Jewish Genes And Reincarnation – OpEd


Seven-time Grammy Award winner Alanis Morissette had one of her major family secrets revealed before she appeared on “Finding Your Roots”: Morissette’s mother and grandmother were Jewish. “I had no idea how super Jewish I am,” she said. “I feel welcomed into a community that I always had a crush on,” she continued. 

“I’ve always had a crush on Judaism and I would just show up on Passover at a Seder. Now I know why. It was like, come home.” Morissette, who has sold more than 85 million albums worldwide has performed in Israel multiple times.

Of the millions of Americans who have already taken a DNA test in the last few years; tens of thousands of non-Jews have discovered that they have one or more Jewish ancestors.  For most this discovery is an interesting fact of little significance. For some it could be an embarrassment to be ignored. 

But for others it becomes a life changing discovery. They feel drawn to Jewish people and seek to learn about Jewish music, food, literature, culture and religion. They feel more and more attached in some mysterious way to the Holocaust and the struggle of Israel to live in peace in the Middle East. 

Many of these people eventually are led to become Jewish either by formal conversion or by informal reversion within Reform Progressive synagogues.

These people provide a rather unusual form of evidence for reincarnation that comes from the Jewish mystical tradition; the Kabbalah. According to Kabbalah, only the souls of self conscious moral creatures like human beings reincarnate; and they reincarnate only when they have not fulfilled the purpose of their creation in their current lifetime. 

These esoteric Kabbalistic concepts from the 12th to 17th centuries; were popularized and spread throughout Eastern Europe, especially in Poland and Ukraine, by the Hassidic movement in the last half of the 18th and 19th century.

According to a July 2023 poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research the percentage of American’s believing in angels (69%) is about on par with their belief in heaven and the power of prayer. Fewer U.S. adults believe in the devil or Satan (56%), astrology (34%), or reincarnation (34%). 

Actually, that one third of Americans believe in reincarnation is very significant because both Christianity and Islam historically rejected the concept of reincarnation, while Judaism includes beliefs about reincarnation in Medieval Kabbalah and Hassidism.

Since Judaism is an optimistic religion, most Kabbalists teach that most people can accomplish their life’s purpose in one or two lifetimes. A few souls may take 3-5 lifetimes or more. The bright souls of great religious figures like Abraham and Moses or Sarah and Miriam can turn into dozens of individual sparks that can reincarnate several times over many centuries. 

The tragic souls of Jews whose children have been cut off from the Jewish people, either through persecution or forced conversion to another religion, will reincarnate as one of their own, no longer Jewish, descendants. These non-Jewish descendant souls will then seek to return to the Jewish people. 

A majority of people who end up converting (or reverting) to Judaism and the Jewish people have Jewish souls from one of their own ancestors. Thus, the Jewish mystical tradition, claims that the souls of most converts to Judaism are the reincarnated souls of Jews in previous generations who were cut off from the Jewish people either voluntarily or involuntarily. 

Through conversion to Judaism they feel they are coming home. Sometimes these souls are descendants of Jews who were part of whole communities that were cut off, like the Marranos of Spain and Portugal, or European Jews in Eastern Europe during the Holocaust and then the decades of Communist oppression. Other times they are descendants of individual Jews who married non-Jews and did not raise their children to be faithful Jews. 

An example of the later from England is recounted by Rabbi Barbara Borts: “One of the most touching conversions I ever did was a young girl of 11, brought to me by her mother, to discuss Judaism. The mother was a widow, living back at home with her mother and her father, who was a minister. This girl had done some research on Hanukkah for her school class, and in the process both loved what she learned and discovered that her late father’s grandfather was a German Jew. 

I asked her mother why she would support this. Her response was that her two daughters were no longer going to church, and she was delighted that one of them had found a religious home. When I said that I could not imagine doing what she was doing if the positions were reversed, she said, “It’s different for Jews, after the Holocaust and all.”

So, the girl started Hebrew school classes, and attending services. I moved a couple of years later, and bequeathed her to the next rabbi. Some years later, we met up again when she was in University. She had converted, changed her name permanently, was an active member of a Jewish student organization, and planed to become a Rabbi.”

Most of the time people who become Jewish do not find out that they have a Jewish ancestor until years after their conversion. According to a mystical 14th century Kabbalistic teaching found in Sefer HaPliyah, those non-Jews who do feel this powerful attraction to Jewish things and Jewish people, have Jewish souls that are reincarnations (gilgulim) of one of their own Jewish ancestors from 3-7 generations in the past.

That explains why they react to the discovery of some Jewish heritage in such a unusual way. It also explains why many people who do not even know that they have Jewish ancestors follow a similar path; and only discover a Jewish ancestor years after they have returned to the Jewish people.

The Hebrew word for reincarnation is gilgul which means recycling. Many people are born with new souls who are here for the first time. Others have a soul that has lived on this planet before. Most people do not reincarnate after their life on this earth is over. 

Most people who end up becoming Jewish, especially now, after the Jewish people have experienced several generations of assimilation, marriage to non-Jews, hiding from anti-semitism and outright genocide, are descendants of people whose children, in one way or another, have been cut off from the Jewish People. 

Among their non-Jewish descendants some will inherit a Jewish soul (gilgul) that will seek to return to the Jewish people (Sefer HaPliyah). 

The following introspective personality and character test can help people who never had or have left their own childhood religion; discover some hints that they may have a Jewish soul from generations past.

1- People who like to ask questions especially about religion; but when they asked them as a child, you were told faith is a gift from God and you shouldn’t question it. This never satisfied them, although others in their family didn’t question this answer.

2- The trinity never made any sense to them even as a young child. They prayed to God the father more easily than Jesus, the son of God, even though they were told to pray to Jesus. They never could believe that people who didn’t believe in Jesus couldn’t go to Heaven.

3- On first learning of the Holocaust they reacted more emotionally than their friends or other members of their family. They also feel some sense of connection with the Jewish struggle to defend the Land of Israel.

4- They have an attraction to Jewish people, or to Judaism and Jewish culture. They have always been more open to people who were culturally, nationally or religiously different from their own family, or than their friends or class mates.

If a person answers yes to three of these four items he or she might have one or more Jewish ancestors. Many, but not all, people who answer yes to all four items will be interested in learning more about their Jewish roots. One who becomes very interested in studying Judaism might have a Jewish soul. 

If the following item also applies to to non-religious, non-Jews who study Judaism; then they must have a Jewish soul.

5- When they start to learn about Judaism: the ideas and values seem reasonable to them; the traditions and heritage are very attractive to them; and the non-Jews around them, as well as they themselves, are surprised that they slowly come to feel they are coming home.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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