The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-07.
(shk´n) (KEY) [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. 1
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).
Please note that “shekinah” is the feminine essence of God in kabbalah as found in this article:
Shekinah: The Feminine Element in Divinity
Gershom Scholem: On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead, Schocken, 1991
In conclusion, I would like to respond to a question that has no doubt occurred to a number of readers during the discussion of these notions of the feminine within the divine. Can the Shekhinah be described as a cosmic force in the same sense as we find the feminine in the image of Shakti in Indian Tantric religion? To my mind, I believe that we can discern quite clear differences between the two conceptions — differences no less profound than their affinities.
It is impossible to apply this to the Kabbalist schema without misconstruing the sense of the symbols. None of the Sepheroth appearing as male in these pairs could be identified with the masculine in Indian symbolism, albeit the idea of femininity as producing the motion of time may indeed correspond to an astonishing passage in Sefer ha-Bahir.
This passage describes the Shekhinah as the precious gem that brings forth the years i.e., time, which flows from the primal time gathered therein, but I am by no means certain that this primal time can be identified with eternity
On the other hand, when dealing with these comparisons, we must not forget that the Shekhinah is split in the Kabbalah, so that the active element within the feminine has been primarily absorbed in the symbolism of the upper Shekhinah. The latter is the womb of the Sefiroth, of the aeons and cycles of the worlds (shemitoth), while other aspects of Shakti, such as the eternal feminine and the destructive element, are expressed in the final Sefirah or Malkhuth. On the other hand, the notion of the masculine as purely inactive and passive, an idea that seems intrinsic to the doctrine of Shakti, is totally alien to the Kabbalah, in which the male is perceived as active and flowing.
Here is a common understanding by Judaism of “shekinah” and how some poor deceived soul is comparing shekinah to the presence of God/Christ in the NT. Also, it should be noted that in the Talmud/kabbalah, the Holy Spirit is considered feminine – there is a link between the “feminine essence” as found in the “shekinah” and the Holy Spirit.
THE HOLY SHEKINAH SPIRIT
Among the Hebrews one of the traditional names of God is the Shekinah, and, interestingly, it is a feminine gender noun. Many Hebrews saw her as the mother or feminine aspect of God. The early scribes (later called rabbis) added Shekinah in biblical verses where the verb shakhan is used in relation to God. Shakhan literally means “to dwell” or “to live with”, or even “to pitch one’s tent.” The Shekinah means the God-Who-Dwells-Within, and developed primarily after the destruction of the Temple of Solomon in 587 BCE, especially as it proffered hope to a people lost in bitter exile. To console an Israel in Diaspora, the comforting, forgiving and loyal presence of the Shekinah emerged. In the Talmud it says: “They were exiled to Babylon, the Shekinah with them. They were exiled to Egypt, the Shekinah with them.” And, it says in Lamentations 1, 5, “Her children are gone into captivity,” and immediately after (1,6), “From Zion her splendour is departed.” (Note the use of “her” for God and “splendour” is also one of the ways to describe the Shekinah). Other terms referring to the Shekinah are “the glory” and “radiance”, and she was the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night that led the Israelites through the Sinai wilderness. She is also closely related to the Sophia tradition in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) in Proverbs and other books. Sophia (a Greek feminine noun) is the Wisdom aspect of God. As a Wisdom Teacher Jesus was very closely related to the Sophia Tradition.
The Shekinah eventually became an interchangeable term with the Holy Spirit in both Judaism and Christianity. She is often pictured as a bird or dove. In Christianity the Holy Spirit is seen as the Advocate, Guide and Comforter (John 14:16-26 and Acts 9:31), and we can clearly see the Judaic origins of this tradition. There is even a more direct connection to the Hebrew tradition of the Shekinah, as St. Paul, the former Pharisee, stresses the indwelling nature of the Holy Spirit throughout his famous passage in Romans 8: “But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” There is even a universalist tradition in some Hebrew Midrash writings: “I call heaven and earth to witness that whether it be Gentile or Israelite, man or woman, slave or handmaid, according to the deeds which he does, so will the Holy Spirit rest upon him.” This is reminiscent of John’s report of Jesus’ statements to Nicodemus, when Jesus said: “The wind [Spirit] blows where it chooses . . . ” (John 3:8), that is, the Holy Spirit will serve all peoples, not just Christians or Jews. Paul also offers a similar notion in Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave and free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” And, it is well-established that both Paul and John frequently equated Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit as seen in the Romans 8 passages and the Paraclete passages of John 14-16.
Call upon her for comfort, for advise, for blessing, and for guidance. She will only respond in love and radiant light.