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Jewish Meditation: A Practical Guide

9th July 2013 Christian Books 27 Comments

Kaplan shows that meditation is consistent with traditional Jewish thought and practice. The book presents a variety of meditative techniques to help make the reader a better person, and develop a closer relationship to God.

"[This is] the first book to read on the subject. It is a gentle, clear introduction and provides exercises and practices that can be used right away by any Jew who wants a deeper prayer experience."
–Rodger Kamenetz, author of The Jew in the Lotus and Stalking Elijah

"New and old davveners can learn from this sainted teacher how to deepen their holy processes. . . . One can, with the help of God and the aid of this manual, tap into the Cosmic."
–Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi

"A guide to Jewish prayer and meditation that is both grounded in the tradition and genuinely mind-expanding. For anyone seeking to connect with the spiritual side of Judaism, this book is essential."
–William Novak

"At a time when Jews are rediscovering their hunger for spirituality, Kaplan’s clear and comprehensive book could well be one of the most important Jewish books or our time."
–Harold S. Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People

"The classic text for Jews who want to experience the meditative methods of their own spiritual tradition."
–Daniel Goleman, author of The Meditative Mind

Jewish Meditation: A Practical Guide

  • 27 responses to "Jewish Meditation: A Practical Guide"

  • Shala Appleman
    3:36 on July 9th, 2013
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    In this work, the late Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan explores the Jewish roots of meditation, as well as a practical on how to meditate according to Jewish tradition.

    He points out how meditation is an ancient part of Jewish religious tradition, contrary to popular belief. How the synagogue was meant originally to be a meditative experience, and how much of Jewish prayer liturgy is meant to be a meditative type connection with the Creator.

    He marvels at how so many Jews look outside their Judaism for spiritual enlightenment, while it is all available within their own spiritual tradition.

    As Kaplan takes us on this journey of exploration he deals with such questions as `What is meditation?’, `Why meditate’ , the various types of meditation available and how to do them as well as a chapter on
    Musar, self-perfection, an important school in Jewish thought.

    After reading this excellent work, you will never see Judaism, spirituality or meditation in the same way. It also can serve as a simple and helpful aid to begin your own meditation.

  • Del Dryden
    4:59 on July 9th, 2013
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    There is a lot of garbage that is printed on the various aspects of and subjects pertaining to Kabalistic thought and creation, but this is NOT one of them. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan was a truly phenomenal man, worthy of praise from mystics, rabbis, and the curious alike. It is truly a wonderful coincidence for those lucky enough to meet or sit in on lectures with Rabbi Kaplan that he lived in the last century. Rabbi Kaplan made Kabala accessible to those whose only language is English. While I would recommend other books by this great man, I would also recommend, more than words can express, this work in particular. If you SERIOUSLY want to learn about the Kabalistic paths, this book is one of the best in English to help you along your journey, safely, and honestly. Good Luck!

  • John Francis Higgins
    6:21 on July 9th, 2013
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    As far as I know, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (may he rest in peace) was the first Orthodox rabbi to write about Jewish meditation for the general public. He did so because his own teachers recognized that American Jews in the 60s and 70s were growing up without knowledge of these traditions, and were therefore abandoning Judaism for other religions in order to be “more spiritual.” Hence this and other books by Kaplan on Jewish meditation.

    Kaplan’s books are still considered to be among the most authentic on the market, and are kosher even among the Orthodox and Hasidic branches of Judaism. His first book, “Meditation and the Bible,” came out in 1978, and explored the various meditation techniques that were hinted at in the Bible and expanded in other Jewish texts. This was followed by “Meditation and Kabbalah” (1982), which explained the techniques in greater detail and provided first-ever English translations of many basic Hebrew texts. Both of these books, however, were quite academic and not intended to be how-to guides. Hence the third book here, “A Practical Guide” to Jewish meditation, published in 1985.

    I mention the first two books because, if you read only this one, it may strike you as just another “new age” hodge-podge of ideas. Far from it. Kaplan took his cues from the most Orthodox of the Orthodox, i.e., the traditionalist Jews who had not lost the pre-Holocaust knowledge of these techniques. In his first two books, he clearly lays out the theory, drawing upon centuries-old Hebrew texts and first-hand descriptions by Jewish “saints” of various eras. In “Jewish Meditation,” he distills all this down into directions for actual daily practice. If these resemble “new age” ideas in some places, it is only because the New Agers have recently re-discovered terchniques that the Jews have used for literally thousands of years.

    It is this little-known mystical tradition that Kaplan sought to make accessible to the average English-speaking reader. He was aware that many Jews had experienced success with Eastern meditation, but were not comfortable with some of the idolatrous practices that went along with it (such as chanting the names of Hindu gods, which is forbidden in Judaism.) He was also aware that the general public thinks of Jews as “Old Testament Hebrews” ala Cecil B. DeMille, who supposedly worship an “angry god” and have no inner spirituality. Kaplan’s work corrects both of these problems. Whether you are Jewish or not, if you meditate or are thinking about doing it, you will find this book to be of great help in understanding the Jewish Path.

  • SayWhat
    8:22 on July 9th, 2013
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    This book represents an idea that very few people, including Jews and non-Jews, know about. There are reasons for this, notably, that many in Jewish theological circles regard Jewish meditation and mysticism (Kabbalah and Zohar) outside the realms of the Jewish canon.

    With regards to Jews, there are a substantial number of whom find their meanings in the teachings of the Eastern religions, unable to find a state of higher consciousness in the religion they were raised in.

    This book is one of a number to address the above sentiments, in a gentle, clear, and concise manner. And it shows that there are indeed many levels within Judaism, that have been expounded, for over a thousand years.

  • Dave K
    9:56 on July 9th, 2013
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    This is a text that is absolutely necessary for any in-depth study of Kabbalah. Besides the Zohar, this book is the next most influential text. Although the original author(s) is debated, its antiquity is unchallenged.

    This particular rendition by Aryeh Kaplan has a huge commentary, that makes it accessible to even average students of the English speaking world. However, this book is definitely not for the casual reader, you really have to pay attention to details.

    The book itself is broken down line by line and delves into the esoteric nature of the study of Kabbalah. This is one of the true practical Kabbalah manuals with its endless combinations and meditations, and workings of the mystical tree that all but the most advanced will find themselves re-reading paragraphs.

    The addition of other versions makes this book a good one for the linguistic study of the text and is shown in the original Hebrew as well as English.

  • DoucheSlayer
    13:55 on July 9th, 2013
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    I began with Path of the Kabbalah by David Sheinkin, M.D. and was led to this book through that text. I knew absolutely nothing about Judaisn and the Kaballah and Sheinkin’s book was the first place to start. I immediately had to get my hands on the real books of mystical Kabbalah. Kaplan’s writing is outstanding. The repetition of information while new pieces are layered, more repetition, more layers is very effective. Then move on to Meditations and the Bible and/or Meditations and the Kabbalah, and the Zohar. Sheinkin’s book mentions key writers such as Kaplan and Scholem, though the later is very critical and academic rather than accessible and ready to put into practice.

  • Vitor Milito
    15:56 on July 9th, 2013
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    what can i say? this book is truly inspiring. while it is helpful to have some background in kabbalah prior to reading it, it contains incredible revelations into the creation of the universe and the creative forces available to man. This book opened my mind to the understanding of kabbalistic teachings which i have been studying for quite a while. you’ll be reading this book many times to derive the meaning behind the words. it is a definite requirement for anyone seriously interested in delving deeper into the mysteries of kabbalah and jewish mysticism.

  • Gone Tribal
    16:17 on July 9th, 2013
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    There is no question about the renewed interest and a more thoughtful examination of religion and its sister, spirituality in our contemporary society. However, since the mid nineteenth century, in a period scholars called, “The Death of God,” the supernatural aspect of the three great Middle Eastern (not Western) religions have been extracted from European and American culture; it’s most noticeably evident in its absence in popular fiction. With his book, Jewish Meditation, the late Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s brings us to a place of reflection and contemplation while inviting us to that hallmark where revelation and divinity resides. In his book, Rabbi Kaplan gives us insights into how our ancestors used meditation as a tool to grasp religious ethics and also a means by which one might obtain discipline to overcome undesirable social habits such as smoking. Jewish Meditation is the third book I’ve bought by Mr. Kaplan on the subject on meditation. I highly recommend Mr. Kaplan’s Meditation and The Bible for the lay reader as a companion book and Meditation and the Kabbalah for a much more intense and thought provoking experience.

  • Marc Rasmussen
    17:25 on July 9th, 2013
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    Aryeh Kaplan’s book Jewish Meditation is much beloved, and for some very good reasons. It is accessible and well written, sensitive and attuned to a modern religious sensibility. When a reader puts it down, there is the feeling that he or she has read something profound and moving.

    But there are some problems with his approach. Kaplan seems to stretch the importance of meditation in many portions of this book, attributing it to figures in Jewish history who probably did not meditate, at least in our modern sense in the word. In this way, Kaplan tends to take his definition of meditation and impose it on a wide swatch of Jewish history: and this defies historical logic.

    There is also the sense that Kaplan is trying to graft a concept onto Judaism that perhaps is an imperfect fit. Meditation as he conceives it is overwhelmingly Eastern/Asian. For instance, he stresses that when one mediates on an object, like a tree or stone, one should not venerate it, since that would be idolatry. Kaplan can feel the disjuncture between the two concepts: normative Judaism and his ideas of mediation, and in passages such as these, he shows their lack of compatibility.

    Still, the book is a novel and interesting way to incorporate mediation into Jewish life. Even though it has some deep conceptual and historical problems, it is a book with its own charms and merits.

  • Candi Soos
    20:36 on July 9th, 2013
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    Rabbi Kaplan, Z”L, makes a great insight on this short, but extremely deep book. He uses his knowledge in physics to make us approach to such a very ancient text in today’s language. Basically a meditative text, Kaplan suggests its basic applications as well as an insight on how to make a Golem. Anyway, as he states elsewhere in this, and his other titles, all these practices should be treated with maturity and some respect (if you don’t believe in this stuff’s truth, just skip that), for you can get psychologically or spiritually damaged. Absolutely recommendable.

  • nelle
    21:52 on July 9th, 2013
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    There are many books on the qabbala, kaballah, or cabala. As far as current scholarship on the key text of qabbala within the contemporary Jewish tradition (post Lurianic) this work is the best and simplest serious study of the texts themselves. Kaplan discusses all the known texts, gives voice to all major scholars in the field as to the date of this text, then carefully analyzes this mystical text line by line. There are many great works out there Kaplan refers us to (Scholem of course), and alternative directions (Lullian and hermetic), but for a very comprehensive yet straightforward look at the major qabalistic text from a traditional Jewish view of today, you can’t go wrong with Kaplan

  • IrishMike
    0:16 on July 10th, 2013
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    The late great Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan combed the sources to discover the various traditions of meditation that had been passed down in the rabbinic tradition for centuries. Many of them are summarized here and explained in clear, helpful terms. If you’re interested in developing a practice, you will probably want to read also MINDING THE TEMPLE OF THE SOUL by Tamar Frankiel and Judy Greenfeld, which integrates meditation with traditional prayer and conscious movement. Also, Rabbi Kaplan’s MEDITATION AND KABBALAH and MEDITATION AND THE BIBLE are good supplements to enrich your background for understanding this book.

  • keagame
    2:53 on July 10th, 2013
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    Aryeh Kaplan was a rare individual. A Jewish scholar taken from us too early. If you get the chance take a look at his biography. This is one of his better books and the best book on Jewish meditation. Nothing comes close. Oddly enough, it is also a book that I think would have great appeal to anyone who is not Jewish or perhaps not even that relegious. This book has a lot of pleasant surprises. Enjoy and learn.

  • Jay Reddman
    3:36 on July 10th, 2013
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    i read 3 chapters and realized that the book is very complecated for me. i have some knowledge of kabbalah but this was very very advance. i did not understand a lot of concepts. the book is realy good for some one that has a very good knowlege of kabbalah.

  • Willipad
    7:23 on July 10th, 2013
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    Rabbi Kaplan, did not live long enough in his short life, to enable all of his knowledge to be shared with us all. But during those short years of his life, he was a most prolific writer. He was an Orthodox Jew who was able to straddle and live in both the secular and Orthodox Jewish worlds with relative ease. He was on the “Who is Who” in Physics, as well as, being a respected Rabbi and teacher for many in the Orthodox Jewish community.

    He was the first, who brought the ideas of Kabbalah, which had been “hidden” as secret teachings between specific Rabbis and their pupils over the centuries. to the non-initiated, with a prose and style of writing which made the ideas crystal clear and relevant in our world and in our time.

    This short book is a very concise practical guidebook to Jewish Meditation practices. Highly recommended!

  • Mychaelus
    8:51 on July 10th, 2013
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    Before his tragic death, Rabbi Kaplan was a practicing Kabbalist who wrote several ground-breaking books on Kabbalah. Notably, he wrote 3 books on Jewish Meditation and commentaries on both the Sefer Yetzirah and the Book Bahir. His Sefer Yetzirah provides considerable commentary and explanation of the text, though much of it is still a mystery–so don’t expect a complete exposition of a definitive sort. None exists at least in English as far as I can determine. But, this one is about as good as you get today. The so-called Book of Creation (actually in Kabbalah/Hebrew it’s really the book of Formation since Yetzirah is the World of Formation and Beriah is the World of Creation) is replete with esoteric symbology. Symbols (as opposed to signs) do not have a definitive meaning. They aren’t supposed to. They have many “meanings.” Thus, this text, though obviously very heavy duty metaphysically, is very difficult to understand today. It is also one of the 3 main texts in Kabbalah. So, this is a book for the serious student of Kabbalah to ponder and meditate upon for a long, long…time.

  • Frodo
    9:58 on July 10th, 2013
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    Sefer Yetzirah is easier to understand than the hardcore works of Frater Achad but assumes that readers are well versed in the Book of Formations or that the contents will not shock them. I found the book to be written in an easy practical way but the subject matter just boggles the mind, so it’s still a heavy read. In short, it’s not something you would read relaxing on a beach but is interesting enough to get you through an 18-hour flight. The book may transform you if you have enough basic background on the subject matter. It is the stuff of serious magic and is a valuable resource for those who are interested in deeper states of meditation.

    Knowing more about Kabbalah now that when i first wrote the review above, I realize that this book, along with The Bahir is a must-read for people who want to understand the mysteries of Oral Torah. As a Christian, this book has enriched my understanding of the foundations of Christianity and its Gnostic roots. This book is without a doubt the absolute Kabbalah book. And although understanding its value requires you to go through a lot other books, it is sincerely worth the effort. This book changed my life.

  • Cap. Obvious
    13:06 on July 10th, 2013
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    I have read Sefir Yetzirah (in English) by other writers and there is even one that claims to the complete with the Hebrew text on the cover… but actually only skimming the surface. Kaplan’s book is the MOST DETAILED and MOST COMPLETE, and most skillfully written and it is not difficult to understand why his books are popular.

    If you want the best Sefir Yetzirah book in English; no others is comparable to it!! Get it!!

  • thurston
    15:09 on July 10th, 2013
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    This book is simply a treasure trove of information. In today’s age of rampant esoterism, this book takes the mystical world, makes it human, and allows it to be experiential. For those of you that have a fear of the unknown, or think all meditative techniques are some form of “Black art” or “New Age Movement” to lure you away from the Creator, you need to read this book. I promise you’ll come away saying, “Why that isn’t so bad!” I found that some of my intuitive habits are partial, albeit incomplete , meditative techniques. This book completes the circuit, making worship more personal and productive, with its practical applications. Don’t let the title fool you, this book is also very appropriate for those Christians that are open to the roots of their faith and the subtle insights of the prophets, as well as those Hebrews searching to fill the void of their ancestral heritage. I recommend this book as the primer to meditation and a more meaningful relationship with God. However, don’t think you’re going to read this and become the next Elijah overnight. Like everything, this book is just part of the journey.

  • Kool Aid
    15:54 on July 10th, 2013
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    I’m not Jewish. I’m actually a Spirit-filled Christian. My branch of the Church tends to emphisize prayer, personal devotion, and intimacy with God. As a devout student of the Bible, I’ve always looked to the ancient Jewish Prophets and Mystics to learn how to grow closer to God. Years ago I came to the conclusion that deep spiritual meditation was at the center of their spiritual lives, yet I was not terribly familiar with what their meditations might have been like. The fear of being “new-agey” kept me from experimenting on my own and so I spent a great deal of time searching out the Bible for hints of what the people of Bible times did in meditation. I really didn’t get much clarity on the matter until I read this book. Kaplan graciously spares his readers from spooky, impractical tecniques and gives intelligent, balanced explanations of the various forms of meditation that more than likely were employed by the greats in Scripture.

    This book is an indespensible part of my spiritual library now. I will never be without it. Give someone you love this book; you’ll be giving them a gift that will last forever.

  • good sign
    17:43 on July 10th, 2013
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    Beside the Sephir Yetzirah translated by Carlo Suares and published by Shambhala Books, this is the best. I don’t know if the Suares translation is available anymore, but his knowledge of the cabalistic code is how I first learned Cabala. Notwithstanding, there is nothing by Rabbi Kaplan that is not excellent. He was a great scholar. This is by far the most complete treatment of all the Yetziratic material there is. The Sephir Yetzirah is a very holy book.

  • Name Redacted
    23:17 on July 10th, 2013
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    The late Aryeh Kaplan was a Rabbi, scholar, and Kabbalist. In addition to his valuable and readable commentaries on Sefer Yetzirah and Sefer Bahir, he wrote three books on meditation. The other two are: “Meditation and Kabbalah” and “Meditation and the Bible.” From a practical perspective, “Jewish Meditation” is far and away the best, however, reading the other two provides one with a more inclusive, theoretical background and context within which to practice. This volume is quite valuable and a contribution to both meditation per se and to Jewish spiritual practices. It’s rare to find an author who is both scholar and practitioner, so Kaplan’s books on meditation and on Kabbalah are particularly valuable and accessible to the reader. Of course, they are not introductory books–of which there are innumerable versions in bookstores. It helps to have a solid background in the basics before tackling Kaplan’s texts. But it isn’t essential. Kaplan’s texts are appropriate to both the serious student and the serious practitioner of meditation and of Kabbalah. They also demonstrate to contemporary people that Judaism is more than just laws and books and that spiritual practices are, indeed, the heart of Judaism as they are with other religions and belief systems. R. Kaplan’s tragic death in an automobile accident was a great loss to Jewish understanding as well as, more generically, to Kabbalah, meditation, and modern spirituality.

  • Ashleigh Guley
    3:40 on July 11th, 2013
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    Aryeh Kaplan has produced an incredibly brilliant scholarly work within the pages of this commentary of the Sefer Yetzirah. The Appendix includes variant texts, as well as a complete listing of the 231 gates. Rich with diagrams and charts, Rebbe Kaplan explains this ancient book thoroughly. A must-read for anyone interested in Jewish mystical thought!

  • Allan
    7:17 on July 11th, 2013
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    This contains really good commentary, but it would be helpful to know Biblical Hebrew before reading it.

  • Margene Chey
    9:46 on July 11th, 2013
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    Rabbi Kaplan’s book is a great and very practical place to start the experience of “walking with God” or devekut while praying or meditating. His book is particularly helpful in understanding that there are multiple techniques available to use in meditation and the spiritual quest. Sometimes we are more familiar with techniques from other cultures, such as Zen chanting, the whirling dervishes of Sufism and the body oriented techniques of Tai Chi.

    Rabbi Kaplan points out techniques that have been used by Jews in the past. Not all of the methods are strictly Jewish per se. A particularly invaluable discussion that he begins relates to the portions of the prayer service and how to utilize them in a meditative manner. This definitely helps make prayer a more spiritual experience and reinvigorates the words with the true spiritual intent of their original authors.

  • Hattori Hanzo
    12:44 on July 11th, 2013
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    My Maggid recommended that I read this book also. He seemed quite excited about it and so I read it early on with much enthusiasm. Let me put it this way, it was like being let loose in a recombinant DNA lab for thirty minutes with no one else around and you only have an average undergraduate level of familiarity with biology. You might come away with knowledge of where some things are stored and how they are labeled, but this is a far cry from the practicalities of running an experiment. But I do think and agree with other reviewers that this book will need to be consistently reread over the years.

    Definitely a good book to go through the first time, so you get a chance to go back to it later. I have only read it once several years ago and maybe I will review it again one day when I reread it.

  • Tim Andrews
    15:18 on July 11th, 2013
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    There have been so many good reviews of this text, adding more praise seems enough. Other reviewers have given brief summaries of what Sefer Yetzirah is about. It is worth noting some things about the Kabbalistic tradition – generally.

    I find it fascinating that the Kabbalistic tradition – of which this text is a part – has more or less remained inviolate
    from cheap proselytising (or until Madonna claimed to be into it!). In Jewish tradition, the person wishing to approach such things ought to be mature, if not middle aged, married – and a respected member of the community. It poses something of a contrast then, with traditions stressing celibacy and a remoteness from every-day life. Why is this? I think it is a very Kabbalistic point of view. Lived wisely, marriage and family life mirrors the cosmic process. This is not a dogmatic position – you can study the Kabbala as an unmarried, young person. Its just that The Kabbala and Sefer Yetzira translate deep meaning out of seemingly mundane or common processes.

    You and your life, your loved ones, your neighbours, your co-workers – your neighbourhood – your planet, the cells in your body, the stars in space – are the material you must work with.
    Sefer Yetzirah means the ‘book of formation’ (creation implies a static process, unless we say living creation). Everything is this process, but we miss the links and connections, the hidden veins. Sefer Yetzirah is about becoming conscious of those veins and cosmic arteries, energising them, understanding ‘formation’ – living, formative elements.


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