Sufism and Jewish Mysticism: Jewish-Sufi Avraham Maimonides

The interwoven history of Sufism (Islamic mysticism) and Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) speaks of Divine Mind to me. I’m a Jew from birth that has prayed and studied with Muslims, Christians, Baha’i s, Quakers and Buddhists. At one point I was part of Sufi meditation group. In these distressing and frightening times, it’s more important than ever to focus on our mutualism and connect our dots.

Sufi chronicler Idries Shah outlined past Sufi influence on St. Francis of Assisi, the Troubadours, St. Augustine, the Rosicrucians, Maimonides, Jewish Kabbalah and a host of other medieval and modern religious movements. Sufism reached St. Francis, through the writings of a Jewish intermediary translated into Latin.

In the 13th century, Abraham ben Moses Maimon, son of renowned Jewish philosopher, Rabbi Moses Maimonides [Rambam], incorporated Sufism into his practice of Judaism and considered himself a Jewish-Sufi!

Abraham ben Moses Maimon grew up with Sufis in a multi-cultural world, when his father became the chief rabbi of Egypt in the middle ages and physcian to the Regent of Egypt. As spiritual seekers, Sufis and Jews dialogued prolifically on Spiritual devotions and achieving Oneness with God.

Abraham ben Moses Maimon, who proceeded his father as Rayyis al-Yahud (head of the Egyptian Jews), was passionate about the ancient Jewish-Sufi connection. He believe Sufism to be the lost art of Jewish mysticism. As one of the major rabbinical authorities of his time, he embedded Sufi terminology and teachings into his commentary and correspondence.

As chief Rabbi of Egypt, he introduced Sufi-inspired rituals into Jewish synagogue life, including prostrations and ablutions, raising the hands in supplication and praying while standing in rows.

The fourth section of his mystical masterpiece, the 2500-page Kifaya, expounds upon the tariqa (the Sufi mystical path of enlightenment) in detail — enumerating specifics such as sincerity, mercy, generosity, gentleness, humility, faith, contentedness, abstinence, mortification and solitude. All of which are enumerated as the Divine emanations called the Ten Sefirot on the Kabbalah Tree of Life.

Through Abraham ben Moses Maimon (ben HaRambam) Sufism influenced the direction of Jewish mystical thought during the 13th century, an epochal era in the development of Jewish Kabbalah.

Abraham ben Maimon’s Sufistic works were studied by 16th century Kabbalists in Tzfat, where Lurianic Kabbalah and Hasidism took off. Most modern day Jewish practitioners have no idea just how much of the Sufi Way is enmeshed into their daily devotions.

Via Tom Block: Abraham Maimonides: A Jewish Sufi

Further References: Jewish Sufis You Should Know –

Part II

Over a century ago, extraordinary things came to light when the Ben Ezra synagogue was opened. The bricked-up room contained works in Arabic and Hebrew by medieval Muslim mystics and Jews, which were clearly inspired by Sufism (Islamic Mysticism). Many date from the lifetime of Rabbi Abraham Maimonides (1186–1237), also called “haChasid” (“the pious”), the son of Rabbi Moses Maimonides and a big proponent of Sufism, which the Jewish texts call Chasidut [Hasidut/Hasidism].

​​Rabbi ben Moses Maimon believed important Sufi rituals to be the ecstatic practices of the Jewish prophets, which the Jews had forgotten and had to rediscover. He introduced Sufi rituals into synagogue services — such as ritual washing of hands, the ordering of the congregation into rows, facing Jerusalem in prayer (as Muslims face Mecca) and various gestures such as standing, kneeling, bowing and stretching out the hands during petitionary prayers. Most noticeable were typical Sufi rituals such as hitbodedut (widely advocated by Rebbe Nachman) and dhkir (Arabic for “thinking of God”).

​​There is evidence of Sufi-based Jewish mysticism among the Jews of Andalusia, Damascus, Yemen, Palestine and Persia. Rabbi Abraham Abulafia (1240–1291), founder of Prophetic Kabbalah, introduced into Jewish prayer the Sufi dhikr rituals, in which the name of God is said repeatedly to achieve a trance-like state. The Sephardic Kabbalists around Rabbi Abraham Abulafia adopted rituals very similar to those of the Sufis [Muslim mystics].

​​When renowned Kabbalist Isaac Luria was active in 16th century Safed/Tzfat, the region was also a flourishing hub of Sufism. The parallels between the mystical disciplines are striking.

Those who speak of the “Judeo-Christian roots of Western culture” close their eyes to its Judeo-Muslim roots and the commonalities of the two.

Via: Nimet Seker © 2010 Editor: Lewis Gropp/ Literature: Paul B. Fenton: “Judaism and Sufism” in: “Encyclopaedia of Islamic Philosophy”, edited by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, published by Suhail Academy, Lahore, 2002, pp. 755-768.

8 thoughts on “Sufism and Jewish Mysticism: Jewish-Sufi Avraham Maimonides

  1. Phil

    All I can say is wow! We studied some of this in Melton. But, you have connected the dots more thoroughly. I had read before where some of the rituals and behaviors done during Hasidic services related directly back to the the time of Maimonides and early Jewish practices. But, I don’t remember the connection made between that and the practices of Islamic Mysticism. I also did not make the connection to some of the practices done in the modern Orthodox and Conservative Jewish Services. It is good to know where things come from. Many who attend modern services have no idea where some rituals come from, especially those that have a connection to Kabbalah. Excellent job! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Can you find me sources for this – but sources written in simple English! If possible …
    Why not take what works from wherever you want. A lot of jewish philosophy aligns fully with principles of meditation, connection and source. If you just truly understand jewish philosophy… they are not usually contradictory.
    Love, light, and glitter

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Soul Circle

      The love, light and glitter is very much appreciated! 🥳 Woot! Like panning for gold, I take what resonates from various traditions and let the rest fall through. I have found what you said to be true — a lot of Jewish philosophy aligns/is not contradictory to other forms of spirituality and mysticism. I find many parallels between Zen Buddhism and Jewish mysticism. I will look for more Sufism/Jewish mysticism sources and get back to you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Could you copy out the link by chance? Coz it’s not letting me read it without signing up… it interests me to see. Because I don’t know what I think about Judaism as it is but my understanding is (and only keep to this if judaism is truth) that all the parallels would have come from the truth. So if Judaism is true than anything that aligns comes from judaism originally or both come up with the same,but that it’s taken from itself and not from others.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Soul Circle

          I can’t copy that particular article but if you Google — Jewish Sufi Abraham Maimonides — you’ll come up with lots of articles and books.

          I believe there is truth in all spiritual traditions, but none contain the whole truth and nothing but the truth. 😉😊 Many spiritual seekers arrive at the same place…that seems to the nature of the process. As Ecclesiastes said, “there’s nothing new under the sun.” 🥰

          Liked by 1 person

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