(Closely related to this post, but I think it is still a bit different)

Panentheism: A doctrine that the universe subsists within Gcd, but that Gcd nevertheless transcends or has some existence separate from the universe.

Panentheism (aka Monistic Monotheism) plays quite a prevalent role in the philosophy of Chabad (and chassidus in general?), as well as apparently the Nefesh HaChaim (3:3).

Is there anywhere in the body of Rabbinic Judaism, including of course the Geonim, Rambam, and later authorities, that deem such a belief to be forbidden?

Specifically, does the doctrine of panentheism as explained by the sources above, transgress the Rambam's thirteen principles?, specifically (from the third principle) אינו גוף ולא כוח בגוף?

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    Since you already provide sources that seem to support Panentheism, can you explain why you would think there would opinions that view it as heretical? Feb 23, 2016 at 19:52
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    @IsaacKotlicky It's not uncommon for the Rambam to disagree with various practices/beliefs of "mysticism", which (I think) the Vilna Gaon blamed on his deep involvement with Greek philosophy and the like
    – jj2
    Feb 23, 2016 at 19:59
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    This question is one of the key points in the dispute between the Misnagdim and the Chassidim back in the Vilna Gaon's day. Nowadays, I would think only Baladi Teimanim, the strict followers of the Rambam, would consider panentheism a problem. As for Nefesh haChaim 3:3, his understanding of tzimtzum is nuanced, complex, and subject to broad dispute. There are those who think its the same as the Chassidim (including the author of the newly published translation of NhC, "Nefesh haTzimzum"). I'm not one of them. But the topic is for a book, not a MY answer. Feb 24, 2016 at 14:36
  • @MichaBerger It sounds like you know of a Rambam that speaks on this topic? That would probably make a good answer if so.
    – jj2
    Feb 24, 2016 at 15:42
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    That's not troublesome at all - it's clearly stating that no physical object contains divine power. That doesn't preclude a divine origin for a physical object. Feb 29, 2016 at 16:18

4 Answers 4


What the Rambam wrote that Hashem is not a body etc. is not at all a question to what chassidus (chabad) explains.

When believing Hashem is a body c"v, the meaning is that Hashem is limited to a body, or even any limit at all similar to a body.

However the explanations in chassidus are exactly the opposite, chassidus explains that Hashem is תכלית הבלי גבול or like the pasuk says אין עוד מלבדו, and the existence of the world does not contradict Hashems unlimited existence [and what leads us to this conclusion is, I would say, three reasons: 1) the Torah says בראשית ברא אלוקים 2) being unlimited cannot prevent hashem from limiting himself (for otherwise he would be limited in being unlimited), and 3) the existence of the world] because as the pasuk says בדבר ה' שמים נעשו, just like speech does not define or limit the person speaking, rather it is a גילוי a revelation of the person (to others), so to the world is really a revelation of Hashem (but there is what is called in chassidus העלם והסתר or in kabbalah it would be called קליפה that blocks us from feeling the existence of hashem.

For more see sha'ar Hayichud Vehaemuna in Tanya: https://www.chabad.org/library/tanya/tanya_cdo/aid/1029162/jewish/Shaar-Hayichud-Vehaemuna.htm

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    Please look over what you wrote one more time. It's not written clearly or in proper English. The first point from bereishis needs explanation. And you can't just quote a whole Sefer as a source, you need to link to specific passages. May 28, 2023 at 4:46

This article makes the claim that the Vilna Gaon described Chassidism's panentheistic false duality model to be heretical, akin to a Golden Calf, and

sought to uphold a dualistic schism between the spiritual and the physical, between G‑d and the world.

Sources are given as Mordecai Wilenski, Hasidim and Mitnaggedim, vol. 1 (Bialik: Jerusalem, 1990), 188-189 and Aderet Eliyahu to Isaiah 6:3; Supplementary notes in Be’ur ha-Gra to Sifra di-Tzeni’uta, Sod ha-Tzimtzum, p. 75 [38a in Hebrew pagination].

This article discusses this point in more detail.

  • Vilna Gaon is (somewhat?) wrong. Literally the entirety of the Holy Temple worldview and the introduction in Genesis is about a hard distinction between sacred space and profane space and that G-d, blessed be He, does not inhabit the profane space of the world via His essence. If you went to Ancient Israelites (who had THE most contact with G-d, blessed be He, out of anyone), they'd have NO clue and would think you're insane if you told them about panentheism and omnipresence. This is both the view in Jewish sources and secular academia which studies early Judaism.
    – setszu
    Jan 11 at 15:34
  • @setszu this stems back to a debate on tzimtzum that came way before the Gaon and Alter Rebbe. I can't attest to the veracity of the claims in the article, and note that the nature of this dispute seems controversial, even today. However, I would personally agree with you, that panentheistic false duality (i.e. tzimtzum shelo k'pshuto) seems to be fully accepted nowadays, probably because of the Nefesh Hachaim and Tanya
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jan 11 at 15:37

The Rambam in Yesodei Hatorah describes angels in term not all that different from the Kabbalist's description of the Sefiros. And the Talmud in Brachos 10 draws a parallel between Hashem and the soul. These ideas seem to fit the description of the term in question, and therefore would suggest that it is completely in line with the philosophy of Chazal and the Rambam.

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    The Maimonideic view, is not the kabbalistic view of sefirot.
    – mevaqesh
    Feb 29, 2016 at 20:22
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    @mevaqesh I guess putting the Rambam and Kabbalists in the same sentence disturbs you greatly. That would explain your irrelevant references to the Rambam's other ideas.
    – HaLeiVi
    Feb 29, 2016 at 22:14
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    Certainly it is offensive to lump Rambam together with those he considered idolaters. And there is nothing irrelevant about analyzing the positions of Rambam and his students in regards to kabbalah; the topic of your answer. The only irrelevant thing is your answer; which has nothing to do with pantheism; the topic of the OP's question. As it stands now the answer has no bearing on the question, as I noted. I see no reason to further respond until this is changed.
    – mevaqesh
    Feb 29, 2016 at 22:59
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    Without getting involved with the specifics here, @mevaqesh the topic here is panENtheism, pantheism is considered heretical by all chareidim AFAIK
    – jj2
    Mar 1, 2016 at 2:04
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    @mevaqesh בא לכלל כעס בא לכלל טעות. Wikipedia's definition of panentheism is that God is viewed as the soul of the universe. That is what the Gemara, I referred to, says as well. I also showed that the Rambam, too, goes with this understanding, that the creation is put forth from Hashem's כח וטובו, and not as an outsider.
    – HaLeiVi
    Mar 1, 2016 at 3:04

You can find an excellent review of this topic in the introduction to Rabbi Chaim Miller's The Practical Tanya (volume for Shaar Hayichud Vehaemunah). Essentially, while the Rambam would consider the opinion of Reb Ezriel Gerona (who posited that the Sefiros are real distinct entities within Divinity) to be heretical, he would not consider panentheism to be heretical, because they agree on the crucial point, which is that there are no distinct entities within Divinity. Rambam considers that heretical because it violates his notion of Divine unity, since it would follow that G-d is a sum of parts, and his notion of Divine unity expressly states that G-d is not a sum of parts.

Where Rambam and panentheism differ is that panentheism considers the Sefiros to be operatively real and distinct, while still not truly so. In other words, they are a model by which mortals can understand Divine response and prompt it in an informed way. Panentheism posits that Sefiros are useful, even if they are not real. Rambam, on the other hand, does not make use of such categories of Divine response to make Divinity relatable, but does not say anywhere, to my limited knowledge, that it is forbidden to do so.

Support for the idea that we can use Divine response to define G-d comes from Shmos Rabbah 3:6 , where G-d says He is referred to according to His current actions.

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