Saadia Gaon: “The Book of Beliefs and Opinions”

“Refutation of Reincarnation”

Yale Judaica Series, Vol. I “The Soul” chap. VIII pp 259


“Yet, I must say that I have found certain people, who call themselves Jews, professing the doctrine of metempsychosis (reincarnation) which is designated by them as the theory of “transmigration” of souls. What the mean thereby is that the spirit of Ruben is transferred to Simon and afterwards to Levi and after that to Judah. Many of them would go so far as to assert that the spirit of a human being might enter into the body of a beast or that of a beast into the body of a human being, and other such nonsense and stupidities.”


“This in itself, however, indicates how very foolish they are. For they take it for granted that the body of a man is capable of transforming the essence of the soul so as to make of it a human soul, after having been the soul of a beast. They assume, furthermore, that the soul itself is capable of transforming the essence of a human body to the point of endowing it with the traits of the beasts, even though its form be that of men. It was not sufficient for them, then, that they attributed to the soul a variable nature by not assigning to it an intrinsic essence, but they contradicted themselves when they declared the soul capable of transforming and changing the body, and the body capable of transforming and changing the soul. But such reasoning is a deviation from logic.


The third [argument they present] is in the form of a logical argument. They same, namely: “Inasmuch as the Creator is just, it is inconceivable that he should occasion suffering to little children, unless it be for sins committed by their souls during the time that they were lodged in their former bodies.” This view is, however, subject to numerous refutations.


The first is that they have forgotten what we have mentioned on the subject of compensation in the hereafter for misfortunes experienced in this world. Furthermore we should like to ask them what they conceive the original status of the soul to be we mean its status when it is first created. Is it charged by its Master with any obligation to obey Him or not? If they allege that it is not so charged, then there can be no punishments for it either, since it was not charged with any obligations to begin with. If, on the other hand, they acknowledge the imposition of such a charge, in which case obedience and disobedience did not apply before, they thereby admit that God charges His servants with obligations on account of the future and not at all on account of the past. But then they return to our theory and are forced to give up their insistence on the view that man’s suffering in this world is due solely to his conduct in a previous existence.”