Shekinah, Shechinah, or Schechinah (Biblical Hebrew: שכינה), is the English transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning "dwelling" or "settling" and denotes the dwelling or settling of the divine presence of God. This term does not occur in the Bible, and is from rabbinic literature.[1]:148, [2]

A similar Arabic word, [al-]/[as-]Sakina (Arabic: السكينة), is used in the Quran, where it has a similar meaning.


Shekinah is derived from the Hebrew verb שכן.The Semitic root means "to settle, inhabit, or dwell". This abstract noun is not present in the Bible, and is first encountered in rabbinic literature.[1]:148–149, [2] The root word is often used to refer to birds' nesting and nests. ("Every fowl dwells near its kind and man near his equal.")[3] and can also mean "neighbor" ("If two Tobiahs appeared, one of whom was a neighbour and the other a scholar, the scholar is to be given precedence."[4]

The word for the Tabernacle, mishkan, is a derivative of the same root and is used in the sense of dwelling-place in the Bible, e.g. Psalms 132:5 ("till I find a place for the LORD, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.") and Numbers 24:5 ("How beautiful are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel!" where the word for "your dwelling places" is mishkenotecha). Accordingly, in classic Jewish thought, the Shekhinah refers to a dwelling or settling in a special sense, a dwelling or settling of divine presence,[5] to the effect that, while in proximity to the Shekhinah, the connection to God is more readily perceivable.

The concept is similar to that in the Gospel of Matthew 18:20, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in their midst."[1]:149 Some Christian theologians have connected the concept of Shekhinah to the Greek term Parousia, "presence" or "arrival," which is used in the New Testament in a similar way for "divine presence".[6]

Meaning in Judaism

The Shekinah is held by some to represent the feminine attributes of the presence of God (Shekinah being a feminine word in Hebrew), based especially on readings of the Talmud.[7]


The Shekinah is referred to as manifest in the Tabernacle and the Temple in Jerusalem throughout Rabbinic literature. It is also reported as being present in the acts of public prayer. In the Mishna the noun is used twice: once by Rabbi Hananiah ben Teradion (ca,135 CE): 'If two sit together and the words between them are of the Torah, then the Shekinah is in their midst'; and Rabbi Halafta ben Dosa: 'If ten men sit together and occupy themselves with the Law, the Shekinah rests among them.'[1]:148–149 So too in the Talmud Sanhedrin 39a, we read: "Whenever ten are gathered for prayer, there the Shekinah rests"; it also connotes righteous judgment ("when three sit as judges, the Shekinah is with them." Talmud tractate Berachot 6a), and personal need ("The Shekinah dwells over the headside of the sick man's bed." Talmud tractate Shabbat 12b; "Wheresoever they were exiled, the Shekinah went with them." Talmud tractate Megillah 29a).

Absence of the Temple

The Talmud expounds a Baraita (oral tradition) which illuminates the manner in which the High Priest of Israel is to sprinkle the blood of the bull-offering towards the Parochet (Curtain) separating the Hekhal (sanctuary) from the Holy of Holies: "He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness." (Book of Leviticus 16:16).

Jewish sources

Hebrew Bible

The word shekina does not occur in the Bible, although the similar word shakan, and other terms from the root škn do occur. There is also no occurrence of the word in pre-rabbinic literature such as the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is only afterwards in the targums and rabbinic literature that the Hebrew term shekinah, or Aramaic equivalent shekinta, is found, and then becomes extremely common. McNamara considers that the absence might lead to the conclusion that the term only originated after the destruction of the temple in 70AD, but notes 2 Maccabees 14:35 "a temple for your habitation", where the Greek text (naon tes skenoseos) suggests a possible parallel understanding, and where the Greek noun skenosis may stand for Aramaic shekinta.[1]:148


In the Targum the addition of the noun term Shekinah paraphases Hebrew verb phrases such as Exodus 34:9 "let the Lord go among us" (a verbal expression of presence) which Targum paraphrases with God's "shekinah" (a noun form).[8] In the post-temple era usage of the term Shekinah may provide a solution to the problem of God being omnipresent and thus not dwelling in any one place.[9]


The Talmud also says that "the Shekinah rests on man neither through gloom, nor through sloth, nor through frivolity, nor through levity, nor through talk, nor through idle chatter, but only through a matter of joy in connection with a precept, as it is said, But now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him". [2Kings 3:15] [Shabbat 30b]

The Shekinah is associated with the transformational spirit of God regarded as the source of prophecy:

After that thou shalt come to the hill of God, where is the garrison of the Philistines; and it shall come to pass, when thou art come thither to the city, that thou shalt meet a band of prophets coming down from the high place with a psaltery, and a timbrel, and a pipe, and a harp, before them; and they will be prophesying.

And the spirit of the LORD will come mightily upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man.

The prophets made numerous references to visions of the presence of God, particularly in the context of the Tabernacle or Temple, with figures such as thrones or robes filling the Sanctuary, which have traditionally been attributed to the presence of the Shekinah. Isaiah wrote "I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lifted up, and his train filled the Temple." (Isaiah 6:1). Jeremiah implored "Do not dishonor the throne of your glory" (Jeremiah 14:21) and referred to "Thy throne of glory, on high from the beginning, Thy place of our sanctuary" (Jeremiah 17:12). The Book of Ezekiel speaks of "the glory of the God of Israel was there [in the Sanctuary], according to the vision that I saw in the plain." (Ezekiel 8:4)

Sabbath Bride

This recurrent theme is best known from the writings and songs of the legendary mystic of the 16th century, Rabbi Isaac Luria. Here is a quotation from the beginning of his famous shabbat hymn:

I sing in hymns
to enter the gates
of the Field
of holy apples.

A new table
we prepare for Her,
a lovely candelabrum
sheds its light upon us.

Between right and left
the Bride approaches,
in holy jewels
and festive garments...

A paragraph in the Zohar starts: "One must prepare a comfortable seat with several cushions and embroidered covers, from all that is found in the house, like one who prepares a canopy for a bride. For the Shabbat is a queen and a bride. This is why the masters of the Mishna used to go out on the eve of Shabbat to receive her on the road, and used to say: 'Come, O bride, come, O bride!' And one must sing and rejoice at the table in her honor ... one must receive the Lady with many lighted candles, many enjoyments, beautiful clothes, and a house embellished with many fine appointments ..."

The tradition of the Shekinah as the Shabbat Bride, the Shabbat Kallah, continues to this day.

Jewish prayers

The 17th blessing of the daily Amidah prayer said in Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform services is "Blessed are You, God, who returns His Presence (shekinato) to Zion."

The Liberal Jewish prayer-book for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Machzor Ruach Chadashah) contains a creative prayer based on Avinu Malkeinu, in which the feminine noun Shekinah is used in the interests of gender neutrality.[10]

Yiddish song

The concept of Shekinah is also associated with the Jewish conception of the Holy Spirit (Judaism) (ruach ha-kodesh) in Jewish tradition, as can be seen in the Yiddish song: Vel ich, sh'chine tsu dir kummen "Will I, Shekinah, to you come".[11]


As feminine aspect

The Kabbalah refers to the Shekhinah as feminine, according to Gershom Scholem. "The introduction of this idea was one of the most important and lasting innovations of Kabbalism. other element of Kabbalism won such a degree of popular approval."[12] The "feminine Jewish divine presence, the Shekhinah, distinguishes Kabbalistic literature from earlier Jewish literature."[13]

"In the imagery of the Kabbalah the shekhinah is the most overtly female sefirah, the last of the ten sefirot, referred to imaginatively as 'the daughter of God'. ... The harmonious relationship between the female shekhinah and the six sefirot which precede her causes the world itself to be sustained by the flow of divine energy. She is like the moon reflecting the divine light into the world."[14]

Nativity and life of Moses

The Zohar, a foundation book of kabbalah, presents the female shekhinah. She plays an essential role in the conception and birth of Moses. Later during the Exodus on the "third new moon" in the desert, "Shekhinah revealed Herself and rested upon him before the eyes of all."[15][16]


Spirit of the Lord

Among Christians the Shekhinah in the New Testament may be equated to the presence or indwelling of the Spirit of the Lord (generally referred to as the Holy Spirit, or Spirit of Christ) in the believer, drawing parallels to the presence of God in Solomon's Temple. In contradistinction with the Old Testament where the Temple's Holy of Holies might signify the location of the continuing presence of God, Christians from the teachings of New Testament understand the presence of God as the Holy Spirit abiding in the believer.

Where references are made to the Shekinah as manifestations of the glory of the Lord associated with his presence, Christians find numerous occurrences in the New Testament in both literal (as in Luke 2:9 which refers to the "glory of the Lord" shining on the shepherds at Jesus' birth),[17] as well as spiritual forms (as in John 17:22, where Jesus speaks to God of giving the "glory" that God gave to him to the people).[18], [19]

In accord with Judaism, the Shekinah is linked to prophecy in Christianity: "For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit."[20]


Sakīnah in the Qur'an

Sakīnah (Arabic: سكينة) signifies the "presence or peace of God". As "support and reassurance" it was "sent by God into the hearts" of Muslims and Muhammad, according to John Esposito.[21] A modern translator of the Qur'an, N. J. Dawood, states that "tranquility" is the English word for the Arabic meaning of sakīnah, yet it could be "an echo of the Hebrew shekeenah (the Holy Presence)."[22] Another scholar states that the Arabic Sakīnah derives from the Hebrew/Aramaic Shekhinah.[23]

In the Qur'an, the Sakīnah is mentioned six times, in surat al-Baqara, at-Tawba and al-Fath.[24]

Their prophet said to them: "The sign of his kingship is that the Ark will come to you in which there is tranquility from your Lord and a relic from the family of Moses and the family of Aaron, borne by the angels. In this is a sign for you if you are true believers. [Quran 2:248 (Translated by Tarif Khalidi)]

Sakīnah means "tranquility", "peace". "calm", from the Arabic root sakana: "to be quiet", "to abate", "to dwell". In Islam, Sakīnah "designates a special peace, the "Peace of God". Although related to Hebrew Shekhinah, the spiritual state is not an "indwelling of the Divine Presence"[25] The ordinary Arabic use of the word's root is "the sense of abiding or dwelling in a place". A story in Tafsir and Isra'iliyyat literature relates how Ibrahim and Isma'il, when looking for the spot to build the Kaaba found Sakīnah. Newby writes that it was like a breeze "with a face that could talk", saying "build over me."[23] "Associated with piety and moments of divine inspiration, sakinah in Islamic mysticism signifies an interior spiritual illumination."[21]

Comments regarding Sakina

Al-Qurtubi mentions in his famous exegesis, in explanation of the above-mentioned verse [2:248], that according to Wahb ibn Munabbih, Sakinah is a spirit from God that speaks, and, in the case of the Israelites, where people disagreed on some issue, this spirit came to clarify the situation, and used to be a cause of victory for them in wars. According to Ali, "Sakinah is a sweet breeze/wind, whose face is like the face of a human". Mujahid mentions that "when Sakinah glanced at an enemy, they were defeated", and ibn Atiyyah mentions about the Ark of the Covenant (at-Tabut), to which the Sakina was associated, that souls found therein peace, warmth, companionship and strength.

According to Sunni Islam, when Muhammad was persecuted in Mecca, the time came for him to emigrate to Medina. Seeking to be hidden from the Meccans who were looking for him, he took temporary refuge with his companion, Abu Bakr, in a cave.[26]

Muhammed's grandson Husayn ibn Ali named one of his daughters Sakina. She tragically perished in a Syrian prison during the imprisonment of Husayn's family members, mostly women and children, who survived the Battle of Karbala. She was the first person in the history of Islam to have been given the name Sakina. It is currently a popular female name in most Islamic cultures.

Contemporary scholarship

Henry James Sr

Henry James Sr. memorably wrote in his own final book, Society the Redeemed Form of Man that true religion is inherently on the move and social, so "the horse car" [in effect a public bus] is "our true Shechinah at this day."

Louis Menand discussed Henry James Sr's philosophy in his 2001 book, The Metaphysical Club, and described this epigram as the summing-up of James' philosophy.

Raphael Patai

Main article: Raphael Patai

In the work by anthropologist Raphael Patai entitled The Hebrew Goddess, the author argues that the term Shekinah refers to a goddess by comparing and contrasting scriptural and medieval Jewish Kabbalistic source materials. Patai draws a historic distinction between the Shekinah and the Matronit.

In the bestselling thriller The Torah Codes by Ezra Barany, the storyline refers to the Shekinah as a goddess and one of the characters is even named Patai. In the appendix are essays by Rabbi Shefa Gold, Zvi Bellin, and Tania Schweig about the Shekinah.[27]

Comparative religion

Gustav Davidson

American poet Gustav Davidson listed Shekinah as an entry in his reference work A Dictionary of Angels, Including the Fallen Angels, (1967), stating that she is the female incarnation of Metatron.

Branch Davidians

Lois Roden, whom the original Branch Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist Church acknowledged as their teacher/prophet from 1978 to 1986, laid heavy emphasis on women's spirituality and the feminine aspect of God. She published a magazine, Shekinah, often rendered SHEkinah, in which she explored the concept that the Shekinah is the Holy Spirit. Articles from Shekinah are reprinted online at the Branch Davidian website.[29]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 McNamara, Martin (2010). McNamara, Martin, ed. argum and Testament Revisited: Aramaic Paraphrases of the Hebrew Bible: A Light on the New Testament (Second ed.). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 9780802862754. Whereas the verb shakan and terms from the root škn occur in the Hebrew Scriptures, and while the term shekinah/shekinta is extremely common in rabbinic literature and the targums, no occurrence of it is attested in pre-rabbinic literature.
  2. 1 2 S. G. F. Brandon, editor, Dictionary of Comparative Religion (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons 1970), p. 573: "Shekinah".
  3. "Babylonian Talmud: Baba Kamma 92".
  4. "Babylonian Talmud: Kethuboth 85".
  5. Unterman, Alan, Rivka G. Horwitz, Joseph Dan, & Sharon Faye Koren (2007). "Shekhinah." In M. Berenbaum & F. Skolnik (Eds.), Encyclopaedia Judaica (2nd ed., Vol. 18, pp. 440-444). Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA.
  6. Neal DeRoo, John Panteleimon Manoussakis, Phenomenology and Eschatology: Not Yet in the Now By, Ashgate, 2009, p.27.
  7. Eisenberg, Ronald L. The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions. The Jewish Publication Society, 2004. ISBN 0-8276-0760-1
  8. Paul V.M. Flesher, Bruce D. Chilton The Targums: A Critical Introduction 900421769X 2011 - Page 45 "The first comprises the use of the term "Shekinah" (.....) which is usually used to speak of God's presence in Israel's worship. The Hebrew text of Exodus 34:9, for instance, has Moses pray, "let the Lord go among us" which Targum ..."
  9. Carol A. Dray Studies on Translation and Interpretation in the Targum to ... 9004146989 2006 - Page 153 "The use of the term Shekinah, as has been noted previously,61 appears to provide a solution to the problem of God being omnipresent and thus unable to dwell in any one place. This is not the only occasion in TJ Kings when the Targumist ..."
  10. Rabbis Drs. Andrew Goldstein & Charles H Middleburgh, ed. (2003). Machzor Ruach Chadashah (in English and Hebrew). Liberal Judaism. p. 137.
  11. Ruth Rubin Voices of a people: the story of Yiddish folksong p234
  12. Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (Jerusalem: Schocken 1941, 3d rev'd ed: reprint 1961), p. 229 (quote).
  13. Tzahi Weiss, "The Worship of the Shekhinah in Early Kabbalah" (Academic 2015), p. 1 (quote), cf. pp. 5-8. [See "External Links" below for text of article].
  14. Alan Unterman, Dictionary of Jewish Lore and Legend (London: Thames and Hudson 1991), p. 181. Cf. p. 175 re sefirot. The 10th sefirot is Malkuth 'kingdom' or Shekhinah.
  15. Zohar. The Book of Enlightenment, translation and introduction by Daniel Chanan Matt (New York: Paulist Prss 1983), pp. 99-101, quote at 101; notes to text at pp. 235-238, 311. Text: standard edition, vol. 2, pp. 11a-b.
  16. Cf. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941, 1961), pp. 199-200, 226-227.
  17. Acclamations of the Birth of Christ, by J. Hampton Keathley, III, Th.M. at (retrieved 13 August 2006
  18. The King of Glory, by Richard L. Strauss at (retrieved 13 August 2006)
  19. A contested contrast might be found in the Book of Samuel where it is said that Ichabod, meaning "inglorious," was given his name because he was born on the day the Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philistines: "The glory is departed from Israel". 1 Samuel 4:22 (KJV).
  20. |2 Peter 1:21 ASV.
  21. 1 2 Esposito, John L. (2004). The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford University Press. p. 274. ISBN 9780199757268.
  22. The Koran (Penguin 1956, 4th rev'd ed. 1976), translated by Dawood, p. 275, note 2 (quote).
  23. 1 2 Newby, Gordon (2013). A Concise Encyclopedia of Islam. Oneworld Publications. p. 189. ISBN 9781780744773.
  24. 2/248 9/26, 9/40, 48/4, 48/18, 48/26.
  25. Glassé, Cyril (1989). The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam. Harper & Row. p. 343. ISBN 9780060631239.
  26. Watt, William Montgomery (1953). Muhammad at Mecca. Clarendon Press. p. 151. Muhammad and Abu Bakr hid in a cave south of Mecca for a day or two during Hegira
  27. Barany, Ezra. The Torah Codes. Dafkah Books, 2011, pp. 349–366.
  28. Jonas, Hans, The Gnostic Religion, 1958, p. 98.
  29. General Association of Branch Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists, page found 2010-09-14.
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