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As in other religious literatures, the end purpose in Judaism is union with God. The earliest form of mysticism in Judaism is Merkabolism, which dates back approximately to the first century A.D., the time of the Second Temple. Practices of this sect included various forms of asceticism, including fasting. Merkabolism's meditative exercises focused on body posture and the dwelling upon hymns and a magic emblem. The meditator would place his head between his knees and whisper hymns and repeat the name of a magic emblem. Repetition of the magic emblem was used as the object to dwell upon and would chase away distractions and cause the "demons and hostile angels to flight." A state of ecstasy was reached, which was described as "an attitude of deep self-oblivion."

Writings on the techniques of mysticism in Judaism were prevalent in the thirteenth century. Many of the exercises involved dwelling upon the names of God or contemplating the letters constituting the name of God. Rabbi Abulafia developed such a mystical system of meditating upon letters of the Hebrew alphabet as constituents of God's name.

Gershom G. Scholem characterizes Abulafia's teachings as similar to Yoga. He writes that Abulafia's teachings represent but a judaized version of that ancient spiritual technique which has found its classical expression in the practices of the Indian mystics who follow the system known as Yoga. For example, an important part in Abulafia's system is played by the technique of breathing. This technique has found its highest development in the Indian Yoga, where it is commonly regarded as the most important instrument of mental discipline.

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