A post-biblical Hebrew word meaning Divine Presence, used mostly in the talmud as a substitute for the name of yahweh. In the Old Testament growing reverence for God's transcendent holiness had already led to a reluctance to refer directly to Him. Thus the introduction of various roundabout expressions: the angel of God (Ex 14.19; cf. 13.21); Yahweh's face (Dt 31.11; "to appear before" is literally "to behold the face of"); Yahweh's spirit (Is 63.14), Yahweh's word [Ps 32 (33).6], etc. The rabbis later preferred the word š ekînâ, whose Hebrew root šākan, to pitch a tent, was suggestive of the tent of meeting in the wilderness where God's glory abode. Various allusions in the New Testament draw on this notion and connect Jesus with the Shekinah. In Mt 18.20 there seems to be an allusion to a sentence in the mishnah: "If two men are met together and words of the Torah are spoken between them, the Shekinah dwells among them" (Ob 3.2). Also, Jn 1.14 may be translated "and the Word was made flesh and pitched his tent among us," a clear reference to the Tent of Meeting. Paul seems also to have the Shekinah image in mind in Col2.9: "For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily."
Bibliography: w. j. phythian-adams, The People and the Presence (New York 1942). j. abelson, Immanence of God in Rabbinical Literature (London 1912). s. terrien, The Elusive Presence: Toward a New Biblical Theology (1978, 1984).
[j. t. burtchaell]
Shekinah (shēkī´nə) [Heb.,=dwelling, presence], in Judaism, term used in the Targum (Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible) and elsewhere to indicate the manifestation of the presence of God among people. Whenever the Hebrew text speaks of the presence of God in a way that implies certain human limitations, the Targum paraphrases by substituting the word Shekinah for the word God (e.g.,
"And I will cause my Shekinah to dwell,"
in the Targum Onkelos). Although the Shekinah is rarely intended by the rabbis in the Talmud and Midrash as an intermediary between God and people, the word is sometimes used in such a manner that it cannot be identical with God, e.g.,
"God allows his Shekinah to rest."
The medieval Jewish philosophers, however, wishing to avoid the problems of anthropomorphic interpretation of this concept, posited a separate existence for the Shekinah, which played a minor role at best in their systems. In the kabbalah and other mystical works of the later medieval and modern periods, the Shekinah is given far more importance and is often treated as the consort of God who can only be reunited with God through human fulfillment of all the divine commandments, which would likewise signal the messianic age.
See S. Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (1909, repr. 1961); G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1946, repr. 1961); R. Patai, The Hebrew Goddess (1967).