What is the source of Gilgulim (reincarnations) in Judaism? Are there people who disagree with its existence? Who was the first to mention it? What I am asking essentially is what is the historical development of Gilgulim in Judaism?


7 Answers 7


In regards to the first one, Gilgulim are first mentioned in the Heikhalot texts, also found in the Zohar, and Sefer HaBahir. According to those who hold the Zohar is Tannaic, that puts the idea at least as far back as Tannaim and Amoraim. Several of the Geonim argued over it, such as Sa'adia Gaon.

  • 1
    mekubal, Welcome to mi.yodeya, and thanks very much for bringing your knowledge to the table! We'd love to have you as a fully-registered member, which you can accomplish by clicking register, above.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Aug 8, 2010 at 17:01
  • 6
    Nevertheless, if the idea is totally absent in both Talmuds, that might say something.
    – Shalom
    Commented Aug 9, 2010 at 0:51
  • 2
    Yes and no. For Rabbanim like Sa'adia Gaon it gave them permission to argue on the premise and even delcare it non-Jewish. Others saw it(as many Kabbalistic concepts) as being veiled within Shas, thus claiming that it is mentioned but not explicitly, and one would have to have insiders knowledge to know what they were saying. Many Kabbalists consider this to be the case with all of Kabbalah. R' Kaduri ZTz"L told me many times, all of Kabbalah is hidden within Shas, one just needs to know how to find it. Commented Aug 9, 2010 at 1:23
  • 2
    I'm not disagreeing; but apparently the Talmud didn't intend for that to be revealed in its simplest level. Skeptics have even argued that the Gemaras about Moshe debating the angels at Sinai is intended as satire of the Heikhalot literature!
    – Shalom
    Commented Aug 9, 2010 at 1:41
  • 1
    I would agree. I am not sure that even the Ari or his student Haim Vital intended for much of this to be open for mass consumption as it is today. Take for instance Shaarei Kedusha, R' Haim Vital's work for beginners and lay people, gilgulim there are not explicitly spoken of the advent of Hassidus put these concepts intot he public sphere, and Gershom Scholem put the texts(poorly translated) into the public sphere. Only HaShem knows if either ever belonged there, but it seems clear that their authors intended otherwise. Commented Aug 9, 2010 at 2:58

There is a piece in the Tshuvas HaRashba in siman 418 which denigrates the belief in gilgulim. It is a response from the Chachmei Luniel to the Rashba, proving that they don't believe in any nonjewish ideas. See there ד.ה. ומתועלותיה בסוד הנפש. One of the points they raise why it is an unjewish belief is because judgement and punishment is a fundamental belief in this religion, and if an evil man can come back as a righteous one and vice versa, the entire system doesn't work. Although this is not the Rashba talking, he did choose to put it in his tshuvos, seemingly accepting their argument of being good Jews. This is especially interesting in light of the fact that people like to quote the Ramban, the Rashba's teacher, as believing in gilgulim.

This is a list of opponents to the belief in gilgulim taken from here (2001): The Dove of War

As is well known, there have been many rabbinic authorities who subscribed to belief in gilgulim.On the other hand, there have also been numerous opponents to this belief, including Rav Saadiah Gaon (Emunos v’Dayos 6:8); Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam (see R. Margoliyos, in his introduction to Milchamos Hashem p. 19 note 11); Rabbi Avraham ibn Daud (Emunah Ramah 7); Rabbeinu Yitzchak ben Avraham Ibn Latif (Rav Poalim, p. 9 section 21); Rav Chasdai Crescas (Ohr Hashem, ma’amar 4, derash 7); Rav Yosef Albo (Sefer HaIkkarim 4:29); and Rav Avraham Bedersi (Ktav Hitnatzlut leRashba). See too Rashash to Bava Metzia 107a (I am told that certain Chassidim will never study Rashash because of his comments on this topic). Also see Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, commentary to Genesis 50:2. For further discussion, see Rabbi Yitzchak Blau, “Body And Soul: Tehiyyat ha-Metim and Gilgulim in Medieval and Modern Philosophy,” The Torah u-Madda Journal vol. 10

See there also for the bird story.

Rabbi Hirsch's words are particularly harsh describing what we call 'gilgulim' where "the soul did not remain in its personal individuality, but wandered from body to body-even to animals- in manifold metamorphosis" as a decidedly Egyptian belief in diametric contrast to Jewish ideas.

Rav Sadia Gaon also famously decried this belief as an impossible insult to the human soul, where we would find the human soul in the body of an animal.

  • 2
    @Yez i don't remember which gadol it was but basically the Bird flew in at a seemingly meaningful time and someone said maybe its a gilgul. The Rabbi said maybe its a bird. Its in the link.
    – user6591
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 22:49
  • @Ezra Here is a quote from Pele Yoetz under gilgul: ומכל חבלי גיהנם הוא רעת הגלגול, שתתגלגל נפשו בדומם צומח חי מדבר, ומרעה אל רעה יוצא בגלגולים מינים ממינים שונים, כמבאר בספרי המקבלים. After this he brings examples of what types of animals a person turns into for which sins. He also mentions: והרב האריז''ל ראה פעם אחת נפש חסיד אחד שנתגלגל בעז על ששמש מטתו לאור הנר וגרם כפיה לבניו. וכהנה הרבה מיני גלגולים, כמבאר בספרי המקבלים.
    – user6591
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 6:51
  • "he did choose to put it in his tshuvos" What evidence is there for this claim?
    – Alex
    Commented Jul 29, 2018 at 5:11
  • Could it be a disagreement of what a gilgul is as opposed to arguing if gilgulim exist? Proponents opine that each person has a part of the soul. Opponents opine that a gilgul can only be the whole soul, there are no fragmentations and therefore it's not possible for a good person to be a bad person in a different gilgul etc.
    – larry909
    Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 5:18

If I'm not mistaken (if I recall correctly from an "intro to Kabbalistic concepts" lecture by Rabbi Breitowitz given at Ohr Sameyach; contact them for the audio), the notion of Gilgul (whereby a departed soul returns to earth in a different body) appears in a major way with the kabbalistic teachings of the Arizal in the 1500s. As we have none of the Arizal's original writings other than a receipt for a sum of pepper (he was a spice-seller), I suppose you'd have to consult his students' writings, such as those of R' Chayim Vital.

Does the concept appear in the Zohar? I don't know.

Certainly if you look through Sefer Chafetz Chaim and Shmiras HaLashon (c. 1900), while the author is known as a Halachist and not Kabbalist, he accepts this kabbalistic notion (and many others) and cites it vis-a-vis a punishment for speaking Lashon Hara ("lakelev tashlichun oso").

As Dave so kindly informed me, it's the Rashash (Lithuania, 1800s) who comments on a Gemara (describing a person's entry to the world "free of sin"):

This somewhat contradicts those who believe in the notion of Gilgul.

Or in Yeshivish:

It's a shtickel of a shlug-up for the oilam that holds by the inyan of Gilgul.

I've heard that some Hassidim purposely avoid the Rashash's commentary in general, because of this.

Today it's certainly accepted in many circles; most siddurim have a version of Bedtime Prayers that forgives "all those who have wronged me, whether in this incarnation (gilgul) or another one." On the other hand, it's not one of the Thirteen Principles, and I know one rabbi (who I personally respect) who omits that phrase (not that he necessarily rejects Gilgul, just he's not sure how this forgiving-acts-from-other-incarnation works).

  • 3
    It's the Rashash to Bava Metzia 107a: מה ביאתך לעולם בלא חטא אף יציאתך בלא חטא. Rashash comments: מכאן סתירא קצת לבעלי דעת הגלגול.
    – Dave
    Commented Aug 6, 2010 at 20:19
  • 1
    Here's a link to a Munkatcher journal which has lots more info, including the Minchas Elazar's sharp dismissal of Rashash's statement. hebrewbooks.org/…
    – Dave
    Commented Aug 6, 2010 at 20:24
  • can somone put the rashash in context whats the Gemara talking about? Commented Aug 6, 2010 at 20:57
  • 2
    This Zohar in Parashat Mishpatim, almost the whole Zohar on the Parasha talks about Gilgulim... Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 20:48
  • 1
    @Shalom But if one tries to read this comment as a refutation of gilgul then you would also be saying that the consequence of sins from a prior life like the eating of the tree of knowledge and the sin of the golden calf no longer apply. So Rabbi Strashun would be saying that death doesn't happen to you unless you sin now. We die because each of us is a soul fragment from Adam. The text in Bava Metzia is a blessing that during this current lifetime you should commit no additional sin. You depart like you entered. It invalidates nothing. Commented May 17, 2017 at 19:24

The Sefer Gilyon Ari (p. 40 - found on Otzar Hachochma) mentions the Rashash noted by Shalom. He adds that only a few rishonim questioned the concept of reincarnation and that it is widely accepted in traditional Jewish sources. Gilyon Ari then resolves the Rashash's difficulty by explaining the gemara in Bava Metzia (107a) as a reference to a person's first reincarnation:

וכן העיר ברש״ש כאן, וז״ל "דמכאן סתירה קצת לבעלי דעת הגלגול", ובאמת הגם שמקצת מהראשונים פקפקו בכללא דגלגולים, מ״מ רובם אשרוהו וקיימוהו כמש״כ בתשובת מהר״ל בן חביב סי׳ ח׳,ובפירוש תרגום יונתן בן עוזיאל (דברים לג-ו), ובספר שער הגלגולים לר״ח ויטל, וברמח״ל ספר המאמרים מאמר החכמה, ורבינו הגר״א משלי כא-טז, ויונה ד-ג. וע״ע באבן שלמה (פ״ג אות ה׳) אשר בזה מתבאר ענין צדיק ורע לו רשע וטוב לו, לפי שנגזר עליו מתחילת יצירתו מזל הראוי לפי מעשיו בגלגול ראשון, ע״ש. ולשיטתם צ״ל דסוגין איירי בגלגול ראשון דביאתו בלא חטא.‏

  • 3
    only a few rishonim questioned the concept of reincarnation This is misleading since relatively few mention it at all; unsurprising considering that AFAIK it is not found Torah, Neviim, Ketuvim, Mishnah, Tosefta, Mekhilta, Sifra, Sifrei, Bavli, Yerushalmi, Bahag, or Rambam. More accurately very few rishonim mentioned the concept at all.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Aug 21, 2016 at 22:48

It is hinted in the book of Job:

"Behold, G-d does all these things with man two or three times" (Job 33:29)

the Vilna Gaon in Even Shlema says from this verse that one has a maximum of 3 gilgulim to rectify himself.

  • 1
    "What I am asking essentially is what is the historical development of Gilgulim in Judaism". This does not trace any development, and therefore does not answer the question.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Jun 19, 2016 at 15:44
  • 4
    @mevaqesh who says there is historical development either it is torah which preceded the world or not.
    – ray
    Commented Jun 19, 2016 at 19:31

See: Sefer Bahir (as already mentioned), Reshit Hochma (Shaar HaYira 13),Ramhal (Derech Hasgem), Shaar HaGilgulim 22), Sefer Haredim (7:57), Degel Mahane Efraim (Parashat Mishpatim), Abarbanel (Debarim 25), Rabenu Bahya (Debarim 22:1), Ohr Hashem (4:7), Sefer HaIkarim 4:29). All these are sources for the discussion. EDIT: There is scientific proof to Gilgulim, and most of the Hachamim agree that Gilgulim exist.

  • 7
    can you site a source for the scientific proof to Gilgulim you mention?
    – none
    Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 20:19
  • What is the scientific proof?
    – Double AA
    Commented Aug 23, 2013 at 15:22
  • 1
    That's a 2.5 hour movie. Can you tell me more specifically where in it I should watch where it describes the relevant experiment?
    – Double AA
    Commented Aug 30, 2013 at 18:54
  • 4
    @HachamGabriel To not know the sky is blue you have to be both blind AND a bumbling idiot who has never spoken to another human in his life.
    – Double AA
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 21:49
  • 1
    @DoubleAA The problem with this answer and the comments seem to lay more on what "scientific proof" means. To clarify, is everyone in agreement that "scientific proof" means: 'Experimental test confirmation of a proposed hypothesis which is the result of observable phenomena'? If this definition is generally accepted, then it is difficult to imagine how any experiment could be devised to provide "scientific proof" of gilgul. It may be observable, but how do you devise a repeatable test? No repeatable test and confirmation, no "scientific proof". Commented May 17, 2017 at 19:41

See the Ralbach in his responsa 8 where he brings the two sides together, he then says that the Rasa"g and the like only had chochmah chitzonis i.e philosophy and the chacmei haemes ramban and others have stated that there are gilgulim - therefore we have to beleive in gilgulim. see also magen vetzinah (perek 12 and thirteen) from reb yitzchak eizek chaver a sefer written as a very sharp response response to reb yehuda aryeh di modina - he writes there that reb saddia never disputed gilgul only a certain type which the indians beleived in and when reb sadia says the belief of the yehudim in gilgul it means indians hodiim because he wouldnt refer to jews as other people the yehudim. the maharalbach says however not to talk about gilgulim in public as we see the rishonim and gemara only hinted to it and we can be no better then them! it seems that this has changed since toras harizal has become known to the massess - however i found an ohr sameach in hilchos yediah ubechirah who writes he will not disscuss gilgulim as the maharalbach has written not to and we keep this part of torah with talmidei chachmim tzenuim.

  • 2
    COME ON THERE'S NO NEED TO SCREAM IT JUST MAKES IT HARD FOR US TO READ I VOTED YOUR POST DOWN SINCE ITS SO ANNOYING TO READ WHY ARE YOU BEING SO LOUD AS IF WE COULDN'T READ IT IF YOU WROTE NORMALLY BE CONSIDERATE TO OTHERS' EYES please. In any event, if R Saadya Gaon was allowed to base his beliefs on just Chochmah Chitzonis without being a heretic, then that seems to be one fine path to take in life. אין לנו עסק בנסתרות after all
    – Double AA
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 15:23
  • The question was about the development of the belief. This doesn't say anything about any development; or even about any difference of belief. Furthermore, it makes the silly claim that one who doesn't believe in it is a heretic, without even quoting a source for this. This uselessly weakens the answer, and isn't even relevant to the question.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 16:09

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .