Shalom, my question is "Is there any shrines and sufi style religious groups in Judaism, are the Kabbala peoples sufis ?

1 Answer 1


This is a difficult question to answer (especially because I'm not quite clear on what you're asking). I'll offer a few observations (sorry for the length! summary at the bottom):

First, with regards to the Qabbala and Sufism — they are separate systems, and each have many different varieties and interpretations depending on time and place. With that said, there are many similarities between them. Some are due to their nature as 'esoteric' or 'mystical' paths within a religious faith (one of my teachers prefers to talk about "a concern with transformation" rather than "mysticism"). Others are due to actual historical contact and conversation between Qabbalists and Sufis.

In different places there were groups of what might be called "Jewish Sufis" or "Judeo-Sufis" — Jews who performed some limited degree of Sufi practice while living within Jewish communities. We know of these groups in medieval Egypt (Paul Fenton has written on this fairly extensively, see his essays here and here; Nathan Hofer also has a chapter in his dissertation on this topic, and Loubet's article here is interesting), as well as in medieval Spain, where the Jewish-Sufi had an deep effect on Jewish philosophy and poetry (see Diana Lobel's work on Yehuda haLevi and Bahya ibn Paquda, and Paul Fenton's work on Abraham Maimonides).

There also appear to have been Judeo-Sufi groups in other places, e.g. Persia both medieval (Rumi certainly had Jewish disciples) and modern (Raphael Patai has a chapter on this in his book on Mashhadi Jews, and see here from Sarshar's Esther's Children), and the Balkans (see this fascinating article; I have also heard that there is research being done on the relationship between Balkan Sufism and the origins of the Hassidic movement).

However, it appears that the Judeo-Sufi movement for the most part either died out or was absorbed into the different streams of Qabbalistic movements that evolved after it. Bahya ibn Paquda's work, for example, became very important in certain streams of Qabbala and even in Hassidut as well, even though in its own context it is neither Qabbalistic nor Hassidic.

In modern times practitioners or students of Qabbala may have some contact with Sufi groups but I don't think Qabbalistic movements share the same kinds of organizational structure with Sufi brotherhoods today; and (at least in my observation) there are many more students of Qabbala than practitioners of it, while Sufism might even be the reverse (although there are obviously many excellent scholars of Sufism, for sure). Anecdotally, I have met several people who are attempting to revive some kind of Judeo-Sufi practice, at least in their own lives, but so far it's just scattered individuals without any centralized leadership or organization.

Finally, a brief (I promise!) note about shrines in Judaism: again, historically it was much more prevalent than today. The definitive works on this in the North African context are Issachar Ben-Ami's Saint Veneration Among the Jews of Morocco, the work of Yoram Bilu and Alex Weingrod on Moroccan saint veneration in Israel, and Sharon Vance's work on the Moroccan Jewish saint Solika the Pious (and check out the various works listed in their excellent bibliographies). Unfortunately I don't know how much work has been done on shrine/saint veneration in other Jewish groups. Susan Starr Sered touches on the importance of saints for the Kurdish Jewish community in her book, and this book on medieval saint veneration among Levantine Jews looks interesting.

So the short answer is, "Qabbalists are not Sufis, although there is a relationship between their movements and some Qabbalist groups might even be 'Sufi-style'; there were once Jewish Sufis but they have mostly disappeared. Shrines were also once important in Jewish practice and are still venerated by some Jews in Israel today, but not by all."

Hope that answers your question!

  • Thank you for your comprehensive answer, further i will check the embedded links in your answer. Commented Sep 29, 2013 at 7:32

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