Air and Breathing in Medieval Jewish Mysticism


  • Michael Marder



air, breath, mysticism, emanations, spirit


This essay is a study of the element of air and the process of breathing in light of the medieval book of Zohar and related aspects of the broader Jewish tradition. Mapping air onto the divine body comprised of the sefirot, or the emanations of God, I reconsider the connection between breath and spirit, while also focusing on the sensuous and atmospheric aspects of aerial and pneumatic phenomena: wind, scents, the rising expansion of hot air and the falling condensation of the cold. Breathing is examined throughout the entire respiratory system, from the lungs to the nostrils, with respect to both the sefirotic divine body and the breath of life, animating the creaturely realm. Throughout the study, I pay particular attention to the paradoxical mode in which air remains an indeterminate, literally groundless element and, at the same time, is at the heart of theo-anatomy, of life, and of sustaining a fragile world.


The Babylonian Talmud. The William Davidson Edition. Accessed November 15, 2023.

Green, Arthur. “Introduction.” In The Zohar: Pritzker Edition, vol. 1, translated by Daniel C. Matt. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2018.

Mevorach Seidenberg, David. Kabbalah and Ecology: God’s Image in the More-Than-Human World. Cambridge, UK and New York, US: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Rosenzweig, Franz. The Star of Redemption. Translated by Barbara E. Galli. Madison and London: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005.

Scholem, Gershom. Kabbalah. New York: Dorset Press, 1987.

Sefer Yeẓirah: The Book of Creation. Translated by Ariel Kaplan. San Francisco, CA, and Newburyport, MA: Weiser Books, 1997.

Segol, Marla. Word and Image in the Medieval Kabbalah. London and New York: Palgrave, 2012.

Torah, Nevi’im, K’tuvim. Jerusalem: Hotza’at Koren, 1994.

von Bingen, Hildegard. Hildegardis Bingensis Epistolarium. First Part, I–XC. Edited by L. Van Acker. Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis. Vol. 91. Turnhout: Brepols, 1991.

The Zohar: Pritzker Edition. 12 volumes. Translation and Commentary by Daniel C. Matt. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2018.




How to Cite

Marder, Michael. 2023. “Air and Breathing in Medieval Jewish Mysticism”. Poligrafi 28 (111/112):9-29.