- SHEKHINAH (Heb. שְׁכִינָה; lit. "dwelling," "resting"), or Divine Presence, refers most often in rabbinic literature to the numinous immanence of God in the world. The Shekhinah is God viewed in spatio-temporal terms as a presence, particularly in a this-worldly context: when He sanctifies a place, an object, an individual, or a whole people – a revelation of the holy in the midst of the profane. Sometimes, however, it is used simply as an alternative way of referring to God himself, such as "The Holy One Blessed be He," or "The Merciful One." For example, on the verse, "After the Lord your God shall ye walk… "(Deut. 13:5), the Talmud comments: "And is it possible for a man to walk after the Shekhinah?… Rather this means that one should follow (emulate) the virtues of the Holy One, Blessed be He" (Sot. 14a). The term, though seemingly hypostatized in certain passages, must be viewed purely figuratively and not as representing a separable aspect of God or as being in any sense a part of the Godhead. The latter notion is totally alien to the strict monotheism of rabbinic Judaism for which the unity of the divine Essence is a basic premise. The references to Shekhinah which are open to misinterpretation, e.g., those which talk of God placing His Shekhinah in the midst of Israel (cf. Sif. Num. 94), or where the Shekhinah is pictured as talking to God (Mid. Prov. to 22:28), are the product of homiletic license. The rabbis themselves were not unaware of the dangers of misinterpretation, and occasionally preface their remarks with kivyakhol, "as if it were possible" (Mekh. Pisḥa 12; see also S. Schechter, Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (1909), 40, n. 1; E.E. Urbach, Ḥazal (1969), 33, n. 15; 50). One of the more prominent images associated with the Shekhinah is that of light. Thus, on the verse, "… the earth did shine with His glory" (Ezek. 43:2), the rabbis remark, "This is the face of the Shekhinah" (ARN1 2, 13a; see also Ḥul. 59b–60a). Both the angels in heaven and the righteous in olam ha-ba ("the world to come") are sustained by the radiance of the Shekhinah (Ex. R. 32:4; Ber. 17a; cf. Ex. 34:29–35). This association with light has led to the view that the Shekhinah is some kind of luminous material, a being of light created by God. This view is found among certain medieval Jewish philosophers, and was even propounded by a rabbinic scholar in comparatively recent times (J. Abelson, The Immanence of God in Rabbinical Literature (1912). For criticism of his views see Urbach, ibid., 32, 35). Nevertheless, the imagery of light, shining glory, radiance, etc., is commonly associated with the numinous in religio-mystical language in general, and does not necessarily have the literalistic connotations of a separate luminous entity. In the case of the Shekhinah this is further borne out by a consideration of the ways in which the term is used in the literature. -In the Targums The term Shekhinah, in its Aramaic forms, is frequently found in the Targums, particularly in Targum Onkelos. It is employed together with other "intermediary" terms such as memra yakara ("noble word"), to paraphrase certain references to God, thus avoiding the overtly anthropomorphic implications of various biblical expressions. For instance, the verse "the Lord is not in your midst" (Num. 14:42), Onkelos translates "the Shekhinah of God is not in your midst" (see also targum on Num. 14:14, and note the double paraphrasis). The verse "you cannot see My face, for man shall not see Me and live" (Ex. 33:20) is rendered, "You cannot see the face of My Shekhinah" (see also Ex. 33:14–15). And "to put His name there" (Deut. 12:5) becomes "to rest His Shekhinah there" (see also 12:11). -In Talmud and Midrash The talmudic and midrashic usage of Shekhinah does not have quite the same apologetic overtones which are apparent in the Targums; on the whole it is wider in extension and in texts of different dates it varies considerably in nuance. In origin Shekhinah was used to refer to a divine manifestation, particularly to indicate God's presence at a given place. This did not imply a limitation of God's omnipresence, however, since it is said that the Shekhinah is in all places (BB 25a), and that just as the sun radiates throughout the world so does the Shekhinah (Sanh. 39a). Even those special places and objects which God imbues with an extra holiness by His presence – such as the thorn bush in which He revealed Himself to Moses, or Mount Sinai, or the Tabernacle in the wilderness – in connection with which the term Shekhinah is most often used, teach us that no place is devoid of His presence: neither the lowliest of trees, nor the barest of mountains, nor a wooden sanctuary (Shab. 67a; Sot. 5a; Ex. R. 34:1). Though the presence of God is everywhere, the Shekhinah rests preeminently on Israel rather than on the gentiles (Ber. 7a; Shab. 22b; Num. R. 7:8), for Israel is a people chosen and sanctified by God to be carriers of His will to the world. Israel's sins led to the destruction of the Temple, where the Shekhinah was always present (this is true at least of the First Temple; the Second was thought to have been devoid of the Divine Presence; cf. Yoma 9b). According to one view, the destruction of the Temple caused the departure of the Shekhinah to heaven (Shab. 33a; Ex. R. 2:2). In opposition to this, however, we find it said that even while Israel are unclean the Shekhinah is with them (Yoma 56b); when they are exiled it goes into exile with them, and when they come to be redeemed the Shekhinah will be redeemed too (Meg. 29a). The Shekhinah does not only rest on the people of Israel as a whole, but a wide variety of subgroups are said to influence the Shekhinah for good or for ill. On the one hand where ten are gathered for prayer, or even one sits and learns Torah, there the Shekhinah is (Ber. 6a). It watches over the sick (Shab. 12b); rests between man and wife if they are worthy (Sot. 17a); he who gives charity is fit to receive it (BB 10a); as is he who is particular in fulfilling the mitzvah of ẓiẓit (Men. 43b). On the other hand, he who walks with an upright posture (i.e., is proud), as it were, pushes against the feet of the Shekhinah (Ber. 43b); so does he who sins in secret (Hag. 16a); it does not rest on those who are sad, lazy, playful, light-headed, or engage in idle conversation, but only on those who perform a mitzvah in joy (Shab. 30b); scoffers, flatterers, liars, and slanderers will never be recipients of the Shekhinah (Sot. 42a). A righteous judge causes the Shekhinah to rest on Israel, but an unrighteous one drives it away (Sanh. 7a). The term also figures in such expressions as "under the wings (i.e., patronage) of the Shekhinah." Proselytes are said to be taken in "under the wings of the Shekhinah" (Shab. 31a; SER 6:29; see also Tosef., Hor. 2:7, though Zuckermandel has "under the wings of heaven." Moses was taken to his burial place wrapped in the "wings of the Shekhinah" (Sot. 13b). The Shekhinah is commonly associated with the charismatic personality and is thought to rest on specific outstanding individuals. "The Shekhinah only rests on a wise, rich, and valiant man who is tall of stature" (Shab. 92a; cf. Ned. 38a). Several of the talmudic rabbis were considered to deserve that the Divine Presence rest on them, except that their generation was unworthy (Sot. 48b; Suk. 28a; see also MK 25a). This charismatic association seems to be connected with the idea that certain individuals possess Ru'aḥ ha-Kodesh, the Holy Spirit (for a discussion of the interrelationship of Shekhinah and the Holy Spirit, see Ru'aḥ ha-Kodesh). The use of the term Shekhinah would thus seem to range from the numinous revelation of God, as in the theophany at Sinai or the awe-inspiring presence speaking to Moses from the Tabernacle, to the more mundane idea that a religious act, or mitzvah, draws man nearer to God. Sometimes the term is simply an alternative for "God," while at others it has overtones of something separate from the Godhead; it may be used in a personalized or depersonalized way. From the point of view of Jewish theology it would be a mistake to overemphasize any given use to the exclusion of the others, and it is important to view it in the perspective of the Jewish monotheistic background as a whole. It is also possible to take a somewhat demythologized view of the rabbinic conception of the Shekhinah, for such a view is even expressed in the talmudic literature itself, albeit as the opinion of a single individual: "R: Yose said, 'The Shekhinah never came down to the world below, nor did Moses… ascend on high'" (Suk. 5a). (Alan Unterman) -In Jewish Philosophy Unlike the rabbinic sages, who generally identified Shekhinah with the Presence of God, or even with God Himself, the medieval Jewish philosophers were concerned with avoiding any possible anthropomorphic interpretations of this concept, and therefore went to great lengths to point out that Shekhinah refers not to God Himself, nor to any part of His Essence, but rather to an independent entity, created by God. According to Saadiah Gaon, the Shekhinah is identical with kevod ha-Shem ("the glory of God"), which served as an intermediary between God and man during the prophetic experience. He suggests that the "glory of God" is the biblical term, and Shekhinah the talmudic term for the created splendor of light which acts as an intermediary between God and man, and which sometimes takes on human form. Thus, when Moses asked to see the glory of God, he was shown the Shekhinah, and when the prophets in their visions saw God in human likeness, what they actually saw was not God Himself but the Shekhinah (see Saadiah's interpretation of Ezek. 1:26, I Kings 22:19, and Dan. 7:9, in Book of Beliefs and Opinions, 2:10). By emphasizing that the Shekhinah is a created being which is separate from God, Saadiah avoids any possible compromising of the divine unity and any hint of anthropomorphism. Judah Halevi follows Saadiah in interpreting the Shekhinah as an intermediary between God and man, maintaining that it is the Shekhinah, and not God Himself, which appears to prophets in their visions. Unlike Saadiah, however, Judah Halevi does not speak of the Shekhinah as being a created light. It seems that he identifies the Shekhinah with the Divine Influence (ha-Inyan ha-Elohi), about whose meaning there is much disagreement among scholars. According to Judah Halevi, the Shekhinah dwelt first in the Tabernacle, then in the Temple. With the destruction of the Temple and the cessation of prophecy, the Shekhinah ceased to appear, but will return with the coming of the Messiah (Kuzari, 2:20, 23; 3:23). Judah Halevi distinguishes between the visible Shekhinah which dwelt in the Temple and was seen by the prophets in their visions and which disappeared with the destruction of the Temple, and the invisible spiritual Shekhinah which has not disappeared but is "with every born Israelite of virtuous life, pure heart, and upright mind" (ibid., 5:23). Maimonides accepts Saadiah's view that the Shekhinah is a created light, identified with glory. He too associates the Shekhinah with prophecy, explaining that it is the Shekhinah which appears to the prophet in his vision (Guide of the Perplexed, 1:21). Explaining prophecy as an overflow from God through the intermediation of the active intellect (ibid., 2:36), Maimonides writes that man apprehends God by means of that light which He causes to overflow toward him, as it is written, "in Thy light do we see light." Some interpreters of Maimonides believe that the Shekhinah corresponds to the active intellect itself, which is the lowest of the ten intellects (see Intellect), and which communes with the prophets (Yad, Yesodei ha-Torah, 7:1). However, there are also passages in which Maimonides identifies the Shekhinah with God Himself rather than with some other being. For example, in his exegesis of Exodus 24:10 (Guide, 1:28), Maimonides interprets the "feet" of God as the throne of God on which sat the Shekhinah (i.e., God). In the 19th century Nachman Krochmal interpreted Shekhinah as pure spiritual power. Krochmal's philosophy of history, which is based on Hegel, asserts that every nation has a spiritual power, and that the Jewish people has the spiritual power in its purest form, which is directly rooted in the Absolute Spirit. This spiritual power of the Jews is called Shekhinah (Moreh Nevukhei ha-Zeman, ch. 7), and this notion explains the rabbinic sayings that wherever the Jews wandered the Shekhinah wandered. In the 20th century Hermann Cohen, following Maimonides in holding that Shekhinah must be understood metaphorically, defines it as "absolute rest which is the eternal ground for motion" (Religion der Vernunft (1929), 53). The concept of Shekhinah played a very important role in kabbalistic and ḥasidic literature, while its role in Jewish philosophy is relatively minor. However, two modern philosophers, Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, who were influenced to some extent by the kabbalistic tenor, make use of this concept and do not oppose anthropomorphism as did the earlier Jewish philosophers. Buber speaks of God as both immanent and transcendent, employing the kabbalistic terminology of "shells" and "sparks" of God (On Judaism (1967), 6, 27). Shekhinah is a theophany of the Exile that symbolizes the fact that the Jewish people was never abandoned despite the shame and degradation it suffered. Rosenzweig is much more explicit. He believes that the Shekhinah is the bridge between the "God of our fathers" and the "remnant of Israel" (Der Stern der Erloesung (19543), 192–4). The descent of the Shekhinah upon man and its dwelling among man is conceived by Rosenzweig as a separation which occurs in God Himself. God descends and suffers with His people, wandering with them in exile. At the end, it is God who suffers the most, and the remnant of Israel who bears His sorrow. Most important is Rosenzweig's notion that the purpose of the mitzvot is to unify God and His Shekhinah. (Rivka G. Horwitz) -In Kabbalah The basic elements of the kabbalistic concept of the Shekhinah are found in the earliest kabbalistic work, Sefer ha-Bahir, where the Shekhinah, or Malkhut, is described as the daughter, the princess, the feminine principle in the world of the divine Sefirot. These motifs were developed in kabbalistic circles in the late 12th and 13th centuries and were mingled with philosophical ideas in the works of the Gerona circles and in the writings of Abraham Abulafia; many nuances were added in the works of Isaac the Blind, the Iyyun circle (see Kabbalah), and in the writings of Jacob and Isaac, the sons of Jacob ha-Kohen. Most of these motifs were drawn together by the author of the Zohar and his circle, especially Joseph Gikatilla. From this period, the end of the 13th century, the basic concept of the Shekhinah remained constant up to the time of Isaac Luria and his disciples in Safed and persisted into Hasidism, although certain modifications can be found in the works of every single kabbalist. This article deals with the basic elements of the concept common to all. The Shekhinah, or Malkhut, is the tenth and last in the hierarchy of the Sefirot. In the divine world it represents the feminine principle, while Tiferet (the sixth Sefirah) and Yesod (the ninth) represent the masculine principle. All the elements and characteristics of the other Sefirot are represented within the Shekhinah. Like the moon, she has no light of her own, but receives the divine light from the other Sefirot. The main goal of the realm of the Sefirot (and of religious life as a whole) is to restore the true unity of God, the union of the masculine principle (mainly Tiferet) and the Shekhinah, which was originally constant and undisturbed but was broken by the sins of Israel, by the machinations of the evil power (the sitra aḥra), and by the exile. The restoration of the original harmony can be effected by the religious acts of the people of Israel through adhering to the Torah, keeping the commandments, and prayer. The symbolism describing the Shekhinah is the most developed in kabbalistic literature. Most of the many and varied symbols refer to aspects of the Shekhinah's relationship with the other Sefirot above her – such as her acceptance of the divine light from them, her relationship to them as a lower aspect of themselves which is nearer to the created world, and her coming close to the masculine element or moving further away from it. In another group of symbols the Shekhinah is the battleground between the divine powers of good and evil; because of her femininity and closeness to the created world she is the first and the main target of the satanic power. If the evil powers could fill the Shekhinah with their own evil essence, unity of the divine powers would be broken, constituting an enormous victory for the powers of evil. It is therefore the duty of man and the Sefirot to protect the Shekhinah from the designs of the sitra aḥra. The Shekhinah is the divine power closest to the created world, of which it is the source and the sustaining power; the divine light which maintains the created world passes through the Shekhinah. The angels and the world of the Merkabah are all her servants. In kabbalistic theology the Shekhinah is the divine principle of the people of Israel. Everything that happens to Israel in the earthly world is therefore reflected upon the Shekhinah who waxes and wanes with every good deed and every sin of each individual Jew and the people as a whole; on the other hand, everything that happens to the Shekhinah, her relationship with Tiferet and other Sefirot and her battle against the evil powers, is reflected in the status of Israel in the earthly world. Study of the Torah and prayer bring a Jew near the Shekhinah, for she is symbolized as the Oral Law. The Shekhinah is the divine power usually revealed to the prophets, though sometimes higher divine powers may take part in such a revelation. She is also the first goal of the mystic who tries to achieve devekut, communion with the divine powers; though a mystic may reach higher divine powers through devekut, the Shekhinah is the first and the closest for mystical contact. The idea of the exile of the Shekhinah, resulting from the initial cosmic disaster and from Adam's fall, became of great importance in Lurianic Kabbalah. To fulfill every commandment for the purpose of delivering the Shekhinah from her lowly state and reuniting her with the Holy One, blessed be He, became the supreme goal. The notion of redeeming the Shekhinah from exile acquired new eschatalogical content. (Joseph Dan) -Shekhinah as Female Symbol The myth of the feminine Shekhinah evolved out of biblical wisdom literature, rabbinic texts, and early mystical ideas. Proverbs 8 portrays wisdom as God's daughter who serves Him as "a confidante and source of delight in every way" (8:30). Building on the second century B.C.E. Wisdom of ben sira , the rabbis replaced the female hypostatic personified wisdom of Proverbs with the Torah, making the Pentateuch God's firstborn and the archetype for creation (Gen. R. 1:1). This is not to say that feminine imagery is absent in rabbinic literature. Drawing from biblical motifs, the rabbis metaphorically represent Zion, the community of Israel (Keneset Yisrael), Torah, and the Sabbath in female terms as God's spouse, daughter, sister, or mother. The Shekhinah, however, although grammatically feminine, remains male or at the very least androgynous in early rabbinic literature. There are allusions to sexual activity in the divine realm in early Jewish mystical ideas recorded in Heikhalot writings (Synopse 183ff). This literature was mainly preserved by the German pietists of the 12th and 13th centuries, whose theology was strongly influenced by it. The sexual imagery nascent in Heikhalot literature was given further expression in a work entitled "Secret of the Nut," in which a student of eleazar of Worms describes a bi-sexual Godhead. The mythic possibilities implicit in the female imagery of the rabbis and the sexual allusions of early Jewish mystics are actualized in the kabbalistic myth of the Shekhinah, the female aspect of the male God. The Shekhinah is the final Sefirah, mediating between heaven and earth and serving as the passive eye or door through which a mystic can achieve divine vision. The popularity of the Shekhinah in Kabbalah corresponds to and may have been influenced by the popularity of the cult of the Virgin Mary among contemporaneous Christians. The need for nurturing female images may be a response to similar theological needs and cultural stimuli. Medieval kabbalists constructed the Shekhinah with female physiology and gender specific roles to express both divine processes and human mystical experiences. As mother, the Shekhinah may become pregnant and lactate, showering the earth with divine light. As menstruant, she comes under the sway of excessive judgment or the demonic powers (sitra aḥra) and metes out judgment to transgressors. As bride and wife, she engages in sexual relations with the male Sefirot, Tiferet and Yesod, and fosters unity in the cosmos. Because medieval kabbalists believed all liturgical and ritual acts affect both the terrestrial and heavenly realms, halakhically sanctioned physical intercourse between a male mystic and his wife on earth could foster both divine and mystical union, for the act enables both Tiferet and the male mystic to unite with the Shekhinah. Wives thus became a conduit through which their husbands could attain divine union. Drawing from talmudic tradition, medieval kabbalists deemed Friday night to be the most auspicious time to engage in sexual intercourse. Sixteenth-century kabbalists in Safed made this myth the foundation of the newly instituted Kabbalat Shabbat ceremony and solomon alkabez 's Lekha Dodi, remains the liturgical manifestation of this kabbalistic ritual. isaac luria further enlarged upon the importance of sexual union with the Shekhinah (also known in Lurianic Kabbalah as the nukba de-zeir), making the act not only a means to attain devekut (divine union), or a way to effect unity in the heaven, but also defining it as a way to repair the world (tikkun olam). Moreover, Lurianic kabbalists, who believed that intention was as important as the physical performance of the commandments, meditated upon uniting Tiferet with his Shekhinah before and during the performance of commandments in their kavvanot (lit. intentions) The symbol of the Shekhinah has long been seen as one of the few examples of gender equality in Judaism. However, the inferior position of women in medieval society informed many kabbalistic conceptions of the Shekhinah. The Zohar describes the Shekhinah as a passive vessel lacking any distinct personality (see, inter alia, Zohar 1:181a). Consequently, the Shekhinah is like a revolving sword with the potential for both good and evil (Zohar 1:53b, 221b, 242a; 2:27b; 3:19b). When she is described in positive terms, she is often gendered male, as Malkhut or David; when she is under the sway of excessive judgment or the demonic "other side" she remains female. Recently, some Jewish feminists have reclaimed the symbol of the Shekhinah as a means of supplementing what they perceive to be the patriarchal bias of Jewish theology. Judith Plaskow urges that the "long suppressed femaleness of God, acknowledged in the mystical tradition, but even here shaped and articulated by men, must be re-explored and reintegrated into Israel." Toward that goal, some feminist liturgists have reinterpreted mystical themes and emphasize the symbol of the feminine Shekhinah in innovative prayer rituals (Gottlieb). (Sharon Faye Koren (2nd ed.) -BIBLIOGRAPHY: S. Schechter, Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (1909); J. Abelson, Immanence of God in Rabbinical Literature (1912); A. Marmorstein, Old Rabbinic Doctrine of God, 1 (1927); G.F. Moore, Judaism, 3 vols. (1927–30), index; idem, in: HTR, 15 (1922), 41ff.; E.E. Urbach, Hazal (1969), index. IN KABBALAH: G. Scholem, Von der mystischen Gestalt der Gottheit (1962), 135–91 and passim; idem, Ursprung und Anfaenge der Kabbala (1962), passim; Scholem, Mysticism, passim; I. Tishby, Mishnat ha-Zohar, 1 (1949), 219ff. and passim. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: D. Abrams. Sexual Symbolism and Merkavah Speculation in Medieval Germany (1997); L. Gottlieb, She Who Dwells Within: A Feminist Vision of a Renewed Judaism (1995); A. Green, "Bride, Spouse, Daughter: Images of the Feminine in Classical Jewish Sources," in: S. Heschel (ed.), On Being a Jewish Feminist (1983); M. Idel, "Sexual Metaphors and Praxis in the Kabbalah," in: D. Kraemer (ed.), The Jewish Family (1989); S. Koren "Kabbalistic Physiology: Isaac the Blind, Nahmanides, and Moses de Leon on Menstruation," in: AJS Review 28, 2 (2004), 317–39; Y. Liebes, Studies in Kabbalistic Myth and Messianism (1993); J. Plaskow, "The Right Question is Theological," in: S. Heschel (ed.), On Being a Jewish Feminist (1983); P. Schäfer., Mirror of His Beauty: Feminine Images of God from the Bible to the Early Kabbalah (2002); G. Scholem, "Shekhinah: The Feminine Element in Divinity," in: J. Chipman (ed.), On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead (1991); E. Wolfson, Through a Speculum That Shines (1994).
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.