Reincarnation belief first existed among Jewish mystics in the Ancient World, among whom differing explanation given of the after-life, although with a universal belief in an immortal soul. Today, reincarnation is an esoteric belief within many streams of modern Judaism. Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) teaches a belief in gilgul, transmigration of souls, and hence the belief in reincarnation is universal in Hasidic Judaism, which regards the Kabbalah as sacred and authoritative, and is also held as an esoteric belief within Modern Orthodox Judaism .
In Judaism, the Zohar, first published in the 13th century, discusses reincarnation at length, especially in the Torah portion "Balak." The most comprehensive kabbalistic work on reincarnation, Shaar HaGilgulim, was written by Chaim Vital based on the teachings of his mentor, the 16th century kabbalist Isaac Luria, who was said to know the past lives of each person through his semi-prophetic abilities. The 18th century Lithuanian master scholar and kabbalist, Rabbi Elijah, known as the Vilna Gaon (Elijah of Vilna), authored a commentary on the biblical Book of Jonah as an allegory of reincarnation .
The practice of conversion to Judaism is sometimes understood within Orthodox Judaism in terms of reincarnation. According to this school of thought in Judaism, when non-Jews are drawn to Judaism, it is because they had been Jews in a former life. Such souls may "wander among nations" through multiple lives, until they find their way back to Judaism, including through finding themselves born in a gentile family with a "lost" Jewish ancestor. There is an extensive literature of Jewish folk and traditional stories that refer to reincarnation.
Gilgul, Gilgul neshamot, or Gilgulei Ha Neshamot (גלגול הנשמות). In Hebrew, the word gilgul means "cycle" or "wheel" and neshamot is the plural for "souls." Souls are seen to "cycle" through "lives" or "incarnations", being attached to different human bodies over time. Which body they associate with depends on their particular task in the physical world, spiritual levels of the bodies of predecessors and so on. The concept relates to the wider processes of history in Kabbalah, involving Cosmic Tikkun (Messianic rectification), and the historical dynamic of ascending Lights and descending vessels from generation to generation  :
μετεμψύχωσις - metempsychosis
εμπψχωύν - empsykhoun
παλιγγενεσία - palingenesia
גלגול הנשמות - gilgul neshamot
पुनर्जन्मन् - punarjanman
4. H. Y. Ginsburgh, "Tav: Impression - The Seal of Creation," [Online]. Available: www.inner.org/hebleter/tav.htm.
12. Sefer HaGilgulim, "The Book of Reincarnations," by Chaim Vital