Judaism has a body and a soul. The two dance in harmony, in a wondrous union of seeming opposites. The soul finds expression through its embrace of the body, and the body comes alive through its fusion with the soul.

We call the body of Judaism halachah. Literally, that means “the way”—the way we live, the things we do, the things we are careful not to do.

We call the soul of Judaism Kabbalah, the hidden wisdom, inner Torah, and yet more names. All refer to the same tradition, a tree of life with ancient roots that has grown organically throughout many ages,Judaism has a body and a soul, and they work in harmony to ignite the Divine spark within and let it shine. nurtured by the insights of many sages, men and women who wrestled with the angels and with their own souls, struggling to grasp the inner meaning of that which they received from their teachers, until light flashed from above, raising them to a place of clarity, of new insights and guidance they could pass on to their students after them.

The body of Judaism cleanses and polishes the outer layers of the Jewish soul, allowing its inner light to shine through. The soul of Judaism, its spirituality, reaches the inner layers, igniting the Divine spark within. Together, the two dimensions of Judaism liberate the soul, allowing its suppressed love, wonder and innocent faith to break out into the light of day, infusing every thought, word and action with vibrant life.

Art: Yoram Raanan
Art: Yoram Raanan

Why Haven’t I Been Taught About Jewish Spirituality?

Sadly, as European Jews were emancipated and assimilated into their host societies, they often left behind the inner life of Torah. Everything had to fit into the tight box of materialist rationalism. The esoteric, the transcendental and the mysterious were rejected as though they were some sort of contamination.

Amongst Jews of the Near and Middle East, the spiritual dimension always remained dominant. In Europe, the Chassidic movement kept it alive. But in your typical rabbi’s sermon, or Hebrew-school education, it was almost completely absent until the very end of the 20th century.

Today, all that is rapidly changing.Today, rabbis and teachers are waking up to the fact that without its soul, the body of the Jewish community is simply not sustainable. Rabbis, teachers and community leaders are waking up to the fact that without its soul, the body of the Jewish community is simply not sustainable.

As one rabbi put it, “People don’t come to the synagogue for confirmation of their perspectives and attitudes. They come seeking a spiritual experience—to find something transcendental and mysterious in their lives.”

Art: Yoram Raanan
Art: Yoram Raanan

What’s Special About Jewish Spirituality?

A few signature marks of Jewish spirituality:

  1. All aspects of Jewish spirituality are deeply rooted in the revelation at Sinai. Its teachers will go to great lengths to demonstrate those roots, relating their teachings to verses of the written or oral tradition of Torah.
  2. Jewish spirituality speaks of human purpose and meaning in this world. Spirituality Our business is not to get to heaven, but to bring heaven down to earth.is not something you do for your own good alone, but a means to fulfill the purpose for which you were created. Everything has Divine purpose, every event has Divine meaning; nothing is just here because it is here.
  3. The Jewish concept of G‑d is at once both personal and transcendent. G‑d is never defined. He is often referred to as “The Infinite Light,” or just “The Infinite.” And even then, with the caveat that even this does not refer to His essence.
  4. Jewish spirituality brings people together, with love, with joy and with celebration. Jewish spirituality celebrates life.
  5. Jewish spirituality, like all of Judaism, is aimed towards the ultimate perfection of all the creation through our human efforts in partnership with the Creator, in the messianic times and after. Ultimately, we are not seeking to rise to a higher place in heaven, but to bring heaven down to earth.
Art: Yoram Raanan
Art: Yoram Raanan

Can I Be a Good Jew Without Spirituality?

You can choose to follow the halachah, the dos and don’ts of Judaism, without a soul. You will be a good person. But it will be hard, dry, and difficult to sustain. Certainly difficult to pass on to the next generation.

You’ll also be missing some vital body parts. AfterYou can be a good person without spirituality in your life, but it will be difficult to sustain. all, knowing G‑d, expressing His oneness in the world, loving Him, being in awe of Him, having trust and faith in Him, connecting to Him through prayer—all these are vital elements of halachah, the body of Torah.

Can I Be a Good Jew With Spirituality Alone?

On the other hand, you might choose to tune into the inner Torah alone. You’ll study Kabbalah, meditate, nurture your faith and love and awe of G‑d, and know His oneness. Who knows, with regular meditative practice and deep focus in prayer, you may become a very enlightened being.

But a A soul without a body is yet more lonely than a body without a soul.soul without a body is yet more lonely than a body without a soul. Though you may have light, you are missing the essence—G‑d Himself. For where does G‑d dwell? In the union of body and soul, matter and spirit, earth and heaven, darkness and light. In the impossible fusion of opposites, there is found the essence of all things, their Creator and true life.

Art: Yoram Raanan
Art: Yoram Raanan

A Short History of Jewish Spirituality

The spiritual side of Judaism has always preceded and anticipated the practical side. And The spiritual side of Judaism has always preceded and anticipated the practical side.yet, the two sides have always worked in harmony.

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are considered the fathers of Judaism. Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel are the mothers. The tradition tells that they all kept the Torah before it was given. But how could they have celebrated Passover, for example, before the Exodus from Egypt?

Rather, these great souls knew the spiritual dimension of Judaism, and behaved in accordance with that knowledge.

Did they lead spiritual lives? We read of them speaking with angels, seeing visions in their dreams and holding dialogues with G‑d. If that’s not spiritual, I don’t know what is.

Moses brought the descendants of Jacob out of Egypt to Mount Sinai. There they heard the Ten Commandments. But certainly it was the experience of the fire and lightning, of hearing G‑d’s voice, and the revelations of the heavens opening before them that overwhelmed them far more than the content they received.

And then, for 40 years, the Jews wandered in the wilderness, living off manna and learning Torah from Moses. Most of what they learned was not applicable until they entered the Promised Land. So it was likely a very spiritual life they led, before they began practical application of that spirituality.

While in the Promised Land, we read of the many prophets and their disciples who sat on the hilltops playing musical instruments and pondering the nature of the Divine, awaiting the Divine spirit that would rest upon them.

Art: Yoram Raanan
Art: Yoram Raanan

From the time of the BabylonianJewish mystical and spiritual experience was always a vital part of educated Jewish life. exile, throughout the period of Second Temple, the times of the Mishnah and the Talmud, Jewish mystical and spiritual experience was a vital part of educated Jewish life. We find, for example, Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues absorbed in the mysteries of the supernal heichalot—heavenly chambers where Divine mysteries could be uncovered. Rabbi Akiva’s student Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai composed the Zohar while hiding in a cave from the Roman persecutors.

One of the two most respected commentaries on the Five Books of Moses was composed by Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, known as Ramban (not to be confused with Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, known as Rambam). It was written circa 1240, and is replete with references to “the hidden wisdom.”

The inner, spiritual dimension of the Torah began to flower shortly after, especially in Spain, Provence, and then in the Holy City of Tzfat in the Galilee. There Rabbi Isaac Luria, known as the Ari (the Lion), uncovered the secrets of the Zohar and revealed a new path of repairing the world through Kabbalah.

In Europe, a great resurgence of the spiritual dimension of Torah arose with the rise of Chassidism, beginning with its founder, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov. Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch, a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, spread these teachings throughout Eastern Europe through his master students. One of those disciples, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, was the founder of the Chabad movement that this website represents.

In our times, in Chabad educational institutions, the spiritual dimension of Judaism is given at least as much focus as the practical dimension.

Art: Yoram Raanan
Art: Yoram Raanan

Where Can I Find Authentic Jewish Spirituality?

On our site you’ll find both the inner and the outer Torah, usually in a well-mixed blend—often indistinguishable one from the other.

You can also visit your local Chabad House and ask what classes are running on the topic.

For the mostly spiritual, inner side, here are some vital links:

Kabbalah, Chassidism and Jewish Mysticism

Jewish Meditation and Prayer

Daily Dose of Wisdom