What is Jewish Meditation: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Practice

Dive into the fascinating world of Jewish meditation, because its profound wisdom and intriguing practices might transform your perception of mindfulness.

Jewish meditation, a practice that intertwines spirituality and mindfulness, is a significant aspect of Jewish tradition. This form of meditation is not merely about achieving a state of relaxation; instead, it is a profound journey of self-discovery, spiritual connection, and understanding of the Divine.

The practice varies, encompassing methods such as focused prayer, contemplative study, visualization, and chanting. Throughout this article, you’ll unravel the depth of Jewish meditation, its various forms, historical roots, and the benefits it offers.

Whether you’re new to meditation or seeking to enrich your spiritual journey, this comprehensive guide will provide you with all the insights you need.

Key takeaways:

  • Jewish meditation encompasses spirituality, mindfulness, and connection to the divine.
  • Origins of Jewish meditation can be traced back to ancient mystical practices.
  • Maimonides emphasized intellect, love, ethics, and contemplation in Jewish meditation.
  • Kabbalah influences Jewish meditation through names, visualizations, and text-based practices.
  • Hasidism and Chabad Hasidism prioritize inward focus, personalized prayer, and intellectual contemplation in Jewish meditation.

Origins of Jewish Meditation: Merkavah-Heichalot Mysticism

origins of jewish meditation merkavah heichalot mysticism

Dating back to late antiquity, Merkavah-Heichalot mysticism represents early examples of contemplative practices in Jewish tradition. These were primarily influenced by visions of heavenly journeys and chariot-themed (Merkavah) imagery in scriptures like Ezekiel’s account in the Old Testament.

1. Central to Heichalot meditation was the mystical and perilous journey through seven heavenly palaces or halls (‘Heichalot’ in Hebrew) to perceive the divine throne.

2. The theme of ascent, both physically through the heavens and spiritually through different levels of holiness and understanding, is paramount in this mystical tradition.

3. This course of meditation required rigorous preparation, including ascetic practices and purification rituals.

4. A guided meditation script, Hekhalot Rabbati, details the method of repetition of divine names as a meditative practice.

5. Its primary objective was the attainment of a vision of God’s throne or chariot, prompting an ecstatic union with the divine.

6. The contemplative venture was considered dangerous if not prepared properly, potentially leading to madness or death.

By exploring these central themes, we can begin to understand the historical foundation and profound nature of Jewish mystical meditation.

Jewish Meditation and Maimonides

jewish meditation and maimonides

In the 12th Century, Maimonides, a prominent Jewish scholar, penned a comprehensive guide on Jewish law and philosophy, entitled Mishneh Torah. Throughout, he detailed meditative practices recognized in Jewish spirituality. His interpretations of Jewish meditation offer a unique perspective where contemplation, particularly regarding divine matters, was given higher importance.

Key aspects in understanding Maimonides’ views include:

  • 1. Intellect and Divine Knowledge: Maimonides stresses the importance of the intellect in gaining divine knowledge through meditation.
  • 2. Love and Awe of God: He highlighted two emotions that arose through meditation – love and fear, or awe, of God. These emotions, he said, gave believers a deeper, more personal relationship with God.
  • 3. Ethics and Behaviours: For Maimonides, ethical behavior was the foundation on which meditation was built. He expressed an interconnected relationship between our ethical decisions and the quality of our spiritual experiences through meditation.
  • 4. Contemplation: He favoured contemplative meditation where believers would introspect and contemplate divine wisdom. Some historical records also point to his advocacy for methods like mantra-based meditation.

Remember, Maimonides emphasized that the goal of Jewish meditation was not simply relaxation or self-betterment but a profound connection with the divine.

The Role of Kabbalah in Jewish Meditation

the role of kabbalah in jewish meditation

Kabbalah, derived from the Hebrew word meaning “to receive”, significantly influences Jewish meditation. This mystical tradition offers practices targeted at cultivating direct experience of the divine. Focusing on divine names, letter permutations, and visualizations of complex spiritual symbols, Kabbalistic meditation can provide a path to spiritual self-discovery and unity with the divine.

One common form of meditative practice in Kabbalah is the contemplation of the Sefirot, ten archetypal attributes through which God interacts with the world. By meditating on the Sefirot, practitioners embark on efforts to balance and harmonize these divine attributes within themselves.

Text-based meditation is another technique inspired by Kabbalah. Using textual stimuli, including scripture and other sacred writings, practitioners reflect and focus on the text to discern deeper truths.

Guided imaginal journeying, a third Kabbalistic technique, often uses rich, symbolic narratives to guide the meditator towards profound mystical tides, thereby shaping personal spiritual development.

Finally, similarities can be found between Kabbalah and other spiritual traditions. For instance, the parallels with the Eastern concept of Chakras and the Kabbalistic Tree of Life offer an intersection, widening understanding of Jewish meditation beyond its ethnic, religious, and cultural origins.

Ecstatic Kabbalists: Meditation Practices

ecstatic kabbalists meditation practices

The Ecstatic Kabbalists held unique philosophies and approaches to meditation. Intent on fostering a direct, spiritual encounter with the Divine, they leveraged a variety of techniques such as concentrated focus, chanting, and rhythmical breathing.

Here are some of the key practices:

  • Concentration of Divine Names: Here, the practitioner devotes their mental focus to the names of God, intending to invoke the Divine Presence.
  • Rhythmical Breathing: Consistent, controlled breathing patterns promote a state of relaxation and help the practitioner to rid their mind of distractions.
  • Voice and Speech: Chanting sacred texts, prayers, or names of God emphasises the meditative focus and can lead to a heightened spiritual experience.
  • Visualization Techniques: This involves constructing mental images of biblical figures, spiritual realms, or even abstract divine entities to cultivate a profound religious experience.
  • Asceticism: The practitioner may choose to isolate themselves or practice self-denial, aiming to foster a deeper connection with the Divine.

By integrating these practices into their routines, Ecstatic Kabbalists hoped to attain a state of spiritual ecstasy, transcending the physical world’s boundaries to commune directly with the Divine.

Theosophical Kabbalists: Perspectives On Meditation

Delving into the perspectives of Theosophical Kabbalists, a key delineation arises from the sought-after meditative state: attaining an insightful understanding of the divine, rather than experiencing ecstatic visions of God’s divine chariot, as practiced by their Ecstatic counterparts. This divergence nurtures a distinct approach to meditation.

1. Approach to God: Theosophical Kabbalists focus on contemplating the sefirot, the divine manifestations of God, fostering a deeper connection with the divine presence in the universe and within themselves.

2. Divine Wisdom: By meditating on the tenets of the Tree of Life, including the ten divine sefirot and the 22 connecting paths, followers believe they can gain wisdom into the fundamental structure of the universe and the human soul.

3. Rituals and Prayers: Meditation typically permeates daily rituals and prayers, embedding mindfulness into routine practices, like the symbolic donning of the Tefillin or during Sabbath prayers.

4. Textual Studies: Much like their counterparts, Theosophical Kabbalists use religious texts as focal points during meditation. However, their emphasis is on understanding the hidden meanings within the texts, leading to higher levels of spiritual wisdom.

The Theosophical practice captures the essence of Jewish belief that individuals can access a profound, all-encompassing knowledge of the divine through meticulous meditation, thus establishing a more intimate relationship with the divine.

Jewish Meditation in Hasidism

Hasidism, a spiritual revivalist movement within Judaism, places meditation at its heart, declaring it as a pathway to connect deeply with the divine. Hasidic teachings emphasize on inward focus and contemplative prayer, notions encapsulated by the term ‘devekut‘ or ‘cleaving to God‘.

– Contemplation on the Sacred Letters: Hasidic meditation often involves powerful contemplation on the sacred letters of the Hebrew alphabet, gleaned from the Kabalistic tradition, to invoke divine communion.

– Personalized Prayer: Hasidism prescribes the focus on personal feelings and experiences in prayer, transforming it into a deeply meditative exercise.

– Study as Meditation: In Hasidism, the study of holy scriptures is considered a meditative act. The act of reading and pondering over the teachings helps in attaining mindfulness and divine connection.

– Hitbodedut: A unique meditative practice where an individual speaks to God in seclusion in their own language, expressing their inner thoughts, feelings, and desires. This is a highly personal, transformative practice that focuses on self-expression and connection with the divine.

– Mindful Acts: Hasidic teachings encourage its followers to be mindful in their everyday acts, treating each action as a link to God, thus turning daily life itself into an act of meditation.

By introducing these practices into daily life, Hasidism offers its followers a variety of approaches to imbue mindfulness and meditation into their spiritual pursuits.

Contribution of Chabad Hasidism to Jewish Meditation

Chabad Hasidism, also known as Lubavitch, played a pivotal role in crafting unique methods of meditation, focusing predominantly on intellectualism and contemplative practices.

Intellectualism forms the basis of Chabad Hasidic meditation. With a deep and analytical study of Torah, Talmud, and other Jewish mystical texts, Chabad Hasidim strive for mental rigor and clarity, cultivating an intellectual understanding of divine concepts.

Contrastingly, Chabad’s contemplation goes beyond mere study. By deeply musing on these divine principles, practitioners aim for Dveikut, a state of cleaving to God. This emotional attachment to God elevates their prayer, making it not just an act of duty but also a heartfelt connection.

Another crucial aspect of Chabad meditation is Hisbonenus, a form of introspection that encourages practitioners to self-reflect, delve into their consciousness, and confront any spiritual impediments. This reflective process aides personal growth and spiritual refinement.

Lastly, the teachings of Chabad Hasidism emphasize Tikkun Olam, a concept that fosters the responsibility of each individual to repair the world through positive actions and spiritual commitments. These practices aim to imbue daily life with mindfulness, transforming the mundane into the spiritual.

Jewish Meditation in Different Jewish Sects: Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform Judaism

Orthodox Judaism generally views meditation as tools for achieving dvekut, a spiritual state of communion with God.

Practices range significantly, from quiet, introspective sitting to vibrant song and dance.

In Conservative Judaism, interest in meditation has grown in recent years.

Many congregations offer guided mindfulness sessions, a trend influenced by broader societal interest in meditation’s benefits for stress and anxiety.

Reconstructionist Judaism, a progressive movement, embraces the intersection of contemporary ideas and traditional Jewish thought.

Here, meditation serves as a bridge fostering personal spiritual growth and a deeper appreciation of Jewish rituals.

Reform Judaism, known for its adaptability to modern life, also incorporates meditation in services and personal practices.

This approach fosters a connection with one’s self, the community, and a sense of the divine.


What is the Jewish way of meditation?

The Jewish way of meditation involves either using chants from psalms during congregational prayers such as the Amidah or practicing complete stillness and silence, often used by sages to clear their minds and souls before worship.

What is the Jewish mysticism called?

The Jewish mysticism is called Kabbalah.

What religion is meditation?

Meditation is a practice found in numerous religious traditions such as Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism.

How does Jewish meditation differ from other forms of meditation?

Jewish meditation often incorporates traditional Hebrew text, song, or prayer in meditative practice, making spiritual connections to Judaism its key distinguishing factor from other forms of meditation.

How did Jewish meditation evolve throughout history?

Jewish meditation has evolved throughout history as a part of Jewish life and spirituality, with historical shifts including Kabbalistic meditations in the Middle Ages, Hasidic meditations in the eighteenth century, and modern incorporations of mindfulness and non-dual meditation techniques.

In which texts is Jewish meditation mentioned?

Jewish meditation is mentioned in texts such as the Talmud, the Torah, and the Kabbalistic writings.