THE MAIN PURPOSE of this paper is to give a simple and unified new proof of the Witten rigidity theorems, which were conjectured by Witten and first proved by Taubes [25], Bott-Taubes [S], Hirzebruch Cl23 and Krichever [15]. Our proof shows that the modular invariance, which is the intrinsic symmetry of elliptic genera, actually implies their rigidity. Some new properties of elliptic genera and their relationships with theta-functions are also discussed. We remark that our proof makes essential uses of the new feature of loop groups and loop spaces, the modular invariance. We note that, with the help of the modular group, we can catch the topological information on loop space by simply working on finite-dimensional manifold. By developing this idea further, in [21] we have proved the rigidity of the Dirac operator on loop space twisted by higher-level loop group representations, while the Witten ridigity theorems are the special cases of level 1. Many topological vanishing theorems are also derived in [21] by refining the argument in this paper, especially an &-vanishing theorem for loop space. In [19] modular invariance is used again to establish a general miraculous cancellation formula, relating the Hirzebruch L-form to certain twisted &-forms, which has many interesting topological results as consequences. These results were announced in [20].