Jewish Meditation?

If you don’t associate meditation with Judaism,
you’re not alone.

For most 21st century Jews, meditation is something Buddhists and yogis do – not Jews. Yet, references to Jewish meditation can be found in texts dating as far back as the 4-5th centuries BCE and meditation has been a key spiritual practice in the Jewish mystical and contemplative schools for over 2000 years.

The 18th century’s Enlightenment, also known as the Age or Reason, separated mind from body, exalting the rational self. Virtually all Jewish mystical practices were suddenly seen as superstition. In the 19th and 20th centuries, many Jews emigrating to Western Europe and the US were eager to embrace a modernism that made them more acceptable in those cultures. The Holocaust killed a vast majority of practitioners of Jewish mysticism which resulted in further elevating a Modern Jewish Ideal: Western and rational, completely dismissive of most ancient practices. As a result, when many of their children sought a more mystical or contemplative path to connect with the Divine, they often left Judaism to find it – becoming Buddhists, Sufis, or Hindus where meditation was the predominant paradigm of practice. 

In the 1980s and 90s, Chochmat HaLev recognized that there was a need to promote meditation practices that come directly from the Jewish tradition rather than Buddhist or Sufi forms which were adapted to a Jewish context. We established a center for Jewish meditation and hosted the first Jewish meditation conference in the US. One of our founders, Nan Fink Geffen, wrote the influential book Discovering Jewish Meditation: Instruction & guidance for learning an ancient spiritual practice. Fortunately, Jewish meditation is once again finding its way back into mainstream Jewish practice and thousands of Jews now participate in Jewish meditation workshops, classes, conferences, and sitting groups each year.

4th-5th Century BCE

Torah Completed. Indications that specific biblical figures meditated. (e.g. Isaac, Jacob, Hannah)

2nd Century BCE

Hasidim Rishonim, early Jewish pietists, established meditation as part of daily practice.

1st Century BCE

The Theraputae, a community of Jewish contemplatives, included meditation as part of spiritual practice.

1st – 5th Century CE

Hechalot texts included meditation instructions. Merkavah mystics practiced apocalyptic and visionary meditation. (e.g. Ezekiel)

13th Century

The Zohar, the primary Kabbalistic treatise, appeared. Abraham Abulafia developed Jewish meditation based on letters of the Divine name.

15th – 16th Century

Mystics of Safed (Isaac Luria, Joseph Caro, Moses Cordovero) used meditation to deepen mystical understanding.

18th Century

The Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hasidism, brought meditation into prayer and spread the practice throughout Eastern Europe.

19th Century

Schools of Hasidic contemplative practice were set up under the auspices of Dov Ber of Mezritch and his disciples, each of whom created courts of practice. Mussar academic centers taught self understanding and contemplation. Beyt El in Israel was established, the Yeshiva of mystics and kabbalistic meditation.


Holocaust: Most Eastern European teachers of Jewish meditation were killed.


Aryeh Kaplan, an Orthodox rabbi, introduced Jewish meditation to the US.


Interest in Jewish meditation began to grow in the US. Chochmat HaLev (Berkeley), Makor Or (San Francisco, and Metivta (LA) were established as national centers for Jewish meditation.


First Jewish meditation conference in the US (hosted by Chochmat HaLev) brought together scholars and teachers from around the world.


Chochmat HaLev continues to host weekly Jewish meditation. All are welcome!

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