The Life of the Soul

Jewish Perspectives on Reincarnation from the Middle Ages to the Modern Period

Edited by Andrea Gondos & Leore Sachs-Shmueli

Subjects: Jewish Mysticism, Kabbalah, Jewish Studies, Esotericism And Gnosticism, Philosophy, Cultural Studies
Hardcover : 9798855800050, 368 pages, November 2024
Expected to ship: 2024-11-01

Offers a comprehensive and nuanced treatment on the topic of reincarnation in Judaism, covering a wide range of kabbalistic and philosophical sources.


The Life of the Soul surveys the wide-ranging theories Jewish mystics have offered to the vexing question – what precisely transpires after we die? A common element in their theories is that human life is a part of a larger ecosystem of being which also includes plants, animals, and inanimate things, like rocks. They further maintained that the soul does not perish with the demise of the body, but is rather renewed and recycled into new forms of embodied existence in the lower world. Each essay highlights how reincarnation, also known as metempsychosis or the transmigration of souls, is not a marginalized concept but is instead central to understanding a variety of perplexing issues in Judaism, including catastrophic events in Jewish history, theodicy, the rationale for biblical commandments, the complex identity of biblical figures, and the issues of sin, punishment, and redemption. Just as the concept of reincarnation is inherently about boundary crossing, its investigation similarly bridges diverse epistemic fields and disciplines—religion, philosophy, psychology, history, ritual, gender, and cultural studies. Weaving together kabbalistic speculations and Jewish philosophical ideas drawn from distinct geographical regions and historical periods, this book is poised to serve as a point of departure for future comparative investigations on the life of the soul in Judaism and Eastern religious traditions.

Andrea Gondos is Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Religion at the University of Rochester. She is the author of Kabbalah in Print: The Study and Popularization of Jewish Mysticism in Early Modernity, also published by SUNY Press, and coeditor (with Daniel Maoz) of From Antiquity to the Postmodern World: Contemporary Jewish Studies in Canada. Leore Sachs-Shmueli is Lecturer in the Department of Jewish Philosophy at Bar Ilan University, Israel. She is the author of Taboo and Prohibitions in Castilian Kabbalah.


"This volume offers the most comprehensive available treatment of Jewish views on reincarnation. It fills a significant gap in the field of Jewish mysticism, and the scholarship is top-notch." — Jonathan V. Dauber, Yeshiva University