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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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Souls, Transmigration of
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Biblical and Apocryphal Views.

The Mosaic account of the creation of man speaks of a spirit or breath with which he was endowed by his Creator (Genesis 2:7); but this spirit was conceived of as inseparably connected, if not wholly identified, with the life-blood (ib. 9:4; Leviticus 17:11). Only through the contact of the Jews with Persian and Greek thought did the idea of a disembodied soul, having its own individuality, take root in Judaism and find its expression in the later Biblical books, as, for instance, in the following passages: "The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord" (Proverbs 20:27); "There is a spirit in man" (Job 32:8); "The spirit shall return unto God who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 12:7). The soul is called in Biblical literature "ruaḥ," "nefesh," and "neshamah." The first of these terms denotes the spirit in its primitive state; the second, in its association with the body; the third, in its activity while in the body.

An explicit statement of the doctrine of the preexistence of the soul is found in the Apocrypha: "All souls are prepared before the foundation of the world" (Slavonic Book of Enoch, 23:5); and according to II Esd. 4:35 et seq. the number of the righteous who are to come into the world is foreordained from the beginning. All souls are, therefore, preexistent, although the number of those which are to become incorporated is not determined at the very first. As a matter of fact, there are souls of different quality. Solomon says (Wisdom 8:19 et seq., R. V.): "Now I was a child of parts, and a good soul fell to my lot; nay, rather, being good, I came into a body undefiled." The body returns to earth when its possessor "is required to render back the soul which was lent him" (ib. 15:8, R. V.). The Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch 30:2-3 (Kautzsch, "Apokryphen," 2:423) distinguishes between righteous and common souls in the following passage, which describes the Messianic period and which is characteristic of the concept of preexistence: "The storehouses in which the foreordained number of souls is kept shall be opened, and the souls shall go forth, and the many souls shall appear all at once, as a host with one mind. And the first shall rejoice, and the last shall not be sad."

Philo's Views.

There are no direct references in the Bible to theorigin of the soul, its nature, and its relation to the body; but these questions afforded material for the speculations of the Alexandrian Jewish school, especially of see see PHILO JUDÆUS, who sought in the allegorical interpretation of Biblical texts the confirmation of his psychological system. In the three terms "ruaḥ," "nefesh," and "neshamah" Philo sees the corroboration of the Platonic view that the human soul is tripartite (τριμεής), having one part rational, a second more spiritual, and a third the seat of desire. These parts are distinguished from one another both functionally and by the places occupied by them in the body. The seat of the first is the head; of the second, the chest; and of the third, the abdomen ("De Allegoriis Legum," § [ed. Mangey, 1:110]). Both the rational and the irrational sprang like two scions from one root, and yet are so strongly contrasted in their natures that one is divine, while the other is corruptible. The rational part, or the mind (νοῦς), which is the leading and sovereign principle of the soul, is a fragment of the Divinity; and as such it is preexistent and immortal. It corresponds to the outermost and indivisible sphere of the fixed stars, and though it introduces unending divisions into the objects of its intelligent apprehensions, is itself without parts. It belongs to the same genus as those incorporeal spirits by which the air is inhabited, and is to the soul what the eyes are to the body, only its vision transcends the sphere of the senses and embraces the intelligible (idem, "De Opificiis Mundi," 1:648). As a fountain sends off streams in various directions, so the mind, a spiritual nomad, not only pervades the body, but brings itself in contact with various objects of creation, and makes its way even to God Himself. In this manner the mind transcends space and frees itself from the limitations of time which it anticipates (idem, "De Eo Quod Deterius Potiori Insidiatur," 1:208).

However, it is not the mind that acts, but its powers; these, according to Philo, are not mere properties, but independent spiritual essences in which the individual mind has its appointed share. In accordance with his fundamental division of the soul, Philo divides these powers into rational and irrational, or rational and perceptive, because the irrational powers are derived from sensible perception. Even before entering the body, the mind possesses not only rational faculties, but also ascending powers which distinguish the lower orders of creation, the habitual, the organic, the vital, and the perceptive. In order to awaken the sensible perception, the higher energies of the mind must for the time being cease to be active. However, a union between the mind and perception can be effected only through the mediation of a third principle; for the senses can not perceive without the intervention of the mind, nor can the mind discern material objects without the instrumentality of the senses. This third principle is pleasure, which is symbolized in the Bible by the serpent.

Philo recognizes the unity of human consciousness; and he confines knowledge strictly to the mind itself. As a divine being the soul aspires to be freed from its bodily fetters and to return to the heavenly spheres whence it came. Philo does not say why the soul is condemned to be imprisoned for a certain time in the body; but it may be assumed that, as in many other points, he shares also in this one the views of Pythagoras and Plato, who believed that the soul undergoes this ordeal in expiation of some sin committed by it in its former state (PHILO JUDÆUS).

Talmudical Views.

This belief was rejected by the scholars of the Talmud, who taught that the body is in a state of perfect purity (Ber. 10a; Mek. 43b), and is destined to return pure to its heavenly abode. When God confides the soul to man He says, according to the Haggadah. "The soul I have given thee is pure; if thou givest it back to Me in the same state, it is good for thee; if not, I will burn it before thee" (Eccl. R. 12:7; with some variations in Niddah 30a). Probably it was as a protest against the belief in a sin committed by the soul that the daily morning prayer was instituted: "My God, the soul which Thou didst place in me is pure [comp. Shab. 152b]. Thou hast created it, formed it, and breathed it into me. Thou preservest it in me. Thou wilt take it from me and wilt give it back to me in the world to come" (comp. also Shab. 32b; B. B. 16a).

In rabbinical literature the dualism of body and soul is carried out consistently, as in Ber. 10a, 43b; Shab. 113b, 152b; Yoma 30b; Ned. 32a (the body is a small city); Sanh. 91a, 108 (the body is a scabbard), 110b; and elsewhere. "The soul of man comes from heaven; his body, from earth" (Sifre, Deut. 306 [ed. Friedmann, p. 132, below]).

The Rabbis hold that the body is not the prison of the soul, but, on the contrary, its medium of development and improvement. Nor do they hold the Platonic view regarding the preexistence of the soul. For them "each and every soul which shall be from Adam until the end of the world, was formed during the six days of Creation and was in paradise, being present also at the revelation on Sinai. . . . At the time of conception God commandeth the angel who is the prefect of the spirits, saying: 'Bring Me such a spirit which is in paradise and hath such a name and such a form; for all spirits which are to enter the body exist from the day of the creation of the world until the earth shall pass away.' . . . The spirit answereth: 'Lord of the world! I am content with the earth, where I have lived since Thou didst create me.' . . . God speaketh to the soul, saying: 'The world into which thou enterest is more beautiful than this; and when I made thee I intended thee only for this drop of seed.'" Two angels are assigned to the soul, which is finally shown, among other things, the spirits in heaven which have been perfected on earth (Tan., Peḳude, 3). The entry of the soul into the embryo (GOLEM) is similarly described in a conversation between Judah the patriarch and the emperor Antoninus (c. 200; Sanh. 91b; comp. ib. 16b and Niddah 31a). The spirits which are to descend to earth are kept in 'Arabot, the last of the seven heavens (Ḥag. 12b, below), while the souls of the righteous dead are beneath the throne of God (Shab. 152b). Associated with this belief is the Talmudic saying that the Messiah will not come till all the souls in the"guf" (the superterrestrial abode of the souls) shall have passed through an earthly existence ('Ab. Zarah 5a; comp. Gen. R. and Ruth R., Introduction).

The Platonic theory that study is only recollection, because the soul knew everything before entering the world, is expressed in a hyperbolic fashion in the Talmud, where it is said that a light burns on the head of the embryo by means of which it sees from one end of the world to the other, but that at the moment of its appearance on earth an angel strikes it on the mouth, and everything is forgotten (Niddah. 30b). The Rabbis question whether the soul descends to earth at the moment of conception or after the embryo has been formed (Sanh. 90a).

Spirit and Soul.

The tripartite nature of the soul as conceived by Philo is taught in the Talmud also; it divides the non-physical part of man into spirit and soul. Indeed, the "active soul" which God breathed into man and the "vital spirit" with which He inspired him are mentioned as early as Wisdom 15:11. This differentiation is clearly and plainly expressed by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and Hebrews 4:12 (comp. Delitzsch, pp. 90 et seq., and Hastings, "Dict. Bible," 3:166b-167a, where "nefesh" is incorrectly used for "ruaḥ"); and the same idea is found in Ḥag. 12a, where it is said that "spirits and souls" dwell in the seventh heaven, while Niddah 31a, above, prays: "May God give spirit and soul to the embryo" (see Rashi on Ḥag.; Brecher, "Das Transcendentale," etc., p. 64; and Weber, "Jüdische Theologie," p. 228). In the foregoing passage cited from Tanḥuma the same distinction is drawn between soul and spirit, although no very clear theory is advanced concerning the difference between the two. Every Friday God gives the Jew another individual soul, which He takes back again at the end of the Sabbath (Beẓah 16a).

A parallel is established between the soul and God. As the world is filled with God, so is the body filled with the soul; as God sees, but can not be seen, so the soul sees, but is not to be seen; as God is hidden, so also is the soul (Ber. 10a). The Rabbis seem to have considered discernment, reflection, and recollection as faculties of the soul; but they held that the power by which man distinguishes between right and wrong and the inclination to one or to the other are two real essences which God places in the heart of man. These are called "yeẓer Ṭob" (good inclinations) and "yeẓer ha-ra'" (evil propensities). The soul has control over these, and, therefore, is responsible for man's moral conduct. The soul's relation to the body is an external one only: when man sleeps the soul ascends to its heavenly abode (Lam. R. 3:23). There it sometimes receives communications which appear to the sleeper as dreams. Although, like all ancient peoples, the Jews believed in dreams, there were advanced rabbis who explained them psychologically. An example of this is related in the Talmud (Ber. 56a), on the part of Joshua ben Hananiah. A Roman emperor (probably Hadrian) asked the tanna what he (Hadrian) would dream about. Joshua answered: "You will dream that the Persians will vanquish and maltreat you." Reflecting on this the whole day, the emperor dreamed accordingly.

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Among the Jewish Philosophers.

With the transplantation of the Greco-Arabic philosophy to Jewish soil, psychology began to be treated scientifically. Saadia devoted the sixth chapter of his "Emunot we-De'ot" to questions concerning the human soul. After having passed in review the various opinions on the subject current at that time, he gives his own theory, which he endeavors to support by Biblical quotations. According to him, the soul is created by God at the same time as the body. Its substance resembles that of the spheres; but it is of a finer quality. This, Saadia says, is evident from the fact that it is possessed by a thinking power which is lacking in the spheres. This thinking power is not inherent in any way in the body, which becomes lifeless as soon as the soul leaves it. However, like every created thing, the soul needs a medium through which to attain activity; and this medium is the body. Through its union with the body three powers which are latent in it are set in motion: intelligence, passion, and appetite or desire. These powers or faculties are not to be considered as three separate parts of the soul, each having a different seat in the body, but as belonging to the one and indivisible soul, which has its seat in the heart. It is to the advantage of the soul to be united with the body. Without this medium it could not attain paradise and eternal bliss, because these are vouchsafed to it only as a recompense for its obedience to the will of God. This obedience can be performed only through the instrumentality of the body, just as fire needs fuel before it can burn. Saadia is a strong opponent of Plato, who taught the preexistence of the soul and considered its powers of intelligence, passion, and appetite as three distinct parts of it, of which the first was derived from God, and the second and third from matter.

Influence of Platonic Doctrine.

Owing to the influence of the Arabic Neoplatonists, especially the Encyclopedists known as the "Brethren of Sincerity," the Platonic psychology as interpreted and amplified in those schools prevailed among the Jews of the tenth and eleventh centuries. It was propounded in a special work attributed to Baḥya ben Joseph ibn Paḳuda, and entitled "Ma'ani al-Nafs" (translated into Hebrew under the title "Torat ha-Nefesh" by I. Broydé, Paris, 1896). According to him, man possesses three distinct souls, the vegetative, the animal, and the rational: the first two derived from matter, and the last emanating from the active intellect. At the moment of conception a ray of the rational soul penetrates into the embryo, where it supervises the development of the vegetative and animal powers until they become two distinct souls. The principal agent in the formation of the body is the vegetative soul, which derives its forces from the sun and the moon. Supervised by the stars and their spiritual principles, the vegetative soul constructs the body in the shape of the spheres, and exerts on it the same influence as that exerted by the universal soul on the spheres. Each of these three souls has its own attribute: that of the vegetative soul is chastity; of the animal, energy; and of the rational,wisdom. From these is derived another attribute, justice.

These theories respecting the soul seem to have been shared by Ibn Gabirol and Joseph ibn Ẓaddiḳ, who repeatedly asserted in their respective works the existence of three distinct souls in man. A less fanciful psychological system was elaborated by the Jewish Peripatetics, especially by Maimonides. It was substantially that of Aristotle as propounded by his commentators. According to this system the soul is a concrete unit having various activities or faculties. It is the first principle of action in an organized body, possessing life potentially. Its faculties are five: the nutritive, the sensitive, the imaginative, the appetitive, and the rational; the superior comprehending the inferior potentially. The sensitive faculty is that by which one perceives and feels: it does not perceive itself or its organs, but only external objects through the intervention of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. The senses perceive species, or forms, but not matter, as wax receives the impression of a seal without retaining any part of its substance. The imaginative faculty is the power to give quite different forms to the images impressed upon the soul by the senses. Memory is derived from fancy, and has its seat in the same power of the soul. The appetitive faculty consists in the ability to feel either a desire or an aversion. The rational faculty is that which enables man to think, to acquire knowledge, and to discern evil actions from good ones. The action of the intellect is either theoretical or practical: theoretical, when it simply considers what is true or false; and practical, when it judges whether a thing is good or evil, and thereby excites the will to pursue or to avoid it.

Maimonides, except in a few instances, closely followed Aristotle with regard to the ontological aspect of the soul. The life of the soul, which is derived from that of the spheres, is represented on earth in three potencies: in vegetable, in animal, and in human life. In the vegetable it is confined to the nutritive faculty; in the animal it combines, in addition, the sensitive, the appetitive, and, in animals of a higher organism, also the imaginative; while in human life it comprises, in addition to all these faculties, the rational. As each soul, constituting the form of the body, is indissolubly united with it and has no individual existence, so the soul of man and its various faculties constitute with the body a concrete, inseparable unit. With the death of the body, therefore, the soul with all its faculties, including the rational, ceases to exist. There is, however, something in the human soul which is not a mere faculty, but a real substance having an independent life. It is the acquired intellect, the ideas and notions which man obtains through study and speculation.

Levi ben Gershon.

Levi ben Gershon, in "Milḥamot Adonai," followed Maimonides in his psychological system, but differed from him with regard to the knowledge which constitutes the acquired intellect. He divided human knowledge into three classes: (1) that which is acquired directly by the perception of the senses and which relates to the individuals of this world; (2) that which is the product of abstraction and generalities—e., of that process of the mind which consists in evolving from knowledge concerning the individual general ideas concerning its species, genus, or family; (3) that which is obtained by reflection and which is relative to God, the angels, etc. There can be no doubt as to the objective reality of the knowledge of the first and third classes; but there is a question as to that of the knowledge of the second class. Levi ben Gershon differs from Maimonides, holding not only that the generic forms of things exist in themselves and outside of these things, "ante rem," in the universal intellect; but that even mathematical theories are real substances and contribute to the formation of the acquired intellect.

Ḥasdai Crescas vehemently attacked, both on theological and on philosophical grounds, the principle of the acquired intellect upon which the psychological system of Maimonides and Levi ben Gershon is based. "How," asked he, "can a thing which came into existence during man's lifetime acquire immortality?" Then, if the soul is to be considered a mere faculty of the body, which ceases with the death of the latter, and only the acquired intellect is a real substance which survives, there can be no question of reward and punishment, since that part of man which committed the sin or performed the good deed no longer exists. "Maimonides," argues Crescas, "asserts that the future reward will consist in the enjoyment derived from objects of which the intellect is cognizant; but since the soul, which is the seat of joy, will no longer be in existence, what is to enjoy?" According to Crescas, the soul, although constituting the form of the body, is a spiritual substance in which the faculty of thinking exists potentially.

Psychology of the Cabala.

The influence exercised by Neoplatonism on the development of the Cabala is particularly noticeable in the psychological doctrines found in the Zohar; these, but for the mystic garb in which they are clothed and the attempt to connect the soul with the all-pervading Sefirot, are the same as those professed by the Neoplatonists. The soul, teaches the Zohar, has its origin in the Supreme Intelligence, in which the forms of the living existences may already be distinguished from one another; and this Supreme Intelligence may be termed "universal soul." "At the time the Holy One, blessed be He! desired to create the world, it came in His will before Him, and He formed all the souls which were prepared to be given afterward to the children of men; and all were formed before Him in the identical forms in which they were destined to appear as the children of the men of this world; and He saw every one of them, and that the ways of some of them in the world would become corrupt" (Zohar 1:96b). The soul is constituted of three elements: the rational ("neshamah"), the moral ("ruaḥ"), and the vital ("nefesh"). They are emanations from the Sefirot; and as such each of them possesses ten potencies, which are subdivided into a trinity of triads. Through the rational element of the soul, which is the highest degree of being, and which both corresponds to and is operated upon by the highest Sefirah,the "Crown," man belongs to the intellectual world (); through the moral element, which is the seat of the ethical qualities, and which both corresponds to and is operated upon by the Sefirah "Beauty," man pertains to the moral world (); and through the vital element, which is the lowest of the three, being directly connected with the body, and which both corresponds to and is operated upon by the Sefirah "Foundation," man is associated with the material world (). In addition to these three elements of the soul there are two others of a different nature: one is inherent in the body without mingling with it, serving as an intermediary between the latter and the soul; and the other is the principle which unites them both. "At the moment," says the Zohar, "when the union of the soul and the body is being effected the Holy One sends on earth an image engraved with the Divine Seal. This image presides over the union of man and wife; a clear-sighted eye may see it standing at their heads. It bears a human face; and this face will be borne by the man who is about to appear. It is this image which receives us on entering the world, which grows as we grow, and which quits the earth when we quit it" (ib. 3:104a). The descent of the soul into the body is necessitated by the finite nature of the former: it is bound to unite with the body in order to take its part in the universe, to contemplate creation, to become conscious of itself and its origin, and, finally, to return, after having completed its task in life, to the inexhaustible fountain of light and life—God.

According to the Zohar, there are male souls and female souls, the former proceeding from the masculine Sefirot, which are concentrated in the Sefirah of "Grace," the latter from the feminine Sefirot, which are concentrated in that of "Justice." Before their descent to earth they are paired; but at the moment of their appearance in this world they become separated (ib. 1:91b). The relation of the three elements of the soul to one another and to the body is compared by the Zohar to a burning lamp. Two lights are discernible in the flame of the lamp: a white and a dim one. The white light is above and ascends in a straight line; the dim one is below, and seems to be the seat of the other. Both, however, are so indissolubly connected that they form one flame. On the other hand, the dim light proceeds directly from the burning material below. The same phenomenon is presented by the human soul. The vital or animal element resembles the dim light which springs directly from the burning material underneath; and just as that material is gradually consumed by the flame, so the vital element consumes the body, with which it is closely connected. The moral element is comparable to the higher, white light, which is always struggling to disengage itself from the lower one and to rise higher; but so long as the lamp continues to burn it remains united to it. The rational element corresponds to the highest, invisible part of the flame, which actually succeeds in freeing itself from the latter and rises in the air (ib. 1:83b). See ESCHATOLOGY; Immortality; TRANSMIGRATION OF SOULS.

  • F. Delitzsch, System der Biblischer Psychologic, Leipsic, 1861;
  • Geiger, Sadducüer und Pharisüer, p. 35;
  • Gfrörer, Philo und die Alexandrinische Theosophie, 1:373-415, Marburg, 1831;
  • Siegfried, Philo von Alexandria als Ausleger des Alten Testaments, pp. 235 et seq.;
  • Drummond, Philo Judœus, or the Jewish Alexandrian Philosophy in Its Development and Completion, 1:314-359, London, 1888;
  • Zeller, Die Philosophie der Griechen in Ihrer Geschichtlichen, Entwicklung, 3:393-402;
  • Schürer, Gesch. 3:558;
  • Weber, Die Theologie des Talmuds, p. 36 and Index;
  • L. Bernhardt, Ueber die Empirische Psychologie der Juden im Talmud, in Zunz, Zeitschrift, 1:501 et seq.;
  • J. Wiesner, Die Psychologie des Talmuds, in Berliner's Magazin, 1:12 et seq.;
  • Guttmann, Die Religionsphilosophie des Saadia, ch.;
  • Scheyer, Die Psychologie des Maimonides, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1845;
  • Brecher, Die Unsterblichkeitslehre bei den Juden, Vienna, 1857;
  • Joël, Levi ben Gerson als Religionsphilosoph, Breslau, 1862;
  • idem, Zur Genesis der Lehre Spinoza's, Breslau, 1871;
  • idem, Die Religionsphilosophie des Sohar, pp. 128 et seq.;
  • Weil, Philosophie Religieuse de Levi ben Gerson, Paris, 1866;
  • Ginsburg, The Kabbalah, pp. 31 et seq.;
  • Myer, Qabbalah, p.110;
  • Karppe, Etude sur les Origines du Zohar, pp. 344 et seq., Paris, 1901;
  • S. Rosenblüth, Der Seelenbegriff im Alten Testament, in Berner Studien, 1898;
  • W. Bousset, Die Religion des Judenthums im Neutestamentlichen Zeitalter, pp. 283, 383, 440, Berlin, 1903;
  • G. Brecher, Das Transcendentale, Magie und Magische Heilarten im Talmud, pp. 60 et seq., Vienna, 1850;
  • A. B. Davidson, The Theology of the Old Testament, pp. 199-203, Edinburgh, 1904;
  • Hastings, Dict. Bible, 3:164 et seq.;
  • S. Horowitz, Die Psychologie bei den Jüdischen Religionsphilosophen, in Jahreshericht des Jüdisch-Theologischen Seminars zu Breslau, 1898, 1901;
  • Yalḳuṭ Ḥadash, pp. 91 et seq., Presburg, 1859;
  • Jew. Encyc. 3:457b, s. Cabala;
  • Manasseh b. Israel, Nishmat Ḥayyim, , ch. , , Amsterdam, 1651;
  • Schürer, Gesch. 2:572 (s. Essenes), 3:380 (s. Wisdom), 3:558 et seq. (s. Philo);
  • F. Weber, Jüdische Theologie, pp. 212, 225 et seq., Leipsic, 1897.
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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Soul'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​s/soul.html. 1901.
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