Thursday, August 09, 2007

Did Rabbi Da Modena believe in gilgul?

The Jewish belief in gilgul (literally, reincarnation of the soul) is one fraught with controversy. While it has since become accepted as a basic tenet of Orthodox Judaism, such was not always the case. Among the more famous opponents of this belief is the famed Rabbi Saadiah Gaon, [1] Rabbi Hasdai Crescas and Rabbi Shalom Strashun (Rashash) [2]. R' Saadiah assailed it strongly and claimed it originated from eastern paganism. A lesser famous but equally fierce opponent of gilgul was -one of my favorite Jewish historical figures- Rabbi Leone Da Modena (see my previous posts on him here and here ). However, there is an interesting twist to this. In the book Shem Hagedolim of Rabbi Chayyim Yosef David Azulai (known as the CHIDA) under the entry of Rabbi Yehuda Arye Mimodena, he relates an strange and interesting story. The Chida (pictured) writes (translation mine):

I have seen the latter’s autobiography, 'Chayei Yehuda' (The Life of Judah) in manuscript where he writes that everything he endured in his life was for the best. The Rabbi writes that in his early days he did not believe in Gilgul, then something occurred which made him change his beliefs. His (Da Modena's) neighbor gave birth to a son and within a month the infant took violently ill. When the child reached six months, it was clearly apparent that he at death's door, so the neighbor called him (Da-Modena) to the infant’s bedside to recite Psalms and read from the Torah -as was the custom in Italy at the time. As he was reciting some verses, the child opened his eyes wide and shouted “Shema Yisrael” and his soul left his body. Henceforth, the Rabbi changed his view on gilgul, for his own eyes saw a six month old sickly infant recite the words of the shema like an adult! [3].

This story seems quite strange, not to mention very uncharachteristic of R' Da Modena for obvious reasons. I have read the English translation of Da Modena's fascinating autobiography and I do not recall coming across this story anywhere (though I still have not had the opportunity to read the original Hebrew version). Furthermore, I find it interesting that R' Azulai -the great Kabbalist and proponent of Hassidim- lists him in his Gedolim compendium and refers to him with honorific terms, considering R' Da Modena's radical views regarding Kabballah and Zohar which -as far as we know- he never deviated from.


See his Ha-Emunot V'Deyot 6:3

[2]. See here page 11 for interesting biographical informantion.

[3].שם הגדולים, עג

Labels: , , , , , ,


At Friday, August 10, 2007 10:06:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"While it has since become accepted as a basic tenet of Orthodox Judaism..."

Just a bit of an overstatement, no?

At Friday, August 10, 2007 2:19:00 PM, Blogger Lion of Zion said...


"Just a bit of an overstatement, no?"

no, at least not in large swaths of orthodoxy.

At Saturday, August 11, 2007 6:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why don't we follow our true leaders. No Geon believed in gilgulim. Apparently the Geonim were the last unified leaders of the Jewish people.

Such an idea smells of rebellious.

Glad to see Azulai using the same tactics that Chabad use. Are our sins not great enough that they seperate themselves from Israel!

At Tuesday, August 14, 2007 3:45:00 AM, Blogger David Guttmann said...

Who says the Geonim did not believe in Gilgul? Rav Saadyah and Rav Hay did not. Others did.

Noweadays any one who does not is seen as an Apikores while in the olden days it was the opposite. Gilgul as a belief had to be defended. that is why ramban in his pirush al hatorah when he discusses Yibum alludes to it and calls it a sod misodei hatorah!

At Tuesday, August 14, 2007 11:44:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What other Geonim?

At Tuesday, August 14, 2007 11:45:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And from where do we know Rav Hai Goan didn't believe in gilgulim?

You should add this to the wikipedia article. You seem very knowledgable unlike the editors over there.

At Sunday, August 19, 2007 10:18:00 PM, Blogger Joels W. said...

Ari is correct, Shmendrik. I think it's fair to say that it has become a basic tenet of not a few Orthodox Jewish communities largely due to the influence of Zohar and Kaballah on both Sephardic and Asheknazic Jewry (Particularly the Chassidim and Graists among the Ashkenazim and among the Kabbalistically inclined Sephardim).

At Sunday, August 19, 2007 10:19:00 PM, Blogger Joels W. said...

Anon @ 6:24,

It is wrong to cast aspersions on Rav Azulai. He was an honest and brilliant scholar who recorded faithfully what he saw and heard. A more logical explanation for all of this appears in my follow up post.

At Friday, July 30, 2010 9:46:00 AM, Anonymous Raphael Gamaroff said...


Thanks for this brilliant site. Your articles on Rabbi Leone de Modena and Shadal, and GILGUL introduced me to so many new thoughts.

When I was a student at the University of Cape Town in the 1960s, the Head of the Hebrew Department was Professor Israel Abrahams, chief rabbi of Cape Town. He translated Shadal's "The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch'," which I recently read and thought highly of.

I'm particuarly interested in the relationship between the Torah, the Zohar and the Kabbalah. Like Shadal, I am not a Kabbalah-Zohar fan. They remind me a lot of Kenneth Clarkes' "Nine Billion names of God." Now I'm going to get it, from some of your readers! - or will they write me off as a "takhshit of a sachal"?


At Friday, July 30, 2010 10:26:00 AM, Anonymous Raphael Gamaroff said...

Hi HaH

Just checking whether I wrote "takhshit of a sachal" - "a jewel of fool" (which I wanted to say, and not something else.



Post a Comment

<< Home

free counters