical procedure on the day John Kennedy was killed, watching my mother wither away from Alzheimer’s disease, getting the Temple University research award, falling out of a canoe and later contracting giardiasis, going out for a jog on the hospital grounds, spinning around, and falling to the ground.

Then my review abruptly ended, I left my body, flew above the clouds and arrived at the Mt. Eden Cemetery in Valhalla, New York – the same cemetery where my mother and father were buried. At this point, everything was vague. I knew I was being buried, but I couldn’t really see it. I just had the feeling it was happening. Just as quickly as I had arrived there, I was gone. Suddenly it was another day. I was reading the obituary column of the Philadelphia Inquirer. I could not discern what was written about me, but I was certain that I saw my name. Strangely, perceiving my funeral and reading my obituary were not frightening. Was it because I had been enveloped by that wonderful light and had felt a caring presence? I don’t know, because the next thing I knew, I was back inside the hospital, and felt the sharp pain of an injection.

The injection had revived me and brought me to life, so to speak. Had I experienced another realm or was it merely a hallucination? At the time I wasn’t sure. Subsequently, I found out that the experiences of observing my funeral and reading my obituary were different than other people’s NDEs. However, the darkness followed by the glorious light, the life review, the blissful feelings, and the loving presence surrounding me, were similar to many other NDEs. Most importantly, that NDE set the stage for my journey to overcome death anxiety.

After this incredible experience, it was important to find out whether or not I had conquered death anxiety. To do that, I had to continue the spiritual journey. There would be several paths on the journey and since I had an NDE of sorts myself, I decided that the first path to explore would be NDEs.

2. More About Dr. Don Morse

Dr. Don Morse is Professor Emeritus at Temple University in Philadelphia. He is a polymath having graduate degrees in dentistry, endodontology, microbiology, psychology and nutrition. Dr. Morse has been the principal investigator in many research projects involving hypnosis, meditation, acupuncture, and brain wave synchronizers (BWS). Dr. Morse has written over 200 scientific articles and twelve books, including nine non-fiction books – seven of which are on stress and its management. Dr. Morse was President of the Philadelphia Society For Clinical Hypnosis for two years and was Editor-in-Chief of The International Journal of Psychosomatics for ten years. He is presently Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Religion and Psychical Research. Dr. Morse has given courses in hypnosis, meditation, BWS, relaxation therapy, stress management, and dealing with death anxiety throughout the United States and in 28 other countries. Dr. Morse is also an avid life extensionalist who believes in maintaining proper exercise and diet. He won the Senior Grand Master title at the 2005 Natural USA Bodybuilding Championships of the Natural Physique Association. He also won the Grand Master Championships at the 2004 Musclemania Nation’s Capitol Bodybuilding Contest.

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Judaism Religion

A Brief Survey of Jewish Afterlife Beliefs

The core of Judaism is a covenant relationship – which is both a contractual agreement and a “marriage” of love – between Yahweh and his chosen people. Because Judaism is built around a relationship involving agreements and promises in this life, the afterlife is less essential for Judaism than for other world religions. It would, in fact, be relatively easy to imagine Judaism without any afterlife beliefs whatsoever. Because of the non-centrality of the afterlife for Judaism, this tradition has been able to entertain a wide variety of different afterlife notions throughout its history, more so than perhaps any other religion.

The ancient Hebrews emphasized the importance of the present life over the afterlife. As with both the ancient Greeks and Mesopotamians, the afterlife, if it was considered at all, was conceived of as a pale shadow of earthly life, much like the Greek Hades. Also similar to the Greek Hades, in the Hebrew afterlife no distinction was made between the treatment of the just and the unjust after death. Instead, rewards and punishments were meted out in the present life, and in the covenant “contract” Yahweh promised to do just that.

Reflection on the inequalities of this life and on the apparent failure of Yahweh to make good on his covenant promises led serious religious thinkers to consider the option of resurrection. The resurrection of ordinary human beings seems to have originated in the Persian religion of Zoroastrianism. As a result of several centuries of Persian control of the Middle East region, Jews were brought into contact with Zoroastrian religious ideas and the notion of resurrection. Zoroaster combined resurrection with the idea of a final judgment, in which the entire human race is resurrected and individuals rewarded or punished. This concept clearly appealed to Jewish religious thinkers of the time as an adequate way of coming to grips with the injustices that were so apparent in this life.

As implied in the Book of Daniel, the Jewish notion of resurrection in the Maccabeean period was tied to a notion of judgment, and even to separate realms for the judged. In rabbinical thought, the model for heaven was Eden. The rabbinic word for hell, “Gehenna“, is taken from the name of a valley of fire where children were said to be sacrificed as burnt offerings to Baal and Moloch (Semitic deities). Gehenna is a place of intense punishment and cleansing. This place is also known as “Sheol” and other names. This line of Jewish thought argues that after death the soul has to be purified before it can go on the rest of its journey. The amount of time needed for purification depends on how the soul dealt with life. One Jewish tradition states that a soul needs a maximum of 11 months for purification, which is why, when a parent dies, the kaddish (memorial prayer) is recited for 11 months. The concept of Gehenna as a place for temporary purification was the source for the orthodox Christian doctrine of “purgatory.”

The first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus stated that the Pharisees, the Jewish sect that founded rabbinic Judaism to which Paul once belonged, believed in reincarnation. He writes that the Pharisees believed the souls of evil men are punished after death. The souls of good men are “removed into other bodies” and they will “have power to revive and live again.”

From time to time in Jewish history, there had been an insistent belief that their prophets were reborn. Reincarnation was part of the Jewish dogmas, being taught under the name of “resurrection”. Only the Sadducees, who believed that everything ended with death, did not accept the idea of reincarnation. Jewish ideas included the concept that people could live again without knowing exactly the manners by which this could happen.

Josephus records that the Essenes of the Dead Sea Scrolls lived “the same kind of life” as the followers of Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher who taught reincarnation. According to Josephus, the Essenes believed that the soul is both immortal and pre-existent, necessary for tenets for belief in reincarnation.

The Dead Sea Scrolls prove that the Jewish mystical tradition of divine union went back to the first, perhaps even the third century B.C.E. Jewish mysticism has its origins in Greek mysticism, a system of belief which included reincarnation. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls, some of the hymns found are similar to the Hekhaloth hymns of the Jewish mystics. One text of hymns gives us clear evidence of Jewish mysticism. The text is called “Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice.” Fragments of 1 Enoch, which is considered the oldest text of Jewish mysticism, were also found with the Scrolls. Since evidence shows Jewish mysticism existed in the third century B.C.E., as Enoch indicates, then it would certainly have existed in first-century Israel.

Reincarnation has been a belief for thousands of years for orthodox Jews. The Zohar is a book of great authority among Kabbalistic Jews. It states the following:

“All souls are subject to revolutions. Men do not know the way they have been judged in all time.” (Zohar II, 199b)

That is, in their “revolutions” they lose all memory of the actions that led to their being judged.

Another Kabbalistic book, the Kether Malkuth states:

“If she, the soul, be pure, then she shall obtain favor … but if she has been defiled, then she shall wander for a time in pain and despair … until the days of her purification.” (Kether Malkuth)

How can the soul be defiled before birth? Where does the soul wander if not on this or some other world until the days of her purification? The rabbis explained this verse to mean that the defiled soul wanders down from paradise through many births until the soul regained its purity.

In the Talmud, “gilgul neshamot” (i.e., reincarnation) is constantly mentioned. The term literally means “the judgment of the revolutions of the souls.” In this view, people who had committed extraordinary sins were given an opportunity to return to life in order to set things right. More particularly, they were reincarnated in circumstances similar to those of their previous incarnation. Thus, Moses and Jethro, for example, were supposed to be the gilgulim of Cain and Abel.

Rabbi Manasseh ben Israel (1604-1657), one of the most revered Rabbis in Israel, states in his book entitled Nishmat Hayyim:

“The belief or the doctrine of the transmigration of souls is a firm and infallible dogma accepted by the whole assemblage of our church with one accord, so that there is none to be found who would dare to deny it … Indeed, there is a great number of sages in Israel who hold firm to this doctrine so that they made it a dogma, a fundamental point of our religion. We are therefore in duty bound to obey and to accept this dogma with acclamation … as the truth of it has been incontestably demonstrated by the Zohar, and all books of the Kabalists.” (Nishmat Hayyim)

In contemporary Judaism, the traditional, mainstream view of resurrection is maintained by the orthodox, but generally not by the non-orthodox. Outside the orthodox fold, ordinary believers often accept the notion of an immortal soul, not unlike the notion held by most Christians. Many also accepted reincarnation. And many secular and Reform Jews continue to view themselves as part of the tradition of Judaism, without adhering to any sort of afterlife belief.