Shekinah (shēkĪˈnə) [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.
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).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.