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I have read conflicting views on whether Ein Sof (אין סוף) is a name of G-d, like for instance Havaya, or it describes, so to say, the Atzmuth. For the Gra and the Ram'hal, it seems that Ein Sof is a name. Ramhal is explicit about this in Adir Bamarom (and maybe also in Kala'h Pit'hei 'Hokhmah). The Gra suggests this view as well in the Likutim at the end of his commentary on Sifra DeTsni'uta. However, for the Ramak, and for the Arizal, I'm not sure it is true. I would like to have a clear picture of the different opinions, and the reasons for the divergence of opinions.

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    It would be best if you could include the sources you read. If nothing else it would help us understand what schools of Kabbalah you have been looking at. – Yishai Sep 1 at 14:55
  • @Yishai please see edit. – srm Sep 2 at 8:33
  • It would be helpful to have precise citations from Ramchal and Gra for your understanding. For example according to Ramchal in קל״ח פתחי חכמה, פתח ה:ב it is clear that his usage of Ain Sof is not as a name, but a concept. Similarly, see there פתח טו which again emphasizes the phrase Ain Sof as above sefirot (here referring to Keter of Arich Anpin) & that Ain Sof refers to “His perfection from the perspective of His essence.” Names are on the level of creation, not His essence. They are only intended for others. – Yaacov Deane Sep 3 at 0:39
  • So precisely where in Adir b’Marom and which specific page and line from the Likkutim of the Gra to Sifra d’Tzniuta are you referring to? – Yaacov Deane Sep 3 at 0:43
  • I gave the Ram'hal reference next. As to the Gra, see here: hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=34325&st=&pgnum=83, ד"ה דע. – srm Sep 4 at 9:45
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The most authoritative written source on this subject is Sefer Shorashei HaShemot by Rabbi Moshe Zacuto z”l of Mantua in Italy, which lists all the Holy names and their particular qualities as found in the entire written Torah and Nach.

In section Aleph, the term Ain Sof does not appear. That means it is not a Holy name, but a description of a concept.

Regarding the portion of your question directed to the subject of G-d’s essence (and being), both Kabbalistic teaching and Chassidic teaching explain that G-d at His essence transcends all names and letters. There are numerous places that discuss this like for example Sefer Emek HaMelech and many others.

Concerning your claim that Ramchal in Adir B’Marom says Ain Sof is a name, he states there precisely the opposite. See page 91 of the 1991 Jerusalem edition ספר אדיר במרום השלם which says

ועל כן אמר אליהו ז״ל בתפילתו, שלאין סוף ית״ש לא נמצא שום שם, כי אי אפשר לגדור אותו בשום שם.

The usage of blessed be His name does not mean Ain Sof is a name, but rather that G-d possesses names in order that His creation can relate to Him in some capacity. The name is only for the other and is not His essence.

  • עמ' נ"ט: [הרצון] הוא כמו גזרה שכלית, רצון יורה על חפץ וחשק, רצון יורה על כוונה התכליתית, רצון יורה על פיוס וסבר פנים יפות, וזהו באמת סוד גדול. הנה מה שאנו מדברים במאציל ב"ה, הנה כבר פשוט הוא שאין אנו מדברים, רק בבחינת פעולותיו ולא בבחינת מהותו ועצמותו כלל,ותדע שאפילו מה שאנו מזכירין אותו בשם אין סוף ב"ה, אין הכוונה על עצמותו כלל, אלא על פעולותיו. ופירוש הענין כי כיון שאנו יודעין שהמאציל האציל את כל אלה שהאציל, א"כ אין ידיעתנו בו אלא שהוא אור פשוט מאיר, ורוצה לומר, מאיר שמגיע הארתו על האחרים, אך שנבין מהו האור הזה לא יכלה על דעתנו. – srm Sep 4 at 4:15
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    @srm If this is the section of Adir BaMarom that you are taking to mean is Ramchal saying Ain Sof is a name, then you are misreading the phrase in Hebrew. “בשם אין סוף ב׳ה” as used here can be translated as name, but shouldn’t. It’s more appropriate to translate it here as title or phrase or expression. To make an analogy, it’s the difference between referring to a left-handed individual as ‘Lefty’, which clearly refers to them in a familiar way versus referring to them by their proper name, David, for example. See the citations of both Adir BaMarom & Pitchei Chochmah I cited to you. – Yaacov Deane Sep 4 at 10:59
  • @srm You can’t ignore other explicit teachings of Ramchal to justify your reading. You need to adjust your reading. – Yaacov Deane Sep 4 at 11:01
  • @srm If your quote were to be understood as ‘name’, it would have said, בשמו אין סוף כו׳. – Yaacov Deane Sep 4 at 11:10
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My personal tradition from my Chassidic (and Kabbalah) teachers, is that "Ein Sof" is not really a name of G-d or a description of "Atzmuth" ("The Essence") at all.

The Hebrew words "Ein Sof" simply mean "without end".

Kabbalists did not wish to describe G-d by what we think He is, (in defining terms) because any description of G-d by humans would fall short of being exact.

Even the term "Atzmuth" (Essence) is simply stated and not described.

So the next best thing is to describe what He is not. The only thing we can surely say about G-d is that He has no end (no limit).

I hope this helps. :)

  • Thank you. Any sources? Further, this is not really my question, please see edit. – srm Sep 2 at 8:34
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Hashem has only one proper name: Y-HV-H.

Everything else wanders into description. For example, Elohim also refers to human judges.

Still, some of those descriptions are considered specific to qualify as names when it comes to the prohibition against erasing the name of G-d. The Rambam has a list of these names, (Mishneh Torah, Yesodei haTorah 6:2), and the Shulchan Arukh quotes the Tur's slightly different list (Yoreh Dei'ah 276:9).

"Ein Sof" isn't on those lists.

It isn't even a description of the Atzmus (Essence), as no such description is possible or apparent attributes of G-d. It is a description of what He isn't. Thus "Ein Sof -- Without End" -- "In+Finite".

In that sense, I think the Rambam would have liked "Ein Sof" as an appellation for G-d, had he been exposed to it. The notion of calling G-d by what He isn't fits the Rambam's notion that all of the so-called Attributes of G-d are either (1) descriptions of how His Action appears to us ("Merciful" -- he acts in a way that a human would when feeling mercy), or (2) descriptions of what He isn't ("Eternal" -- isn't subject to time). The Rambam literally compares the notion of attributes of G-d Himself to Christian trinitarianism (Guide to the Perplexed 1:50):

Those who believe that God is One, and that He has many attributes, declare the unity with their lips, and assume plurality in their thoughts. This is like the doctrine of the Christians, who say that He is one and He is three, and that the three are one. Of the same character is the doctrine of those who say that God is One, but that He has many attributes; and that He with His attributes is One, although they deny corporeality and affirm His most absolute freedom from matter; as if our object were to seek forms of expression, not subjects of belief.

But that's not distinctly Rambam, who isn't really a primary source on Qabbalh issues. The same point is made by the Vilna Gaon (Asarah Kelalim, kelal #1, opening paragraphs). None of Qabbalah describes the Ein Sof itself, as that is inherently indescribable. Which is why we refer to it in the negative, with the word "Ein". We are saying what Hashem's Essence isn't, not what it is.

  • Your answer is unrelated to my question. You also seem to suggest dismissing Zohar-based Kabbalah on Rambam's remark's grounds, which I think is an error on your part, but is also unrelated to my question. – srm Sep 3 at 20:07
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    @srm I am not dismissing Qabbalah on the basis of the Rambam. I am dismissing 1 of the 2 possibilities you pose. First, because aside from sheim hamforash, all the other names are themselves descriptioms. And second, the Atzmus has no attributes to describe - and that in itself is the very meaning of Ein Sof, I used the Rambam to illustrate this via negativa - this knowing Hashem by knowing what he isn’t. The Gra, in 10 Kelalim (kelal 1), is clear that nothing in Qabbalah is about the Ein Sof because one cannot describe the Ein Sof. (If I recall after my commute, I will add that to my answer.) – Micha Berger Sep 3 at 22:36
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    Micha, you don’t understand what names are according to Torah. And your claim regarding what you think Rambam means is also incorrect. Belief in G-d’s unity has nothing to do with His names, nor with descriptive phrases applied to Him in Torah. The assertion that G-d has only a single proper name is an outright denial of direct teachings from the Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu and that of the Avot. Rambam is not a simpleton and what he is discussing in his Guide is not in conflict with Torat Moshe. – Yaacov Deane Sep 4 at 10:42
  • @YaacovDeane: I may not know "what names are according to Torah", I am merely giving the definition the Rambam and Shulchan Arukh give lehalakhah. If you think that's incorrect.... Belief in G-d's unity has much to do with His Attributes. According to the Rambam, and if we limit the discussion to Atzmus, according to everyone. It was asked "is Ein Sof a name or a description of Atzmus". It cannot be a description of Atzmus, as there are no attributes to describe. I therefore said it's a description of what Atzmus is NOT, thus "EIN Sof". – Micha Berger Sep 4 at 14:11
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    @YaacovDeane: if you would talk a long enough break from talking down to me and assuming what it is I haven't learned to actually mention a source, you could explain why my line of reasoning is flawed. If you're just going to assume I don't know what I'm talking about because my Qabbalah study was of the Gra, Nefesh haChaim and Leshem rather than Chassidus, and just say "no" to my "yes" by fiat, there is no point in discussion. – Micha Berger Sep 4 at 17:34

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