Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home


EMANATION, a theory describing the origin of the material universe from a transcendent first principle. According to this theory, the universe, which is multiple, is generated from the One, which is unitary, through the medium of a hierarchy of immaterial substances. The ultimate source is undiminished, while the beings which are emanated are progressively less perfect as they are further removed from the first principle. The process is conceived as being atemporal. In neoplatonic emanationism the ultimate product, the material universe, is not regarded as evil, as in gnostic systems of emanation. A variety of models are used to describe emanation. For example, it is compared to the efflux of light from a luminous body, or to water flowing from a spring. The emanationist theory was given its classical formulation by Plotinus in the Enneads, in which the typical fourfold scheme of the One, Intellect, Soul, and Nature is found. Emanationism tends to be combined with an eschatology (or soteriology) that envisions the soul's return to its ultimate source of being by epostrophē or "reversion" (see A. Altmann, Studies in Religious Philosophy and Mysticism (1969), 41ff.). The theory of emanation was developed further by Plotinus' successors, particularly Proclus, who systematized the scheme of monēproodos-epistrophē (immanence, procession, reversion) to account for the process of emanation.

In Jewish Philosophy

The Hebrew terms used for emanation are aẓilut or aẓilah (cf. Num. 11:17), hishtalshelut, meshekh, shefa; the verbs shalaḥ and sadar (in the pu'al) are also used (see J. Klatzkin, Thesaurus Philosophicus (1930), 96; 4 (1933), 112). The theory of emanation was known to medieval Arabic and Jewish philosophers from several sources. Plotinus was known from the Theology of Aristotle (in both a vulgate and long recension), a paraphrase of texts from the Enneads, as well as from Plotinian material ascribed to "al-Sheikh al-Yūnānī" ("The Greek Sage," probably Porphyry, editor of the Enneads), and a work titled al- ʿ Ilm al-Ilāhī ("The Divine Science"), falsely ascribed to al-*Fārābī (translations of this material are in Plotinus, Opera, ed. by H. Schwyzer (1959), vol. 2). Proclus was known from the Liber de causis (Kitāb al-Idāh fi al-Khayr al-Maḥḍ) ascribed to Aristotle but actually based on Proclus' Elements of Theology (ed. and tr. by E.R. Dodds, 1963). One must also take into account neoplatonic texts such as the pseudo-Aristotelian source utilized by Isaac *Israeli and Abraham *Ibn Ḥasdai (see S.M. Stern, in Oriens, 13–14 (1960–61), 58ff.) and the pseudo-Empedoclean Book of Five Substances (ed. by D. Kaufmann, Studien ueber Salomo Ibn Gabirol (1899), 17ff.). Jewish philosophers also relied on the appropriation and development of emanationism by Arabic philosophers such as al-*Kindī, al-Fārābī, *Avicenna, and the Sincere *Brethren (Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ). In medieval Arabic and Jewish neo-Aristotelianism, the neoplatonic theory of emanation was applied to the Aristotelian-Ptolemaic cosmology which posited a series of nine concentric spheres encompassing the earth, each endowed with an intelligence. Thus, Aristotle's active intellect (De Anima, 3) was identified either with Plotinus' universal intellect in the neoplatonic hierarchy, or with the intelligence of the lowest sphere (of the moon) in the Aristotelian-Ptolemaic cosmology. Emanation is a necessary (natural) and eternal process, and is thus thought to imply the absence of will and design on the part of the ultimate source. Thus, the theory of emanation is in conflict with the biblical concept of temporal creation by divine volition. Also, emanationism sees the divine source as somehow omnipresently immanent in the world, and it therefore tends toward pantheistic expressions.

In their discussions of cosmology, Jewish philosophers sometimes tried to harmonize emanation with biblical concepts of *creation and *providence. Isaac Israeli, for example, postulates an initial act of creation by "the will and power" of God which results in the first two substances, which are in his system prime matter and form (or wisdom), while the subsequent entities are generated by a process of emanation. These are the typical hierarchy of intellect, soul, and nature of Plotinus, but the universal soul, like the individual soul, is tripartite (rational, animal, vegetable; as in Ibn *Gabirol), and nature is identified with the first or outer sphere. Each emanated being is derived from "the shadow" of its anterior cause. Ibn Gabirol injected an element of voluntarism into an emanationist system with his notion of "will," which mediates between the first essence and primary matter and form, which together constitute the hypostasis of intellect. Will thus appears not as a function of the creator (cf. Israeli), but as a distinct hypostasis. Gabirol often appeals to the metaphors of a spring of water, light from the sun, the reflection in a mirror, and human speech to explain emanation. There is a pronounced tendency toward pantheism (see Mekor Ḥayyim 5:39, 3:16).

Pseudo-*Baḥyaʿs Kitāb Maʿanī al-Nafs ("On the Essence of the Soul") combines creation and emanation. The entire chain of being hinges on God's will and wisdom. Intellect is called Shekhinah and soul is called Kevod Elohei Yisrael (see Guttmann, Philosophies, 110). *Abraham bar Ḥiyya posits five worlds above the celestial spheres, which he correlates with the five days of creation, giving each a theological interpretation. The lower three (the worlds of knowledge, soul, and creation) seem to correspond to the neoplatonic hypostases. Above them are the world of light (ha-olam ha-nurani) and the world of dominion (olam ha-ravrevanut), probably derived from an Arabic neoplatonic work (Megillat ha-Megalleh, ed. by A. Posnanski (1924), 21ff.; see also, G. Scholem, in MGWJ, 75 (1931), 172ff.; and Guttmann, Philosophies, 112ff.). Like Ibn Gabirol, Abraham bar Ḥiyya uses expressions which are tantamount to pantheism. God is essentially identical with the universe insofar as He gives it the power of being.

The emanation theory of Arabic and Jewish Aristotelians, an intricate system explaining the derivation of the spheres and their intelligences, was rejected by *Judah Halevi as an unproven claim (Kuzari, 4:25). Abraham *Ibn Daud also rejected the emanationist explanation of the derivation of the spheres and their intelligences, but without denying the order itself (Emunah Ramah, ed. by S. Weil (1852), 67). The position of *Maimonides is complex. He was keenly aware of the opposition between eternal necessary emanation of the world from God and the free act of creation. Nevertheless he wrote: "It has been said that the world derives from the overflow (fayḍ) of God and that He has caused to overflow to it everything in it that is produced in time." In the same context he compares the derivation of the world from God to a spring of water which, he says, is "the most fitting simile for the action of one who is separate from matter" (Guide of the Perplexed, 2:12). Divine emanation also accounts for cognition and prophecy (ibid., 2:37). The governance of the lower world is perfected by means of forces emanating from the spheres (ibid., 2:5). Still, this emanation is said to be unlike that of heat from fire and light from the sun in that it constantly assures duration and order for the existents that emanate from God by "wisely contrived governance" (ibid., 1:59). Maimonides' insistence on creation in time and insertion of intention and wisdom into a scheme of emanation appear to contradict the presuppositions of the latter. *Levi b. Gershom found several difficulties with the theory of emanation which postulates an eternal procession from God (Milẓamot Adonai, 6:1, 7; see also Guttmann, Philosophies, 211ff.). He maintained, for example, that it was impossible for existence to flow constantly from God to the heavenly bodies (as opposed to their being brought into being at once), for the heavens would thus exist only potentially.


Guttman, Philosophies, index; D. Neumark, Geschichte der juedischen Philosophie des Mittelalters 1 (1907), 503ff.; Scholem, Mysticism, S.V. emanation; idem, in: Tarbiz, 2 (1931/32), 415–42; 3 (1932/33), 33–66; J. Ben-Shlomo, Torat ha-Elohut shel R. Moshe Cordovero (1965), 170–82. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: E. Gottlieb, Studies in Kabbalah Literature (1978), 11–17, 397–476; E. Gottlieb and M. Idel, Enchanted Chains (2005); M. Idel, "Between the View of Sefirot as Essence and Instruments in the Renaissance Period," in: Italia, 3 (1982), 89–111 (Heb.).