Dear Rabbi Simon,
In this week’s Torah Reading 31:24, Rabbi Moshe Alshich (Safed, 1508-1593) implies that reincarnation is worse than Gehinnom (Purgatory). How can this be so? What’s the source for reincarnation. Why is it not in the Gemoro?
The doctrine of reincarnation, while now quite commonplace in Jewish Thought, is actually the subject of much controversy. Some say it is not in the Gemara simply because the concept is foreign to classic Jewish thought.
Those who endorse reincarnation find many hints to it in the Tanakh, and references in the midrashic and Kabbalistic literature. I wrote an article on this subject, which you can find here.
Reincarnation is worse than purgatory in the sense that one whose sins cannot be expiated through punishment alone, is condemned to endure the suffering of living anew. It is like a PhD candidate told to correct the weaknesses in his dissertation, or expelled from the course altogether and forced to re-apply and start from the beginning.
Of course reincarnation is understood in many different ways. Some claim that most souls alive have lived before in an earlier life. These things are difficult, if not impossible, to prove.
Rabbi Rashi Simon