I have read an accusation from the Traditionalist Catholics that Modern Catholicism has changed under the influence of Judaism its understanding of the Holy Ghost. Modern day Catholicism together with Protestantism involves feeling the workings of Holy Ghost or even attempts at experiencing its presence. I was surprised once to hear a Polish Jew speak on the radio in a similar manner, making use of the etymological relation between "Ruach" and "breath" to picture his vision of experiencing G-d.

I am surprised by the above statements which counter my prior understanding of Judaism. Does Judaism indeed involve practices of trying to get the literal union with G-d instead of just obeying the Law and trying to maintain a close relation as if between a father and a son? If so, how exactly would such an experience of "feeling G-d" look like and how does its notion vary among the different Jewish communities? How does Jewish mysticism vary in terms of practice and aims looking from the perspective of experiencing either ruach ha-kodesh or shekinah?

  • Seems much more likely that Catholicism was influenced by Protestantism than by Jewish mysticism.
    – Yishai
    Commented Aug 28, 2012 at 14:38
  • Removing the explanation of why you're asking leaves just "How does then 'feeling' G-d look like exactly and varies among Jewish communities? How does its mysticism differ in terms of practice and goals?". I don't understand this at all. Yet it has net two upvotes, and no closure votes. Am I alone?
    – msh210
    Commented Aug 28, 2012 at 16:45
  • @msh210 I tried to be more precise and updated my question. Is it ok now? Commented Aug 28, 2012 at 18:31
  • @Yishai There was definitely such an influence, especially in renewal movements of the Catholic Church. However, my question was more like that I was surprised to hear that some Jews also hold such a position, which in turn triggered me to ask the question if it really is the case. Commented Aug 28, 2012 at 18:34
  • @infoholic_anonymous, better, but I still can't parse "how does then such 'feeling' of G-d look like exactly and varies among the Jewish communities? How does its mysticism differ in terms of practice and goals?". I think the problem may be the English rather than the intent.
    – msh210
    Commented Aug 28, 2012 at 19:30

3 Answers 3


This is a very complicated question, with a complicated answer. I apologize that I can't provide sources for my answer, and I will try to simplify it.

If you look at the Talmud and earliest mystical writings, the answer to this question would be a clear "No", Judaism does not attempt to unify and "feel" Gd. Rather the goal of the mystical journey is to enter Gd's court, and become close, but not unify with Him. An absolute unity would be seen as dangerous and would cause a person's soul to cease existing as a separate entity. The Talmud and Heichalot and the Merkava, speak of witnessing the angels, entering rooms and courtyards, and viewing from a distance. The after life is spoken of as a grand Yeshiva where the greatest people sit in the front row. But there is a clear distinction and separation between the Divine and the mystical practitioner.

Jump forward after the Zohar, and after Chasiduth in the 18th century and things change a bit. Most certainly in the 1960s, the view of meditation and feeling unity with Hashem changed drastically.

Today, you will definitely find people who understand the Zohar, and chasiduth as an attempt to feel and join in the unity of the Universe and Hashem. It is hard today to find a unified Jewish mystical approach. Each group of Chasiduth, and each Mekubal school approaches things differently based on numerous factors.


One major stream of Judaism has been the philosophical approach associated with Maimonides, in which the Divinity is considered a 'muskal', an 'intellegible'; that is to say, something that cannot be perceived through the physical senses, but only through the intellectual faculty. In this approach, it would not make sense to talk about feeling God. On the other hand, there is much more content to the religious life of one following this path than just acts of obedience to the Law. One of the major books in this stream of thought is the 'Hovot HaLevavot', the 'Duties of the Heart', which is based on the principle that the physical performance of the commandments, the 'duties of the limbs', are just a small part of religion, the greatest part of which is the interior practice, the 'duties of the heart', that a person of religion works to cultivate, in their minds and hearts.

But if the Divinity in itself is beyond the grasp of our lower faculties of perception, the creations of the Divinity are not. The Hovot HaLevavot talks about contemplating the wisdom manifest in the created world as a way of connecting to God, because the wisdom has its source in God.

Expanding on this idea, the Kabbalists (who maintain the position that Divinity as it is in itself is completely beyond our grasp) turn their attention to multiple emanations that can be said to flow from the Divinity in the aspect of His connecting to his creation. These are emanations like love, severity, beauty-- reflected through many symbols, images, words. I think they experience them in various ways that include powerful emotions and visions, though the literature is focused on theory and exegesis, not confessional first-person accounts.


Rabbi Itamar Schwartz, in his sefer Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, argues that it is important, and attainable, for Jews to feel Hashem's presence. This is discussed in detail in this chapter (in English translation):


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