Karma and Kabbalah: reincarnation reconsidered

The Soul Survivor: Reincarnation – based on the Writings of the Zohar, Leonard Book, Tuchams Publishing House, £16.99


In this unusual work, Rabbi Dr Leonard Book explores key concepts in the Jewish mystical tradition such as the basic beliefs of Kabbalah, divine sefirot (emanations), metempsychosis, the reincarnation of the soul after death.

The author, the former rabbi of Cardiff who now lives in Israel, acknowledges that some major Jewish thinkers, like Rabbi Joseph Albo, reject the very concepts of metempsychosis and karma and admits that Maimonides does not refer to it. Yet as the Zohar and other core mystical works became widespread, reincarnation entered mainstream Jewish thought and today is treated if not a given, at least a possibility.

The cleverly-named Soul Survivor is an elucidated translation of a little-known mystical work, Gilgul Chozair (Reincarnation), by the contemporary author Avraham Amos. Book helpfully elucidates the difference between “reality” and metaphysical abstractions devised to deepen understanding of God’s relationship with physicality, the purpose of death, subdivisions of the human soul and the nature of the spiritual worlds, as understood by mystical doctrine. It includes fascinating accounts of reincarnation, as well as curious sections about UFOs, aliens and auras.

Yet the sections on metempsychosis are the most intriguing. He attempts to paint a concrete picture of what happens when one dies, the purpose of Kaddish, why and how a soul might be reincarnated or subdivided and even entertains the possibility of a soul transmigrating into animal or plant matter, a notion I suspect some readers will treat with scepticism.

Stylistically somewhat erratic, Soul Survivor cites a range of authors — Jewish and non-Jewish — not commonly found in a work of mysticism and while peppered with helpful diagrams, it would benefit from closer editing in parts and occasionally drifts into unpersuasive numerology. Yet Book’s book is engaging and readable and will offer a helpful window into an unfamiliar and hitherto inaccessible world.


Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive