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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
In the Targumim.
The majestic presence or manifestation of God which has descended to "dwell" among men. Like see MEMRA (= "word"; "logos") and "Yeḳara" (e., "Kabod" = "glory"), the term was used by the Rabbis in place of "God" where the anthropomorphic expressions of the Bible were no longer regarded as proper (ANTHROPOMORPHISM). The word itself is taken from such passages as speak of God dwelling either in the Tabernacle or among the people of Israel (see Exodus 25:8, 29:45-46; Numbers 5:3, 35:34; 1 Kings 6:13; Ezekiel 43:9; Zechariah 2:14 [A. V. 10]). Occasionally the name of God is spoken of as descending (Deuteronomy 12:11; 14:23; 16:6,11; 26:2; Nehemiah 1:9). It is especially said that God dwells in Jerusalem (Zechariah 8:3; Psalms 135:21; 1 Chronicles 23:25), on Mount Zion (Isaiah 8:18; Joel 4 [A. V. ] 17, 21; Psalms 15:1, 74:2), and in the Temple itself (Ezekiel 43:7). Allusion is made also to "him that dwelt in the bush" (Deuteronomy 33:16, ); and it is said that "the glory of the Lord abode upon Mount Sinai" (Exodus 24:16). The term "Shekinah," which is Hebrew, whereas "Memra" and "Yeḳara" are Aramaic, took the place of the latter two in Talmudand Midrash, and thus absorbed the meaning which they have in the Targum, where they almost exclusively occur. Nevertheless the word "Shekinah" occurs most frequently in the Aramaic versions, since they were intended for the people and were actually read to them, and since precautions had therefore to be taken against possible misunderstandings in regard to the conception of God. The word "dwell" in the Hebrew text is accordingly rendered in the Targumim by the phrase "let the Shekinah rest" (e.g., Exodus 25:8; 29:45,46; Numbers 5:3, 35:34; Deuteronomy 32:10 [R. V. "he compassed him about"]; Psalms 74:2). Onḳelos translates "Elohim" in Genesis 9:27 by "Shekinah"; and wherever the person, the dwelling, or the remoteness of God is mentioned, he paraphrases by the same word (Numbers 14:14,42; 16:3; 35:34; Deuteronomy 1:42, 3:24, 4:39, 6:15, 7:21, 23:16, 31:17); so too, wherever the Name occurs, he substitutes for it the term "Shekinah" (Deuteronomy 12:5,11,21), and "presence" or "face" is translated the same way (Exodus 33:14-15; Numbers 6:25; Deuteronomy 31:17-18; see Maybaum, "Anthropomorphien," etc., pp. 52-54). Targ. pseudo-Jonathan and Yerushalmi adopt a like system, as in Psalms 16:8, 89:47, Lamentations 2:19, and Song of Solomon 6:1 (ib. pp. 64 et seq.). Where the text states that God dwells in the Temple above the cherubim (as in Habakkuk 2:20; 1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2; 1 Kings 8:12,13; 14:21; Psalms 74:2), or that God has been seen (Isaiah 6:6 et seq.; Exodus 3:6; Ezekiel 1:1; Leviticus 9:4), the Yerushalmi has "Shekinah"; and even where it describes God as abiding in heaven, the same word is used (Isaiah 33:5; Deuteronomy 3:24, 4:39). This statement holds true also of allusions to His remoteness or to the hiding of His face (Hosea 5:6; Isaiah 8:17, 45:15; Hastings, "Dict. Bible," 4:488b). The Temple is called the "house of the Shekinah" (Targ. Onḳ. to Deuteronomy 12:5; Psalms 49:15, 108:8); and the term likewise occurs in connection with "glory" ("yeḳara"; Ruth 2:12; Song of Solomon 3:6, 4:6, 5:6; Psalms 44:25, 68:19, 115:16; Jeremiah 19:18) and with "holiness" (Song of Solomon 1:10, 2:2, 3:2, 6:1; Psalms 74:12, 86:3).
In the Apocrypha and New Testament.
Since the Shekinah is light, those passages of the Apocrypha and New Testament which mention radiance, and in which the Greek text reads δόξα, refer to the Shekinah, there being no other Greek equivalent for the word. Thus, according to Luke 2:9, "the glory of the Lord [δόζα Ḳυρίου] shone round about them" (comp. 1:17; Ephesians 1:6; 2 Corinthians 4:6); and it is supposed that in John 1:14 and Revelation 21:3 the words σκηνοῦν and σκηνή were expressly selected as implying the Shekinah. The idea that God dwells in man and that man is His temple (e.g., Colossians 2:9; 2 Corinthians 6:16; John 14:23) is merely a more realistic conception of the resting of the Shekinah on man.
Nature of the Shekinah.
Maimonides ("Moreh," 1:28 [Munk's translation, "Guide des Egarés," 1:58,73,88,286,288; 3:43,93]; Maybaum, c. pp. 5, 34) regarded the Shekinah, like the Memra, the Yeḳara, and the Logos, as a distinct entity, and as a light created to be an intermediary between God and the world; while Naḥmanides (Maybaum, c.), on the other hand, considered it the essence of God as manifested in a distinct form. So in more modern times Gfrörer saw in "Shekinah," "Memra," and "Yeḳara" independent entities which, in that they were mediators, were the origin of the Logos idea; while Maybaum, who was followed by Hamburger, regarded the Shekinah merely as an expression for the various relations of God to the world, and as intended to represent: (1) the dwelling of God in the midst of Israel; (2) His omnipresence; (3) His personal presence, etc. (Maybaum, c. pp. 51-54). That the Shekinah was not an intermediary is shown by the Targum to Exodus 33:15, 34:9 (Maybaum, c. pp. 5, 34), where the term "Shekinah" is used instead of "God." The word often occurs, however, in connections where it can not be identical with "God," e.g., in passages which declare that "the Shekinah rests," or, more explicitly, that "God allows His Shekinah to rest," on such a one. In short: in the great majority of cases "Shekinah" designates "God"; but the frequent use of the word has caused other ideas to be associated with it, which can best be understood from citations. In this connection the statements of the Talmud and Midrash are more characteristic than those of the Targumim, because they were spontaneous and were not made with reference to the text of the Bible. The Shekinah is frequently mentioned, even in the very oldest portions; and it is wholly unjustifiable to differentiate the Talmudic conception thereof from the Targumic, as has been attempted by Weber, although absolute consistency is observed neither in Targum, nor in Talmud and Midrash, since different persons have expressed their views therein.
Appearances of the Shekinah.
Jose (c. 150) says: "The Shekinah never came down to earth, nor did Moses and Elijah ever ascend to heaven, since it is said, Psalms 115:16: 'The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord's: but the earth hath he given to the children of men'" (Suk. 5a, above). The Shekinah is here identical with Yhwh. This view was, however, challenged even in the Talmud. Ab. R. N. says: "The Shekinah descended to earth, or will have descended, ten times (as to the tenth see Schechter's note, Recension A, ad loc.): to the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8); when the Tower of Babel was built (ib. 11:5); to Sodom (ib. ); to Egypt (Exodus 3:8); to the Red Sea (2 Samuel 22:10); upon Sinai (Exodus 19:10); in the pillar of cloud (Numbers 11:25); to the Sanctuary (Ezekiel 44:2); and it will again descend at the time of Gog and Magog (Zechariah 14:4). The Shekinah appeared also in the burning bush (Ex. R. ), and it was everywhere (B. B. 25a). Two arks came up out of Egypt with Israel: one containing the Shekinah, and the other the body of Joseph (Soṭah 13a). Canaan was the only land worthy of the Shekinah, which rested in the territory of Benjamin (Mek., ed. Friedmann, p. 31a; Zeb. 54b); the country beyond the Jordan was not worthy thereof (Num. R. ). Although the Shekinah was enthroned in heaven, it observed and scrutinized mankind(Ex. R. ). The Tabernacle was erected in order that the Shekinah might dwell on earth (Num. R. ); and it actually entered the Holy of Holies (Sanh. 103b). Wheresoever the Israelites went in exile the Shekinah accompanied them; and when they were redeemed it likewise was released (Meg. 29a; see also R. H. 3a; B. Ḳ. 25a; Zeb. 118b; Soṭah 5a; Shab. 67a).
Those on Whom the Shekinah Rested.
The Shekinah was one of the five things lacking in the Second Temple (Targ. to Haggai 1:8; Yer. Ta'an. 65a, and parallel passages). Shunning the Gentiles, it rested solely among the Israelites (Shab. 22b), and even there only when they numbered at least 2,002 myriads (Ber. 7a; Yeb. 64a; B. B. 15b; comp. Sanh. 105b), confining itself solely to those of this multitude who were of pure and therefore aristocratic lineage (Ḳid. 70b) and who were wise, brave, wealthy, and tall (Shab. 92a; comp. Ned. 38a); but even for such it would not descend into an atmosphere of sadness (Shab. 30b and parallel passages), since there can be no sorrow in the presence of God (Ḥag. 5b); nor should one pray in a sorrowful frame of mind (Ber. 31a).
The polemic attitude which the conception of the Shekinah betrays toward the founder and the ideal of Christianity is unmistakable. The Shekinah rested upon the priests even if they were unclean (Yoma 56b); and if it was lacking, none approached them for an oracle (ib. 75b). Prominent doctors of the Law were considered worthy of the Shekinah, but both their generation. (e., their contemporaries) and their place of residence (e., in a foreign land) deprived them of its presence (Suk. 28a; B. B. 60a; Soṭah 48b; M. Ḳ. 25a). In all these statements the Shekinah is identical with the Holy Spirit. It was received by thirty-six pious persons (Suk. 45b), a number which recalls the thirty-six nomes of Egypt and their gods. The Shekinah was also believed to be a protection, as is still the case in the night prayer: "on my four sides four angels, and above my head the Shekinah of God" (comp. Ḳid. 31a). The Shekinah is found at the head of the sick (Shab. 12b) and at the right hand of man (Targ. to Psalms 16:8). Pharaoh's daughter saw it at the side of Moses (Soṭah 11a; comp. Targ. to Judges 6:13), and it spoke with the prophet Jonah twice (Zeb. 98a), with Adam, with the serpent (Bek. 8a; Shab. 87a; Pes. 87b et passim), and with others.
To Whom Does the Shekinah Appear?
Unsullied thoughts and pious deeds render one worthy of the Shekinah, which is present when two are engaged with the Torah (Ab. 3:3), when ten pray (Ber. 6a; Ab. 3, 9), and when the mysticism of the MERKABAH is explained (Ḥag. 14b); and it is likewise attracted by the study of the Law at night (Tamid 32b); the reading of the "Shema'" (Shab. 57a); prayer (B. B. 22a); hospitality (Shab. 127a; Sanh. 103b); benevolence (B. B. 10a); chastity (Derek Ereẓ ); peace and faithfulness in married life (Soṭah 17a); and similar deeds and qualities (Ket. 111a; Ber. 67a; Men. 43b; Sanh. 42b; Yer. Ḥag. et passim). Sins, on the other hand, cause the Shekinah to depart (Targ. to Isaiah 57:7; Jeremiah 33:5 et passim). It inspires correct judgment in upright judges (Sanh. 7a), while unrighteous magistrates cause it to depart (Shab. 139a). It appeared on the day on which the Tabernacle was first erected (Num. R. ). Before the Israelites sinned the Shekinah rested on every one; but when they did evil it disappeared (Soṭah 3b). In like manner it departed from David when he became leprous (Sanh. 107a). Among the transgressions which have this result are the shedding of blood (Yoma 84b) and idolatry, (Meg. 15b; others are cited in Soṭah 42a; Kallah, end; Ber. 5b, 27b; Shab. 33a;, and Sanh. 106a). Whosoever sins in secret or walks with a proud and haughty bearing "crowds out the feet of the Shekinah" (Ḥag. 16a; Ber. 43b; comp. ib. 59a).
The Shekinah as Light.
The Hellenists, both Jews and Gentiles, characterized the god of the Jews as unseen, and translated the TETRAGRAMMATON by "invisible" (ἀόρατος). In like manner Ḥag. 5b declares that "God sees, but is not seen," although was rendered by δόζα ("glory"), even in the Septuagint (Deissmann, "Hellenisirung des Semitischen Monotheismus," p. 5). According to this view, the Shekinah appeared as physical light; so that Targ. to Numbers 6:2 says, "Yhwh shall cause His Shekinah to shine for thee." A Gentile asked the patriarch Gamaliel (c. 100): "Thou sayest that wherever ten are gathered together the Shekinah appears; how many are there?" Gamaliel answered: "As the sun, which is but one of the countless servants of God, giveth light to all the world, so in a much greater degree doth the Shekinah" (Sanh. 39a). The emperor (Hadrian) said to Rabbi Joshua b. Hananiah, "I desire greatly to see thy God." Joshua requested him to stand facing the brilliant summer sun, and said, "Gaze upon it." The emperor said, "I can not." "Then," said Joshua, "if thou art not able to look upon a servant of God, how much less mayest thou gaze upon the Shekinah?"(Ḥul. 60a). Rab Sheshet (c. 300) was blind, and could not perceive when the Shekinah appeared in the Shaf we-Yatib synagogue of Nehardea, where it rested when it was not in the synagogue at Huzal. In the former synagogue Samuel and Levi heard the sound of its approach and fled (Meg. 29a). The Shekinah tinkled like a bell (Soṭah 9b), while the Holy Spirit also manifested itself to human senses in light and sound. The Holy Spirit had the form of a dove, and the Shekinah had wings. Thus he who acknowledged God took refuge under the wings of the Shekinah (Shab. 31a; Sanh. 96a); and Moses when dead lay in its pinions (Sifre, Deut. 355; Soṭah 13b; Targumic passages in Maybaum c. p. 65). The saints enjoy the light of the Shekinah in heaven (Ber. 17a, 64a; Shab. 30a; B. B. 10a).
- Lexicons of Buxtorf, Levy, and Kohut;
- Herzog-Plitt, Real-Encyc. s. Schechina;
- Hastings, Dict. Bible, 4:487-489;
- Hamburger, R. B. T. 2:566,1080-1082;
- Luzzatto, Oheb Ger, Vienna, 1830;
- Bähr, Symbolik des Mosaischen Cultus, 2d ed., 1:471 et seq.;
- Gfrörer, Gesch. des Urchristenthums, 1:272-352;
- Maybaum, Anthropomorphien . . . mit Besonderer Berücksichtigung der . . . Schechintha, Breslau, 1870;
- Taylor, Sayings of the Jewish Fathers, 3d ed., p. 43;
- Weber, Jüdische Theologie. 2d ed., Leipsic, 1897, Index;
- Dalman, Die Worte Jesu, , Leipsic, 1898;
- Bousset, Religion des Judenthums im Neu-Testamentlichen Zeitalter, pp. 309 et seq., 340, Berlin, 1903;
- Davidson, Old Testament Prophecy, pp. 148, 220, Edinburgh, 1903.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Shekinah'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/s/shekinah.html. 1901.