Reincarnation in Judaism
Members of Blavatsky Net,
The two most readily accessible ideas of the occult teachings are
twin doctrines of reincarnation and karma. These ideas often strike
first and show us most directly the relevance of occult teachings
our daily life. In this letter I look at reincarnation.
Madame Blavatsky not only brought the idea of reincarnation to
she also asserted that reincarnation is an idea that has found expression
around the world and in both ancient and modern times. Quite a claim
especially in her day.
There is a book "Reincarnation, the Phoenix Fire Mystery",
Cranston published in 1994, that superbly documents this claim.
the process of providing the documentation, this book gives much
additional helpful information as it looks at reincarnation from
Cranston has written the master anthology on reincarnation, collecting
material from around the world and many traditions.
Over the years I have found myself referring to one section of
more often than others as an aid to learning myself and, I admit,
settling discussions amongst friends. That is the section that explains
how reincarnation is/was a teaching in the Jewish tradition. Oddly,
is controversial. So, for this reason, I am sharing with you words
Cranston's book on the subject of reincarnation in the Jewish tradition.
As we might hope, she covers reincarnation in Judaism in both ancient
modern times. I Hope you find them as interesting and informative
do. The following is quoted from Cranston from Reincarnation: The
Pheonix Fire Mystery p 124-127.
In her study of ancient and modern religions and sciences, Isis
H.P:. Blavatsky says of the Israelites that "the present remains
once-glorious people bear witness [to] how faithfully and nobly
stood by their ancestral faith under the most diabolical persecutions.
The Christian world has been in a state of convulsion from the first
the present century; it has been cleft into thousands of sects;
Jews remain substantially united. Even their differences of opinion
not destroy their unity."
One difference of opinion concerns reincarnation. The strictly orthodox
tend to reject it, and deny it a place in early Jewish philosophy.
Others, including some orthodox rabbis, acccep rebirth as an integral
of Judaism, as does Sholem Asch in the opening of *The Nazarene*:
Not the power to remember, but its very opposite, the power to
is a necessary condition of our existence. If the lore of the
transmigration of souls is a true one, then these, between their
exchange of bodies, must pass through the sea of forgetfulness.
According to the Jewish view we make the transition under the
overlordship of the Angel of Forgetfulness. But it sometimes happens
that the Angel of Forgetfulness himself forgets to remove from our
memories the records of the former world; and then our senses are
haunted by fragmentary recollections of another life. They drift
torn clouds above the hills and valleys of the mind, and weave
themselves into the incidents of our current existence. They assert
themselves, clothed with reality, in the form of nightmares which
our beds,. Then the effect is exactly the same as when, listening
concert broadcast through the air, we suddenly hear a strange voice
break in, carried from afar on another ether-wave and charged with
In the first century the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus matter-of-factly
speaks of reincarnation in his famed work *The Jewish War.* As a
in the campaign against the Roman commander Vespasian, he had been
the few survivors of a bloody siege. Addressing some Jewish soldiers
were about to commit suicide rather than be captured by the Romans,
said: "The bodies of all men are, indeed mortal, and are created
corruptible mater; but the soul is ever immortal, and is a portion
divinity that inhabits our bodies. ... Do not you know, that those
depart out of this life according to the law of nature... enjoy
fame; that their houses and their posterity are sure; that their
pure and obedient, and obtain a most holy place in heaven, from
the revolution of ages, they are again sent into pure bodies; while
souls of those whose hands have acted madly against themselves are
by the darkest place in Hades?
Josephus also tells how the three chief schools of Jewish philosophy,
Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes, regarded immortality.
Sadducees apparently believed that the soul dies with the body.
Pharisees "say that all the souls are incorruptible, but the
souls of good
men only, are removed into other bodies, but the souls of bad men
subject to eternal punishment. (With the Jews, "eternal"
did not mean
everlasting but a very long time.) In *The Antiquities of the Jews*,
Josephus repeats that the Parisees "believe that souls have
vigor," and that the virtuous "shall have power to revive
and live again"
on earth, "on account of which doctrines they are able greatly
the body of the people.
Josephus gives a fascinating picure of the communal life of the
of the Dead Sea Scrolls' fame, recounting their religious beliefs
passage from *The Jewish Wars* shows that the Essenes taught the
pre-existence - the foundation for all reincarnation teaching -
but it is
not clear whether rebirth is implied by the words "expecting
their souls again." However, in *Die Christliche Mystick*,
says that "the Kabala was held in high esteem particularly
by the Essenes,"
and reincarnation is basic in kabalistic thinking. ... Quoting from
[The Essenes condemn the miseries of life, and are above pain,
generosity of their mind. And as for death ... our war with the
gave abundant evidence what great souls they had in their trails.
They smiled in their very pains and laulhed to scorn those who inflicted
torments upon them and resigned up their souls with great alacrity,
expecting to receive them again. For the doctrine is this, that
are corruptible, and that the matter they are made of is not permanent;
but that the souls are immortal, and continue forever; and they
of the most subtile air, and are united to their bodies as to prisons,
into which they are drawn by a certain natural enticement; but that
they are set free from the bonds of flesh, they then, as released
long bondage, rejoice and mount upward. ... These are the divine
doctrines of the Essenes about the soul, which lay an unavoidable
for such as have once had a taste of their philosophy.
Another witness to this period is the Alexandrian philosopher Philo
He penetrated into the exotericism of the oldest Judaic teachings
correlations with the Platonic philosophy. In his *De Somniis* (I:22)
said that "the air is full of souls; those who are nearest
descending to be tied to mortal bodies, return to other bodies,
live in them.;" In *De Gigantes* (2 et seq.) he wrote that
"the company of
disembodied souls is distributed in various orders. The law of some
enter moral bodies and after certain prescribed periods to be again
But those possessed of a diviner structure are absolved form all
of earth. Some souls choose confinement in mortal bodies because
corporeally inclined, ... Yet those who are wise, like Moses, are
living abroad from home because they chose this expatriation from
order to acquire knowledge and so came to dwell in earthly nature.
here they urge men to return to their original source.
[End of material from Sylvia Cranston]
It is particularly fascinating to see these above words written
millenium ago: "Those who are wise ... living abroad from home
chose this expatriation from heaven ... to acquire knowledge ...
earthly nature ... they urge men to return to their original source."
This is Theosophy stated back then. As an interesting comparison,
similar are these words of Philo Judaeus to what Blavatsky says
in the"third fundamental":
Moreover, the Secret Doctrine teaches: —
(c) The fundamental identity of all Souls with the Universal Over-Soul,
the latter being itself an aspect of the Unknown Root; and the obligatory
pilgrimage for every Soul — a spark of the former —
through the Cycle of
Incarnation (or “Necessity”) in accordance with Cyclic
and Karmic law,
during the whole term. In other words, no purely spiritual Buddhi
(divine Soul) can have an independent (conscious) existence before
spark which issued from the pure Essence of the Universal Sixth
principle, — or the OVER-SOUL, — has (a) passed through
form of the phenomenal world of that Manvantara, and (b) acquired
individuality, first by natural impulse, and then by self-induced
self-devised efforts (checked by its Karma), thus ascending through
the degrees of intelligence, from the lowest to the highest Manas,
mineral and plant, up to the holiest archangel (Dhyani-Buddha).
pivotal doctrine of the Esoteric philosophy admits no privileges
special gifts in man, save those won by his own Ego through personal
effort and merit throughout a long series of metempsychoses and
(SD i 17)
So now we see the larger perspective. We are on an obligatory pilgrimage.
We employ self-induced and self-devised efforts, we acquire individuality
through a long series of reincarnations, we reach even the level
Is such a perspective useful in our daily living? I think so. It
us the larger scheme. We work to understand the meaning of our lives
our daily events in this larger context. We try to order our lives
are moving compatibly with this larger view. We take some solace
daily problems as we see the larger picture. We develop a greater
of unity with all of humanity as we understand that not only ourself,
our neighbors as well, are on this same obligatory pilgrimage. In
process we live so as to align ourselves more properly with the
Now we have a question for each of us to ask ourselves. Have we
ourselves with the larger design of nature?
"No Religion Higher Than Truth"
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