Yonassan Gershom is a Rabbi and writer who was ordained in the Jewish Renewal movement during the 1980s and is now a follower of Breslov Hasidism. He was associated with the early days of the B'nai Or movement, a forerunner of Jewish Renewal, in which he was ordained by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi in 1986, although he is not in agreement with the direction that the movement has taken in more recent years
|Education||Minnesota State University, Mankato|
|Occupation||Rabbi and writer|
|Known for||Reincarnation research|
Gershom lives on a farm in rural Minnesota, where he writes and conducts himself as a "cyber-rabbi" on the Internet. In 1997 he made a pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in Uman, Ukraine, a trip that has strongly influenced his later writings. Until this point, "he wasn't aware how much the rural experience shaped Hasidism. It gave him a deeper understanding of Hasidic stories and the Torah." He has served on the Advisory Board of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) and is active in the vegetarian and animal welfare movements. In 2013 he was widely quoted as opposing the use of live chickens for Kapparot ceremonies.
Gershom is best known for having written several books on the topic of the Holocaust and reincarnation. Beyond the Ashes and From Ashes to Healing recount stories of people who claim to have died in the Holocaust and are now reincarnated, while Jewish Tales of Reincarnation deals with Jewish accounts of reincarnation, including a few from the Holocaust but mostly others from classical Jewish texts and oral tradition.
In his books on reincarnation, he discusses theories concerning whether Jews who died in the Holocaust did so as punishment for their sins in their previous lives. He argues that in the Jewish conception of evil and reincarnation (as opposed to the conception found in some other religions), suffering in this life is not necessarily punishment for wrongdoing in a previous life. Rather, he argues, undeserved suffering in this life can be purely due to the wrongdoing of the perpetrators and not some punishment for the victims. He does, however, argue that, according to the Jewish concept, wickedness can be accumulated over a succession of reincarnations. Thus, he argues, it is possible that the Nazis committed the Holocaust due to the evil they had accumulated through many lifetimes of persecuting and killing Jews throughout the preceding centuries. He cites that Adolf Hitler might have been a reincarnation of the biblical Amalek.
Gershom has appeared on several TV programs in connection with his reincarnation work, including Sightings and Unexplained Mysteries. The Duluth, Minnesota PBS station, WDSE, also featured him on their Venture North news magazine show in connection with his philosophy on gardening and Jewish spirituality. He appears in the 2007 documentary film, A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World, directed by Lionel Friedberg for the Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA).
Although he is best known for his books on reincarnation, Gershom is also a lifelong pacifist and peace activist, who has written many articles on Judaism and nonviolence, later collected into an anthology entitled Eight Candles of Consciousness. He was active in the peace movement in Minneapolis during the 1980s, and publicly protested against the policies of Meir Kahane. He is also a supporter of gay rights, basing his stance on equal rights under the law rather than theology. He graduated from Mankato State University in 1975 with a Bachelor of Science degree in German language and Native American Studies.
- Beyond the Ashes: Cases of Reincarnation from the Holocaust, A.R.E. Press, 1992. (ISBN 0876042930)
- From Ashes to Healing: Mystical Encounters with the Holocaust, A.R.E. Press, 1996. (ISBN 0876043406)
- Jewish Tales of Reincarnation, Jason Aronson, Inc., 2000. (ISBN 0765760835)
- Are Holocaust Victims Returning?, ebook anthology of articles on reincarnation reprinted from various periodicals, 2007.
On other topics
- 49 Gates of Light: Kabbalistic Meditations for Counting the Omer, Crown Point Enterprises, Minneapolis, 1987, reprinted as 49 Gates of Light: a course in kabbalah, Lulu Press, Inc. 2010.
- "Shamanism in the Jewish Tradition," included in Nicholson, Shirley (ed.), Shamanism: An Expanded View of Reality, Quest Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 1996.
- "The Peace Stone" included in Seeing the Light: Personal Encounters with the Middle East and Islam, Curtis, Richard H. and McMahon, Janet (eds.), American Educational Trust, Washington DC, 1997.
- Eight Candles of Consciousness: Essays on Jewish Nonviolence, Lulu Press, Inc. Raleigh, NC, 2009. (ISBN 978-0-557-04922-6)
- Jewish Themes in Star Trek, Lulu Press, Inc. Raleigh, NC, 2009. (ISBN 978-0-557-04800-7)
- Two dialogues with him on animal rights issues in Judaism ("Raising Holy Sparks: Hasidic Thought and Vegetarianism" and "A Dialogue on Nature Deficit Disorder") are included in Who Stole My Religion?: Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal our Imperiled Planet by Richard H. Schwartz, Lulu Press, Inc. Raleigh, NC, 2011. (ISBN 978-1-105-33646-1)
- Kapporos Then and Now: Toward a More Compassionate Tradition, Lulu Press, Inc., 2015. (ISBN 978-1-329-18940-9)
- "Spock and Jews in the 1960s," included in Spockology:Essays on Spock and Leonard Nimoy from The Undiscovered Country Project and Friends, Neece, Kvin C. (editor), Createspace, 2015. (ISBN 978-1506108179)
- "Rabbi Birds and Rooster Chicks: how I Became a Vegetarian," included in Yanklowitz, Schmuly, The Jewish Vegan, Shamyim v'Aretz Institute, 2015. (ISBN 978-1517393021)
- Gelfman, Patti Simon, "Judaism in a New Age," Minnesota Jewish Life, January 1988
- Gershom, 49 Gates of Light, 4th edition, Lulu Press 2009, pp. 102–108
- Hanson, Linda, "Tending his Flocks: Sandstone Rabbi Cares for his animals at home while taking his ministry to the Internet," Duluth News Tribune, October 14, 2000, pg.4C
- Hanson, pg.4C
- Schwartz, Richard H.,Judaism and Vegetarianism, 3rd edition, Lantern Books, New York. 2001. pp.124–125
- cf. Rodman, Edmund J. "Atonement Chickens – Swung and Tossed", Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, September 3, 2013 and "Activists Will Rally in Brooklyn, N.Y. to Protest Chickens in Kaporos Rituals," News release from the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos, September 4, 2013
- Lerner, Maura, "Stories of reincarnated victims of Holocaust led Rabbi on spiritual quest," Minneapolis Star Tribune, November 26, 1996
- MacKenzie, Vicki, Reborn in the West: The Reincarnation Masters, Marlowe & Company, New York. pp. 107–109
- Steiger, Brad, Returning From the Light, Signet, New York. 1996. pp. 215–217
- Sightings, "Hands of Remembrance," airdate 10/18/96
- Venture North, "The Rabbi's Garden," airdate October 19, 2000
- cf. "Cuts off Payos to Protest Kahane," American Jewish World, May 26, 1985 and "The Payos Cutting – one Year Later," American Jewish World, January 30, 1986
- "Jews, Queers, and Closets," Equal Time, January 1993
- A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Heal the World, homepage for this documentary film, which includes interview footage with Yonassan Gershom. You can also Video on YouTube.
- "The Soul of Every Living Thing," a 5-minute video from the Shamayim v'Aretz Institute, featuring Yonassan Gershom speaking on nature and animals, Video on YouTube