(- alternative transliterations Shekinah
) is the English spelling of a grammatically feminine Hebrew language
word that means the dwelling
and is used to denote the dwelling or settling presence of God
, especially in the Temple in Jerusalem
is derived from the Hebrew verb שכן. In Biblical Hebrew
the word means literally to settle, inhabit,
and is used frequently in the Hebrew Bible
. (See Exodus
40:35 - "Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, for the cloud rested [shakhan
] upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle
." See also e.g. Genesis
9:27, 14:13, Psalms
33:16), as well as the weekly Shabbat
blessing recited in the Temple in Jerusalem
("May He who causes His name to dwell [shochan
] in this House, cause to dwell among you love and brotherliness, peace and friendship"). In Mishnaic Hebrew the word is often used to refer to birds' nesting and nests. ("Every bird nests [shechinot
] with its kind, and man with its like, Talmud Baba Kammah 92b.) and can also mean "neighbor" ("If a neighbor and a scholar, the scholar is preferred" Talmud Ketubot 85b). The word "Shekhinah" also means "royalty" or "royal residence" (The Greek
word σκήνη - dwelling - is thought to be derived from שכינה and שכן. ) The word for Tabernacle
, is a derivative of the same root and is also used in the sense of dwelling-place in the Bible, e.g. Psalm
132:5 ("Before I find a place for God, mishcanot
(dwelling-places) for the Strong One of Israel.") Accordingly, in classic Jewish thought
, the Shekhinah refers to a dwelling or settling in a special sense, a dwelling or settling of divine presence, to the effect that, while in proximity to the Shekhinah, the connection to God is more readily perceivable.
According to Professor Kern, Shekhinah means "the presence of God." practically the same as the Greek word "Parousia also a feminine word (literally: "presence") which is used in a similar way for "Divine Presence".
Meaning in Judaism
The Shekhinah is held by some to represent the feminine attributes
of the presence of God (shekhinah
being a feminine word in Hebrew), based especially on readings of the Talmud
The Shekhinah 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, ("Whenever ten are gathered for prayer, there the Shekhinah rests" Talmud Sanhedrin 39a); righteous judgment ("when three sit as judges, the Shekhinah is with them." Talmud Berachot 6a), and personal need ("The Shekhinah dwells over the headside of the sick man's bed" Talmud Shabbat 12b; "Wheresoever they were exiled, the Shekhinah went with them." Megillah 29a).
In the absence of the Temple
expounds a Beraita
(oral tradition) which illuminates the manner in which the Kohen Gadol
(High Priest) is to sprinkle the blood of the bull-offering towards the Parochet
(Curtain) separating the Hekhal
(sanctuary) from the Kadosh Kadoshim
(Holy of Holies
- "[And so shall he do in the midst of the Tent of Meeting] that dwells (shokhen) among them in the midst of their impurities (Leviticus 16:16). Even at a time when the Jews are impure, the Shekhinah (Divine Presence) is with them.
- A certain Sadducee said to Rabbi Chanina: Now [that you have been exiled, you are certainly impure, as it is written: "Her impurity is [visible] on her hems." (Lamentations 1:9). He [Rabbi Chanina] said to him: Come see what is written regarding them: [The Tent of Meeting] that dwells among them in the midst of their impurities. Even in a time that they are impure, the Divine Presence is among them. Talmud Tractate Yoma 56b
Forms of manifestation in Jewish sources
reports that the Shekhinah is what caused prophets to prophesy and King David to compose his Psalms. The Shekhinah manifests itself as a form of joy, connected with prophecy and creativity: Talmud Pesachim 117a) The Talmud also reports that "The Shekhinah does not rest amidst laziness, nor amidst laughter, nor amidst lightheadedness, nor amidst idle conversation. Rather, it is amidst the joy associated with a mitzvah
that the Shekhinah comes to rest upon people, as it is said: 'And now, bring me for a musician, and it happened that when the music played, God's hand rested upon him' [Elisha] [2 Kings 3:15]" (Pesachim
117a). Thus the Shekhinah 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. (1 Samuel 10:5-6 JPS).
The prophets made numerous references to metaphorical visions of the presence of God, particularly in the context of the Tabernacle or Temple, with figures sucha thrones or robes filling the Sanctuary, which have traditionally been attributed to the presence of the Shekhinah. 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 "Thou throne of glory, on high from the beginning, Thou place of our sanctuary" (Jeremiah 17:12). Ezekiel spoke of "the glory of the God of Israel was there [in the Sanctuary], according to the vision that I saw in the plain."
Meaning in Hassidic Judaism
regards the Kabbalah
, in which the Shekhinah has special significance, as having scriptural authority. The word 'Matronit
' is also employed to represent this usage.
The Shekhinah as the 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
"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 Shekhinah as the Shabbat Bride, the Shabbat Hamalka, continues to this day.
In 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 (shekhinato) to Zion."
The Shekhinah in Christianity
In addition to the various accounts indicating the presence or glory of God recorded in the Hebrew Bible, many Christians also consider the Shekhinah to be manifest in numerous instances in the New Testament.
The public domain Easton's Bible Dictionary, published in 1897, says:
- Shechinah – a Chaldee word meaning resting-place, not found in Scripture, but used by the later Jews to designate the visible symbol of God's presence in the Tabernacle, and afterwards in Solomon's temple. When the Lord led Israel out of Egypt, he went before them "in a pillar of a cloud." This was the symbol of his presence with his people. God also spoke to Moses through the 'shekhinah' out of a burning bush. For references made to it during the wilderness wanderings, see Exodus 14:20; 40:34-38; Leviticus 9:23, 24; Numbers 14:10; 16:19, 42.
- It is probable that after the entrance into Canaan this glory-cloud settled in the tabernacle upon the ark of the covenant in the most holy place. We have, however, no special reference to it till the consecration of the temple by Solomon, when it filled the whole house with its glory, so that the priests could not stand to minister (1 Kings 8:10-13; 2 Chr. 5:13, 14; 7:1-3). Probably it remained in the first temple in the holy of holies as the symbol of Jehovah's presence so long as that temple stood. It afterwards disappeared shekinah shomefun
References to the Shekhinah in Christianity often see the presence and the glory of the Lord as being synonymous, as illustrated in the following verse from Exodus;
- And Moses went up into the mount, and the cloud covered the mount. And the glory of Jehovah abode upon mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days: and the seventh day he called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud. And the appearance of the glory of Jehovah was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel. (Exodus 24:15-17 ASV)
The Spirit of the Lord
The Shekhinah in the New Testament is commonly 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
. Furthermore, in the same manner that the Shekhinah is linked to prophecy in Judaism, so it is in Christianity:
- For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21 ASV)
The Glory of the Lord
Where references are made to the Shekhinah 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) 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). A contrast can be found in Ichabod
, so named as a result of the Ark of the Covenant
being captured by the Philistines
- "The glory is departed from Israel" (1 Samuel
The Divine Presence
By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night, Exodus 13:21.
The Shekhinah in contemporary scholarship
In the work by anthropologist Raphael Patai entitled The Hebrew Goddess
, the author argues that the term Shekhinah refers to a goddess by comparing and contrasting scriptural and medieval Jewish Kabbalistic source materials. Patai draws a historic distinction between the Shekhinah and the Matronit.
mentions the Sakina
, or Tranquility, referring to God's blessing of solace and succour upon both the Children of Israel and Muhammad
. Interestingly, Sakina, or Sakina bint Husayn
, was also the name of the youngest female child of Husayn ibn Ali
, ostensibly the first girl in recorded history to be given the name.
American poet Gustav Davidson
listed Shekhinah as an entry in his reference work A Dictionary of Angels,
stating that she is the female incarnation of Metatron
Footnotes and References