Soul for a Fetus?

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August 18, 2011

2 min read

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Where in Torah is there a reference to the exact time when God places the soul into the human being? Do Jews believe that babies have souls before birth?

The Aish Rabbi Replies

There are differing statements in the Talmud regarding this. The conclusion of Talmud Sanhedrin (91b) is that the fetus is given a soul immediately upon conception. Yet elsewhere the Talmud states that the soul enters the body on the 40th day from conception (Menachot 99b).

This discrepancy is based on the fact that there are multiple levels to the human soul. The lowest is the life-force humans share with the animal kingdom, and this enters a person at conception. However, the Godly soul, the spark of life which sets mankind apart from the animals, enters only on the 40th day from conception. (Source: "Assiah" by R' Yehudah Henkin, [XV 3-4 59-60, Iyar 5657]; see also "Mahrsha" Brachos, 3a, s.v. "Mishmarah.")

There is also a Kabbalistic notion, based on the Zohar, that whenever a husband and wife have relations properly and in the proper time, it metaphysically results in a child and brings down a worthy soul from Heaven. These "children" will come to life at the Resurrection and will eventually be attributed to the parents who begot them. Thus, in the End of Days, the righteous will find they were blessed with many more children than they realized during their lifetimes. (See Margaliyot HaYam to Sanhedrin 110b, par. 19.)

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