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Is Yoga Kosher?

How a Modern Orthodox Jew struggled to reconcile her yogic practice with her Judaism

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(iStockphoto)

A few years ago, freshly moved to Los Angeles, I started practicing yoga. I was feeling anxious and worried, and if I were still a New Yorker, I’d have gone on anti-depressants. But I’m a big believer in doing what the Romans do, and, as it turned out, yoga helped a lot. Now, in class, as I take my first bow—a stretch upward, followed by an open-armed dive to my toes—I am no longer thinking about survival. Instead, with room to breathe and think, I instead wonder about the implications of bowing, of doing yoga in the first place. Yoga, with its meditation, with its mysterious secrets and ties to Hinduism and Buddhism, isn’t just a physiological practice; it’s a spiritual one. And I am a Modern Orthodox Jew. By practicing yoga, I’m now forced to wonder, am I practicing a religion outside my own? Am I sinning before God?

When I first took up yoga, this question never occurred to me. I was dealing with a difficult time, but I had also abandoned my religious upbringing. I was at peace with a secular life that included some high-holiday observance and crippling guilt when I didn’t observe Passover. Now, married to a man who converted so that we could be together, I find myself running an Orthodox home. (You know the old joke: don’t date a non-Jew unless you want to end up really religious.) I’m surprisingly happy in my lifestyle, but I’m also realizing that a true immersion in yogic practice may very well be a violation of my Jewish one.

There is a statue of Ganesh, the Hindu diety, in the yoga studio I attend. At the end of the class, my instructor says, “Namaste,” and bows toward the class. In turn, we bow back. I am bowing toward the teacher, but also toward the statue. Namaste means, “The Divine in me salutes the Divine in you.” During many of the meditation sessions, we are asked to put our hands in “prayer position,” which is what it sounds like: hands joined together at the heart. The more I thought about it, the more I worried that yoga might be its own religion, and that I might be committing a sin—worshipping an idol, even—by practicing it.

This might seem like a niggling question of minutia, but Judaism, especially Orthodox Judaism, is a religion filled with niggling questions of minutiae—how an animal is slaughtered, at what angle, exactly, a mezuzah should be affixed to a door post. There are serious implications to committing idolatry, whether you do so accidentally or not. In the Talmud (Sanhedrin 74), it states that there are only three sins in which a person is commanded to die rather than commit the sin: the second and third are incest and murder. The first is idolatry.

That was the Lubavitch rebbe’s rationale when, in 1977, he forbade his followers from practicing yoga, transcendental meditation, and the like. “In as much as these movements involve certain rites and rituals, they have been rightly regarded by Rabbinic authorities as cults bordering on, and in some respects actual, avodah zarah,” he wrote, using the Hebrew term for idolatry. “Accordingly Rabbinic authorities everywhere…ruled that these cults come under all the strictures associated with avodah zarah, so that also their appurtenances come under strict prohibition.”

But, of course, I’m not a Lubavitcher. So I asked my yoga teacher at City Yoga in West Hollywood, Linda Eifer, a Conservative Jew, what she thought. “Yoga is not a religion,” she said, emphatically. “It’s a spiritual practice that combines the body, the mind, and the spirit. It’s based on an ancient Indian tradition that includes inspiration from statues, which are a mythology that combine human and divine characteristics.” But, aside from the statues, that’s pretty much what my religion is to me.

David Adelson, a Reform rabbi in New York who is enrolled at the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, a two-year program that includes yoga retreats and text study, offered a distinction. “If I’m in a church around Christmastime, I sing and even say ‘Jesus’ in the hymns. I know that I am just singing because I like singing, and in no way praying, so it doesn’t worry me,” he said. “Yoga feels just a bit dicier because I am a full participant in the experience, not an observer. But I believe in general that to constitute avodah zarah, you probably need some kavana,” or intention.

Kavana is an interesting thing. Intuitively, it would seem that a religion demanding absolute morality would be concerned with intention. But, actually, that’s not really the case. If you eat bread on Passover, even accidentally, you have sinned. If you give charity but grudgingly, the charity still counts for the good. On Yom Kippur, we repent for sins we didn’t even know we did. And then there are Hannah’s sons—seven Jews who chose to die rather than bow to Antiochus, the Greek ruler who tried to forcibly convert Jews in 167 BCE. Bowing but not meaning it wasn’t an option. Judaism is concerned not just with your actions but also very much with how your actions appear to others. Bowing is the physical manifestation of idolatry, whatever your intention. “Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves,” says Leviticus 26:1, “and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it.”

But let’s ignore that for a second, and accept Adelson’s argument that intention does matter. Even so, don’t I intentionally practice yoga? And while Eifer, my yoga teacher, had said she doesn’t find yoga incompatible with Judaism because her status as a Jew isn’t compromised by her practice of yoga, I have a more literal view of Judaism and what it expects from me. I believe that I’m supposed to practice only Judaism. I don’t believe the practice of another religion makes me an adherent of that religion, but I do believe that I choose to only practice Judaism. The rituals and chanting that was expected of me in yoga seem like another religion to me—and practicing another religion is practicing another religion.

But Srinivasan, the senior teacher at the worldwide Shivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers, says I have it backwards. “Yoga is not a religion, but a science of religion,” he explained. “It applies to all religions. It’s not that yoga comes from Hinduism. Hinduism originates in yoga. Buddhism comes from yoga, too.” Srinivasan doesn’t see how spiritual yoga practice and Judaism are incompatible. “Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach used to come to our Ashrams,” he said. “He understood we were talking about the same thing. Hasidic mysticism and Kabbalah are very much in line with yogic thought.”

I explain to Srinivasan that the approach may be similar—even some of the text and ideas may be similar—but that only proves my point that yoga is a religion. “There is yoga in every religion,” he responded. “Yoga means ‘union’ or ‘absolute consciousness’ with God. Don’t look at the differences; look at the similarities. Yoga is beyond words or institution. When you use the word ‘religion,’ people want to know what books you read, what language you speak.” He also says that though some sects of yoga won’t even use the word God, the tradition is similar to monotheism. “We’re all talking about the same God,” he said. To him, the statue of Ganesh at the front of many yoga studios is the same God to whom Jews pray. “Don’t confuse the map for the actual place,” he said. “God is everywhere. There is no conflict here. There is respect for that diversity. To explain God is to limit God.”

So could I just be bowing in front of this statue without bowing to the statue? I asked Pinchas Giller, an Orthodox rabbi who practices yoga at the same studio I do. “Many Hindus argue these days that their deities are just archetypal principles,” says Giller. “But any third-grader in Hebrew school will tell you that those are idols. Veneration and offerings are unacceptable. I avoid classes where the teacher is too into the mythos. It’s hard to escape the impression that if you take some of the practices too seriously then it could be avodah zarah.” Giller practices yoga for the exercise and only for the exercise, he’s careful to say.

Chanah Forster, a Hasid and yoga teacher in Brooklyn, may have found a solution. “Yoga absolutely is a religion,” she says. Before she became religious, Forster lived on an ashram, where she became certified to teach yoga. She still teaches it, but with an approach tailored to her current audience. There is no chanting in her class—not even Om, the vibrational sound recited at the start of most yoga classes. She describes poses, but won’t use their traditional Sanskrit names. She also won’t say their English translations, like Downward-Facing Dog. “Instead, I’ll say to raise your hips to the ceiling,” she explained to me. “The Sanskrit names have a spiritual meaning. If you don’t call these poses by their Sanskrit names, it’s just exercise.” Forster believes that when you do any of these things—chant, say Om, speak in Sanskrit—you are opening yourself up spiritually to outside influences. “These aren’t just words,” she said. “They have meanings and repercussions to your neshama”—your soul—“and they are at odds with Jewish spirituality.”

But despite all these things at odds with Judaism, yoga seems to have a strong pull on Jews. In the past few years, several yoga minyans, prayer services in which yoga stretches accompany liturgy, have gotten underway. At least half of the people who frequent my yoga studio, as well as many of its teachers, are Jewish. India is a hotbed of Israeli tourism and the great Hindu leader Ram Dass was born Richard Alpert, a nice Jewish boy. (The author Rodger Kamenetz wrote a whole book, The Jew in the Lotus, about Jews struggling to understand and relate to Eastern spirituality.) But though unresolved, it’s a debate that’s new to me and that has new urgency for me as I’ve returned to religious observance.) The Kabbalistic viewpoint asserts that we are born with a pintele yid, a Jewish spark always searching for spirituality. If you live in America in 2010, your pintele yid may be a little malnourished, and whether because of assimilation or a lack of Jewish practice, some Jews seek to feed this hunger outside of the synagogue.

And the question of yoga’s compatibility with Judaism might just be an unanswerable one. In Adelson’s Reform world, it’s the Jew’s intention that matters. But in the Judaism I know, the one I have chosen to participate in, intentions, or even wishes, are not the only things to consider. My Judaism is a Judaism that is preoccupied with my physical life as much as my spiritual one. It has laws for when I eat, what wear, how I wash my hands. The problem isn’t what yoga might ask me to think or believe; it’s what it asks me to do. And despite my physical flexibility—you should see my frog pose—I don’t have the same spiritual agility.

Further practice of Judaism has not, historically, helped me become more open-minded. But perhaps that is where yoga can be an asset, not a detriment, to my religious practice. Yes, yoga walks a fine line (verboten to some; certainly not to all). But maybe my uptight approach to religion requires yoga and its nuances of illicit practice to help me remain flexible in my spirit, as well as my body. Maybe having something that isn’t so easy to reconcile, a gray area, is good for me.

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Thanks, Taffy,

I, as a Christian, struggle with this same issue. I avoid joining in chanting, even “OM”, but rather silently enchant my own Jesus meditation when in yoga classes.
Yes,we all walk a fine line, but to me,that is a very important part of practicing our spirituality. The New Testament says we are “in this world, but not of it”, so we must continually wrestle with that tension.

alexis says:

It seems to me that if you have doubts one should shy away from whatever it is until you find out if it is okay or not. To go ahead with something that you question is doing something with knowledge that it might be wrong, so therein, you are doing something wrong.
If you question the food beforeyou eat it,whether it be kosher or not, do you eat it ? or do you not eat it and opt for something else. This is all very basic. If a spade is a spade., and we call it a shovel, is in fact it not still a spade? And if we call the spade a spade and we do not use it for the yard but to mix our food, is it still not a spade? if we cannot use a spade, then how do you justify…calling it something else or using it for soemthing else? it is still forbidden. seems to me, it is that clear with the Yoga. Yoga is yoga no matter what you call it or do with it…what was the original intent of its creation and implementation? and who created and implemented yoga. ? then make your decision. seems to me…it is not what we should be doign as jews. i am sure there are other forms of meditation, exericise, strectching taht we can employ. and this is how the breakdown in religion, and morality adn ethics start…with a little here and a little there. thanks for listening. i for one, will not take part.

There’s a few “kosher” alternatives, too:

http://www.kabalahyoga.com/, as well as:

http://www.angelfire.com/pe/ophanim/
This site isn’t so well designed, but I have friends who studied Yoga in India, they now study Ophanim in Israel, and they love it. I ordered their book from their website, and it’s very good.

I had similar misgivings when I first started doing yoga many years ago at a studio that did a lot of chanting in sanskrit. I politely listened and then got into the poses. Now I’m at a studio which barely even chants “Om”; bowing at the end of class, for me, is simply honoring the divine in other people. Not a problem for this Jew: G-d is everywhere, including a yoga class. You write that “Judaism is concerned not just with your actions but also very much with how your actions appear to others”. I cannot control how others perceive my actions. Period. And I’ve found that living with the constant concern of how my actions might appear to others creates stress and tension…and sends me right back to yoga to release it.

Venkat says:

I do not want to hurt anyone’s feelings….but I state my opinion coming from a Hindu background…….

Yoga is Religion…..in a sense that the primary purpose is spiritual….almost all Hindus scriptures talk about it…..The Classical Indian(Hindu) Music is also the same…..

Although non-Hindus can practice Yoga….as doing yoga alone will not make you Hindu but I do not recommend doing Yoga with conflicting emotions…..its might not have good results then……..

Gil Brodsky says:

From a committed, active (but not observant) Conservative Jew: FWIW, I have only done a minimum of yoga, and a minimum of meditation. I don’t do “Om”, because I tried it once and couldn’t relate to it; it was foreign, definitely not for me. Instead, almost every time I meditate, I meditate on the word “Ashray.”

Brian Kaye says:

I have been practicing yoga for 15 years and have recently embarked on a teacher training; I am also a Conservative Jew and find that my bowing to another person and uttering Namaste are fully in-line with Jewish concepts – saluting the divine in both myself and another is fundamental to Jewish practice; using the Sanskrit word to acknowledge this no more makes me a participant in another religion than using English (a language of a Christian culture headed by a queen and archbishop) to wish one a happy New Year on the Gregorian calendar. My yoga practice has enriched my Jewish practice and the commitment to a just and free world.

Jeff Carpenter says:

There are yoga concepts and exercises that are mentally, physically, and spiritually beneficial, that can be acquired and practiced without full-fledged yoga adherence. Many physical training classes and programs use such without the full yoga participation—

I want to applaud the author of this article for her thorough approach to the subject. She has asked good questions and included information from many primary sources.

Diversity can be understood from a place of flexibility as well as rigidity. Likewise yoga, Judaism and life. It might have been good for the article to contain a small introduction to the many types / “limbs” of yoga; some are more physical, some are much more meditational, others focus on the breath and still others on social action and work. In this way, yoga and Judaism have similarities. What the majority of contemporary yoga studios and students undertake is hatha yoga, the gate to understanding the philosophy and life-way via physical movement.

The definitions of what is a “religion” vary according to philosophical systems. Both Judaism and Hinduism are very old spiritual paths that attempt to provide union with the infinite through order, story / metaphor, ritual, vocalization of prayers / sacred texts, etc. They both require regular practice to be fully realized. And these practices have evolved, In contemporary Buddhisn, an offshoot of Hinduism, one can see people praying to Buddha; from what I have studied, Buddha would be amused.

We Jews in 2010 are the current lineage holders of a great interpreted body of collected / collective knowledge of the Source dispensed by human beings. Likewise Hinduism has its masters and devotees, offering many paths toward standing (sometimes on one leg, very still) in front of life’s little and great truths. To separate the notion of a way of life and from a religion seems to destroy the integrity of both these unique ways of being human. Whether a Jewish-born yoga practitioner will achieve the ultimate experience of life (and after death?) we will never know just now. Our challenge is to dedicate one’s life to one’s life here, now. If we don’t do it consciously, it happens some how.

I echo the previous poster’s statement that one should not do yoga — or practice Judaism — with conflicting emotions. Judaism reminds us that any action done with kavanah / intention will influence the impact in the long and short, the now and then. Our ability to be in front of the truth of the matter; taking the risks and being responsible for the outcome is a big order. Bending forward with palms together at heart’s height to salute the perfection in another person may or may not make a difference, but from personal experience, it is a profound experience by this Western-born feminist. Can a non-Jew derive nachas / pleasure by joining in a b’racha / blessing (or at least the “amen”) over wine? If s/he does, does it dilute the impact of the Jew’s kavanah / intention. (If it is over Manaschewitz, perhaps it’s a blessing!) The rabbis say that non-Jews can take a day off on Saturday and observe the rituals of that time, but may not necessarily experience Shabbos kodesh / holiness – but they may in fact do so. Who’s to say?

The intention precedes and must inhabit the pose. The yoga teachers usually asks us how it feels to hold the pose, go the extra second, to concentrate our dristi / gaze with confidence. I did Maccabee II — aka warrior II aka virabhadrasana II — on Chanukah to see if I could conjure up a sense of the might that was needed to defeat the Syrian Greeks and, thereby support my aching arms.

Perhaps we Jews might occasionally ask each other if our attempt to more slowly chant the Amidah is helping? Or whether a new (or old) habit of going to the mikveh has indeed enhanced one’s family purity and the holiness of niddah / ritual purity? Judaism places emphasis on an individual’s having and exercising free will. We have choices, at every moment. If Hashem wants us to be happy, the answer matters big time.

No one else can do yoga for you. Likewise, no one else can live your Jewish life for you or for him/herself. There’s a lot of talk in modern day yoga studios to strengthen one’s core. If one feels / holds Judaism at one’s core, one does everything as a Jew. I can’t do it any other way. I’m still exercising.

I have experienced everything as a Jew. It is important for me at an appropriate moment to inform my Korean Shaman, Japanese tea ceremony and yoga teachers – as well as any other Jew who may have a doubt — that I am Jewish and sometimes have to explain what that means.

Eva-Leah says:

I had the same problem when I was a very young woman, living in Amsterdam, sympathizing with communism. (Late sixties.) I asked my yoga teacher if I, as a communist, could do yoga, if the practice wasn’t at odds with communist beliefs! Well, it is, because communism is so secular and yoga is a Hindu spiritual practice, but the teqacher wasn’t savy enough to know that. Now I live in Jerusalem and here I met a yoga teacher who taught “Torah yoga”, same postures, but with different names, (like: brachot hashachar, instead of Sun Greeting), no chanting Om but chanting Shalom, and combining the physical exercise with some talk about the parashat hashavua. The exercises in itself are OK, the avodah zara aspect is in the Hindu names or the chanting. This teacher no longer lives in Israel I believe, her name is Diane Bloomfield, I remember. She had a book about Torah yoga. Hope this little story helps!

Sure Yoga is culture. It’s not the act that defiles, but the thought you hold towards the act. Don’t let anyone guilt trip you. If you’re ok with it, then it’s ok.

don
fromnowtozen.com

Judy Montel says:

Some of these problems never arose when I took yoga, but that’s because it was a) in Israel and b) taught by a modern orthodox woman. After spending time in India, she and her husband tried to find the commonalities between yoga and Judaism and so I never realized there were areas of yoga that conflicted with Judaism. In her classes there only women, no statues and no chanting.

One question is: what are you willing to do about these areas in which you perceive a conflict between Jewish and Yogic practice?

I certainly don’t live in full congruence, all the time, with all of my values. There are times when I go along with certain discordant realities with the understanding that over time, I will have to choose one way or another or find some solution to the conflict

But I don’t think that I want to resolve my problems by saying that living inconsistently is just good for me and the innate rigidity of my personality and/or practice.

Having a statue in a room for purposes of inspiration would probably make me uncomfortable. And coming from a tradition with way too many prayers for my patience most of the time, chanting would probably have me heading for the hills. My yoga teacher told us to be aware of our breath, which made sense to me, and not to any syllable or word. Friends have told me they meditate to a Hebrew word.

I appreciated the opinions expressed but in the end, how to reconcile a conflict like this is something an individual has to decide in a very private place.

And life has inconsistencies, discrepancies and challenges outside of yoga that effect how and why we practice it.

I don’t practice yoga right now because some other things (among them family duties and a commitment to playing as much music as I can) have taken priority in my life.

Music, like yoga (and like my sewing class) is something I do for myself and only for myself. Doing things for myself raises many difficult questions about the way I want to be a spouse and a parent. These questions are frequently very easily answered by what my mind believes. But my practice of life tends to reveal a lot more ambivalence.

I hear some ambivalence in you as well – don’t give up the exploration! The fruit it bears may be unexpected…

Meditation is meditation. Yoga is yoga. If we look deeply, the strands are not owned by anyone or anything. Is a hammer Jewish? Or a can opener? These are tools, practices. If a Jew practices Zen, its Jewish. If a Jew practices Yoga, its Jewish. As to the bowing, a little humility may do most of us a lot of good.

Be well

I can not begin to express how disappointed I am in this article.

Here’s the bottom line. What the Lubavitcher Rebbe says does not equal what Judaism says. In fact, most Rabbis agree that Hinduism is not “Avodah Zara”.

I’m not sure how much time you’ve spent in yoga or to what depth but you seem completely out of your league.

May I recommend you read “From Benares to Jerusalem” and “Torah And Veda” before making this dramatic decision.

This article is only proof of one thing – you didn’t do your homework.

Orthodox Rabbi Harlan Kilstein
Yoga Teacher

Eric Slaton says:

Animal sacrifices were practiced by idol worshipers, but the Torah commands us to do it. Idol worshipers also pray, yet it is a mitzvah for Jews to do so. One must distinguish between the form and the content.

The words “religion” and “spirituality” have many definitions. Defining avodah Zarah – idol worship is a bit easier. The asanas – positions – in themselves are not avodah zarah, any more than praying or animal sacrifices are avodah zarah.

Rabbi Alan Lew (z”l) nearly became a Zen Buddhist monk. He incorporated meditation and taught it to those who were interested as a way of enhancing Judaism and coming closer to the Holy One of Blessing.

Michelle says:

I took a yoga class and during a meditation saw an image, while my eyes were closed, of a very ugly face. It frightened me so much I never went back. Participating in yoga meditation opens up your neshama to the spirit world, but not a good spirit world, a world of darkness. It’s best not to enter that space. That, I believe is being true to Torah, “have no other gods before me”.

For Specific Questions and Resources Regarding the Issue Between Yoga and Being An Observant Jew…..

Email me off my website http://www.kinneretyoga.com

I am an Orthodox Jewish Yoga Teacher and I Run Torah Focused Natural Health Retreats and A Yoga Training For Torah Observant Women

This issue has been extensively discussed at http://www.chabad.org, enter a search for “Is Yoga Kosher?”. Another interesting discussion at the same site is under the search “Isn’t It Racist to Believe that Jews are Special?” I personally agree with the perspective that spirituality precedes religion. I am interested in the spirituality expressed through various sources, and have felt particularly and deeply connected with Hebrew Spirituality which later was incorporated into Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and Yoga Spirituality which was later incorporated into Hinduism and Buddhism. Through much inquiry, study, exploration and meditation, I have found a fruitful and complimentary balance between these two ancient spiritual traditions, and no real conflict, only harmony on the deep, mystical levels. Kabalah and Yoga Mysticism have incredible similarities, as do teachings from other mystical traditions. If the focus is on the literal, there will always be conflict and inconsistency. If the focus is on the figurative, the symbolic, the archetype, the myth in the spirit of Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, the conflicts melt away.

It is a shame that the common western conception of yoga is so often limited to physical exercise when that is such a small part of the vast depth of spirituality expressed through yoga.

I welcome those so inclined to visit my Yoga and Judaism blog at http://yajcenter.blogspot.com.

Thanks for a great article which I think addresses how many a committed Jew often feels in a Yoga class. I am a Reconstructionist-leaning Reform Jew, and had many of the same questions.

I would sit so that ganesh wasn’t in my line of vision, and instead of a sanskrit “Ohm” I would offer a Hebrew “Or” (light), “namaste” would be replaced with a heartfelt “todah” – little tweaks that made me feel I was being true to my Judaism, yet echoing – and taking part in – the spirit of the spirituality of yoga practice.

**VENKAT**: – with absolute respect – there’s overwhelming evidence that yoga pre-dates Hinduism by a couple of thousand years. Check out the Mohinjo-Daro seals showing asana practice from before the writing of the Vedas & Upanishads, and there is a strong argument that it was only really aligned with Hinduism around the 2nd Century when Patanjali incorporated Brahmanic thinking into the Yoga Sutras.

The 2nd Century was an interesting time…Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi (Rebbe) got busy with the Mishna…but the 21st Century is turning into the most exciting time of all!

If you’re interested in taking this discussion “off-piste”, drop me a line at marcus@bibliyoga.com or check out http://www.bibliyoga.com.

***TAFFY***: Great article – beautifully written – but you’ve missed a trick with regards to the Chabad hashkafa. The Rebbe later supported various forms of meditation in his sichot, and yoga is definitely not issur as you’ve suggested. I have had huge support for my Jewishly-inspired yoga practice (Bibliyoga) from senior and highly respected Lubavitch figures (Rabbis and Dayanim) in both London and New York. Again, I’m happy to provide textual sources if you’re interested. For starters there is a ton of stuff in Tanya that gorgeously ties in with yogic practice…

**SRULI**: We are blessed to have many more Kosher alternatives – check out http://www.yogamosaic.org

***EVERYONE ELSE!!*** Here’s something to get your teeth into… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azDiSzNpmSc

I think the comment from “Orthodox Rabbi Harlan Kilstein, Yoga Teacher” is overly harsh and critical, but I must agree with his basic point: there is a LOT more that one can learn/consider about this issue! For another orthodox, yogic viewpoint (also Israeli), see Diane Bloomfield’s Torah Yoga website (or read her book). Diane is a Torah teacher (teaching Chassidut of Sfat Emet and Rav Kook primarily) who uses yoga to further her Torah teaching….

I believe this are all legitimate questions and points of view. However, I believe no one asked and answered the most central point of this debate: “What is a Religion”? or “What defines a Religion”?

My Guru, Yogairaj Swami Buaji, defines religion as a code of conduct. Since almost everyone says that all of the world’s major religions worship the same Absolute Being, all of these religions do not differ at their deepest core beliefs. Where they do differ is in how, when, where and what it means to worship that same Supreme Being.

Actually, if you believe that they all say we must worship That Being All of the Time in All Ways, then they don’t even differ there. However, the more detailed you wish to get, the more differences appear.

Therefore, they most certainly differ in the specifics they offer, except for Yoga. Why?

Yoga, in of itself, does not offer any specifics. Any specifics associated with Yoga come from its close ties to Hinduism and not from Yoga directly.

As far as I know, these ties are on the Hindu side of this equation. They do not come from the Yoga tradition.

It is difficult to completely separate the two traditions because of their long, close history together. But, these are some of the same the same questions which exist in Israel today: Can there be such a thing as a secular Jew? Can a person be Israeli without being Jewish? Can a person be Jewish with being Israeli?

In other words, IMHO, you can take the Hinduism out of Yoga; but, not the Yoga out of Hinduism; the Buddhism out of Zen/Chan; but, not the Zen/Chan completely out of Buddhism. In today’s Chinese society, can you remove All traces of Daoism, Confucianism and Buddhism without changing what it means to be Chinese, even though the all of Chinese people do not consider themselves to practice all of those religions? The same holds true for Japan, except you would have to add Shintoism to the mix.

To make the question even more complicated, those that think practicing Yoga means one is practicing Hinduism do not really understand Hinduism. How many people realize that the different sects of Hinduism hold views which are fundamentally more disparate than the differences between Christianity, Judaism and Islam? After all, those three religions hold similar views of Creation and have its members ending up in very similar states of being, while the various sects of Hinduism do not.

So which sect of Hinduism does Yoga belong to? None, specifically. All, as it belongs to all religions. BTW, most Western religions follow the concept of Dvaita or separateness, which is one of the sects of Hinduism.

Yoga only teaches principles. It does not teach how to put those principles into practice. That is left up to the individual. If you do not agree with those principles, then you should not practice Yoga simply because you can’t.

The Asanas are simple a means of helping you be more able to practice the principles of Yoga. As my guru says, “The Lotus Pose won;t take you to Heaven. Only Being Good and Doing Good will”

According to Raja Yoga, there are five Yamas and five Niyamas or Restraints and Observances (is ten a coincidence?):Non-Harming (#1 by no coincidence, I am sure), Truthfulness, Non-Stealing, Sexual (actually, all desires) Restraint, Non-Possessiveness/Greediness; Cleanliness/Purity, Contentment/Peacefulness, Spiritual Discipline, Spiritual/Self Study, Devotion/Surrendering/Offering Oneself to God.

Yoga does not delve into the details of how to achieve these ends. The other steps of Raja Yoga are the tools and not dogma one can use to achieve Union with the Absolute.

As a matter of fact, Yoga does not even say exactly what that Union is, except to describe it as unbounded, unending Bliss.

To conclude, IMHO, if you have a problem with these 10 precepts or the tools to achieve Union or even with the concept of achieving Union with the Absolute, then Yoga is not for you. If you believe the goal of your religion is the same as that of Yoga, I see no problem with practicing it as long as its spirit resonates with yours. if it sounds like a foreign language (I am not referring to the pronunciations of the names; but, what they are asking you to do), then Yoga is probably not right for you.

If you just want to be more flexible, then follow a good program of stretching. After all, who are more flexible than some members of Cirque Du Soleil? Are they all yogis?

If you want more information about what it means to practice Yoga, I suggest you read my article, “The Westernization of Yoga or Why Stretching and Flexibility are not Yoga.” It is available on my web site http://www.Secrets-of-Yoga-Qigong.com and over 25 others.

I would like to specifically comment to Michelle:

Yes, opening the door to other planes of existence, does open one’s spirit up to visitation form those beings on those planes. However, without intending to criticize you in anyway, you must remember that those beings are attracted to what they like and are repelled by what they don’t. So if you saw something that you did not like, you may want to take a closer look at what may be buried deep inside of yourself. Not letting our demons out is good. Purifying oneself of them is better.

Also, a person may not have any actual darkness buried inside of themselves. However, if you don’t realize that and are only just afraid you might, that fear alone is enough to feed the demons from the lower planes.

Doubt can bring the Light or it can bring Darkness.

May God Bless Us All!

Marcus Freed

I think your post based just on speculation that Yoga precedes Hinduism saying Indus Valley Civilization had Yoga Postures and therefore Yoga precedes Hinduism, so where did u arrive at the conclusion that Hinduism wasnt part of Indus valley, as far as i know the exact date of Hinduism is not determined, and you should know that the name Hindu came into existence from Indus or originally Sindhu the river. and it was known as Sanatana Dharma and still many people prefer to use it instead of Hinduism, since no confirmed date for Hinduism is fixed you cant say what preceded what, nobody knows.

and I think people who want to separate Hinduism and Yoga are basically two types
1) those whose reason is religious and they want to somehow fit Yoga into their religious view

2) those who are jealous that such a great technique is part of Hinduism and want to take away the credit from it.

the spiritual benefits of Yoga have been discussed at length in lots of Hindu texts, truth wont change by what one person believe including me.

and for that matter what Jesus taught already was known to mankind, so does that make Christianity redundant? or can you separate Jesus from Christianity?

I do not believe I said Yoga preceded Hinduism. However, since you brought up a time line, my Guru, Yogiraj Swami Bua says that Yoga is as old as the first Human Being.

Your use of the term Sanatana Dharma actually supports my claim that religions are merely codes of conduct; for as you know, that is what the term Dharma means in Sanskrit.

Although many Hindus consider Sikhs and Buddhists to be different sects of Hinduism, I never met one practitioner who did. So I am sure you know many Sikhs and Buddhists practice what they call Yoga. Since they do not consider themselves Hindus, do they practice Yoga?

As I said previously, there are such great differences in the recognized Hindu sects, no one can really pin point what makes a Hindu a Hindu. The Indian Supreme court defined A Hindu as one who: believes in the Vedas as God Given; recognizes the fact that the means or ways to salvation are diverse; and the realization of the truth that the number of gods to be worshiped is large. Where in Yoga does it proclaim any of those three beliefs?

If it were somehow proved that Christ never lived, would the teachings attributed to him be any less than they are now? Remember, Christ was Jewish. Buddha was a Hindu. Their teachings are their teachings regardless of what people want to call them or themselves.

The fact that their followers needed to call themselves a new name is only because the mainstream population of the original religions rejected the teachings of the new prophets. If the majority of those populations accepted their teachings, there would be no Buddhists or Christians today. They would still be either Hebrew or Hindu.

One last point: a common view of many Yogis is that everyone already has All of the Knowledge there is to know. So from a Yogic standpoint, Christ only saw more than most of us and tried to lift the veil of Darkness from our eyes.
So in that light (no pun intended), all communicated knowledge is redundant.

I know you will respond to this post. Let me say I will not reply to your next reply on this forum. I do not think it is the place to become too specific about Hinduism. So if you wish, contact me on my web site and we can continue our discussion privately.

RandomJoe says:

I’ll give credit to the writer for wrestling with this subject – that is perhaps the most Jewish thing about what she is doing here. Judaism has come into contact with external influences from day one, and has evolved as a result of deeply considering what they mean and how they can be integrated into a Jewish belief system.

The “Yoga is Avodah Zarah” position of the Lubavitcher Rebbe is extreme and I find it offensive, and closed minded; but then again, people should consider the fact that a lot of his followers considered him to be the Messiah, so while we of the non-Hasidic Jewish community may not see the Lubavitchers as a fringe movement, some of their ideas are pretty far out there; and we might want to consider his judgment in that light – that is, way off the mainstream. Once that’s out of the way, a lot of interesting and reasonable discussions can be followed. Bringing fundamentalist positions into a discussion mainly serves fundamentalist viewpoints – that is to say it effectively shuts down dialogue.

@The Dharma Warrior

I was replying to the post of Marcus not yours, I have mentioned his name in the beginning of my post, plz see.

Wrestling with G-d is what Jews do…so it is no surprise to read the posts and wrestle along with you!
All I can add is that after having left Judaism for many years, it was specifically the spiritual techniques of yoga which opened my heart and mind to the fullness and beauty of my soul–and there for the first time in my life– through that opening– that I came to know myself undeniably as a Jew (Jewish soul). The yoga techniques which I have been taught are to be just that–tools to bring us from unawareness; to awareness; to focused, directed, volitional self-awareness so that we might see life and engage with life more fully. Where you take the techniques, and where they take you, might make the spiritual religious, but not necessarily. This Jewish yogini, for one, is ever grateful for the practice!

I appreciate the fair-minded and balanced evaluaion fo the question.

You should certainly be aware of the work of Diane Bloomfield and her teaching and excellent book on Torah Yoga.

I am truly indebted to the author of this well thought inquiring article. As an atheist and solid religious Jew I have been much troubled by the erosion of our numbers by among other baits Bhuddism.
Yoga, as a Bhuddist ritual, for many Jews has been the portal into Bhuddism. I do understand why many Jews seek “spiritual” fulfillment beyond Judaism; learning about Kosher Yoga may well be the answer to this problem. If Torah and Tikkun Olam can be combined with Jewish Yoga perhaps we will win back the “spititually” deprived into the broader traditional Jewishness that is our religion. Equally importantly we must differentiate between our religion and Bhuddism. Many Jews have argued with me that Bhuddism is not really a relgion and that no conflict exists. When I see Jewish renewal bookstores selling Bhuddist religious publications on a religious equivalence with Judiaism and idols are for sale; I am aghast. When I see on the walls of renewal “spiritual” ordained rabbis pictures of Bhuddist idols; I think all is lost.
We do not tolerate Jews for Jesus and similarly we should not be tolerating Jews for Bhudda.
I applaud those who are attempting to develop Kosher Yoga devoid of alien religions and are offering spiritual comfort within a Jewish context.

Alexandra says:

I appreciate that this was given thorough and thoughtful consideration. If it is physical fitness aspects you’re looking for, I can think of a few options:
1)Perhaps you can get a book about the poses and get an idea about the physical portions of yoga that interest you. I don’t have time/money to go to yoga classes these days so this is what I have done. I’m used to the poses so I can just go from one to the next.
2) Find another class. I have never been in a class that had any statues or had any religious undertones.
3)Pilates. It offers similar physical benefits to yoga but was developed about 50 years ago for ballet dancers to improve their fitness.

Mr Ous says:

Hi, i’m of indian origin, i don’t practice yoga but this vigorous discussion here sure gives me the impetus to give it a go…perhaps meet some hot jewish chick in the process (unlikely)..for what it’s worth i recall that a documentary programme on Yoga had it that its purest form of practice was without attaching imagined names and forms to the asanas and that anything else (chakras included) was unnecessary complication.

As the other poster said, it is quite true that “you can take the Hinduism out of Yoga but not the Yoga out of Hinduism”. If Yoga is truly some universal kind of practical spirituality then cooption by other religions will have little impact on the end result…which might be nothing more than loving thy neighbour as thyself.

everyone else has said it all–thought-provoking article.

but TAFFY?? to paraphrase Tony Kushner, “What kind of Jewish name is Taffy??”

:-)

poohlein says:

too much thinking, too little heart.
why does one have to exclude the other?
honor the divine in you, in the rabbi, in the ganesh, and you honor the spirit that makes both yoga and judaism so attractive to you.

Lauren Deutsch says:

When one is facing an obstacle and needs some assistance in overcoming it (or embracing it!) by seeking the good counsel of a trusted Jewish teacher, here is an opportunity to honor the ganesha in a rabbi.

KerryWilson says:

Taffy, I commend your “uptight approach to religion requires yoga” as good.
My personal experience with yoga is as a wonderful tool for my physical and spiritual growth.
I believe that your personal religious knowledge can be a touchstone to help you deal with internal and external problem with greed, sex, and pride(ego).
“A very important theme or concept in Judaism is to take care of the body, and that the body is sacred,” she said(from Torah Yoga). Which I think is a good way to approach yoga.
Feel free to contact me if you have yoga questions.

senlin says:

I don’t have as much of a problem with yoga not being “kosher” as I do with the fact that I think Westerners and Americans have *co-opted* a spiritually-rooted, Eastern practice, which I think is disrespectful. I don’t do yoga for the same reason that I don’t like it when random non-Jews take Kabbalah out of the context of Judaism and history, and use it for their own feel-good purposes. I agree with Venkat that yoga definitely has religious underpinnings. Even if it not considered a religion per se, it is far from being just a generically-spiritual, fitness movement. I think the *way* in which the U.S. has brazenly co-opted yoga is non-kosher.

Francois says:

I am not Jewish, but I know it is wrong to follow the practice of other religions. Remember the Yoga is a way to reach another level of self being.

God says in His word not to follow the practises of idols? When why do you follow the ways of others?

Ask God for guidance to show you the err in your ways.
Regards

Doriel says:

The goal of all yoga is to attain union with God, to become powerful like God and acquire siddhis. It is deceitful and deceptive for any yoga teacher to not explain that. The exercises are done to stay healthy WHILE THE YOGI TRIES TO BECOME IMMORTAL AND ACQUIRE SIDDHIS. What jew would want a GURU for a yoga teacher? That’s the ancient way it was taught. Buddha had a guru. He was a hindu prince, kshatriya. Better for a jew to find some other form of EXERCISE, because yoga is not just exercise. If people are going to the trouble and bother to not speak sanskrit, not chant sanskrit and not bow down to idols, which is part of BHAKTI YOGA, why doesn’t that give you hints that the whole system is inappropriate. Also, the exercises CAUSE to incite the arousal of KUNDALINI ENERGY UP THE SPINE FOR ENLIGHTENMENT. YOU COULD GET A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN OR GO INSANE. The difference between the 2 paths is this. One calls for the shekinah of the lord from without, YOGA BRINGS UP THE SERPENT FIRE FROM BELOW TO RISE UP AND WITHIN THE BODY. Most westerners will never be able to do the yoga postures properly because THEY ARE NOT DOUBLE JOINTED. Most asians are genetically double jointed. Yogis pray to the sun. Isn’t that idol worship? Surya namaskar is SUN WORSHIP. HERE IS A DELIGHTFUL PARABLE FOR YOU.
I took my children for an outing to a beautiful park, a garden, three of them. I told them all to be careful of the serpent KUNDALINI, because she would cause harm. One listened. His name was Enoch. My obedient child later walked with the most holy one and was lifted on high to the heavens. Two did not listen. Their names were Rebel and DISCONTENT. Now, India has a section, large section called KAIN DESH, THAT’S RIGHT, LAND OF CAIN. WITH ALL THE LOVE OF MY HEART, SEEK PURITY AND SIMPLICITY. Doriel

when the author says she wants to ‘do what the romans do’ that’s a tip-off to a problem right there. why would a jew want to do what the ‘romans’ do: who destroyed our temple, exiled us, and practiced terrible things including idolatry?

she asks, is yoga avoda zara? uh, yes. helloooooo?!
it was good that she mentioned a frum teacher who removed all the names of the poses even in english. this may be safe. maybe.

but having statues in class, saying himdu words or chants, using sanskrit names for poses? can you spell i-d-o-l-a-t-r-y???

i’ve read several pieces by observant jews on yoga. some say don’t do it at all. some say if you must, then be sure to remove any and all religious elements.

the frum practitioner said if you do that, it’s just excercise.
let’s hope so.

there are books about ‘yoga’ with hebrew letters. but i don’t know if it is completely devoid of religious or ‘spiritual’ practice from hinduism. it might be okay, i don’t know.

the main thing is this: so many people today in the name of ‘peace, love and brotherhood’ try to extract jews from our roots and souls. it’s a way of saying ‘come let us be like the nations’, and anyone who knows torah at all knows this is an invitation to disaster spiritually and physically.

here’s a thought: if you’re trying to rationalize a practice that belongs to another religion or ‘spirituality’ then you’re on shaky ground.

the real call here is for the observant jewish world to take note and make things available that respond to the spiritual needs of jews who do not know their own traditions!

also, when it’s mentioned that rabbi shlomo carlebach went to ashrams; he wasn’t going to make nice with hindus, he was going to rescue jewish souls!!!

please see this piece from chabad, which suggests one can do the ‘excercises’ as long as all religious content is removed

http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/496869/jewish/Is-Yoga-kosher.htm

David Tenenbaum says:

The only thing dumber than this article is the fact that people dress in 19th century merchants’ clothing as some sort of worship. Do you think Moses wore a Strommel in the desert? Oy.

Half of Jewish customs were incorporated from other traditions (the Pesach Seder was developed from Pagan and Hellenistic customs, e.g.). Judaism’s adaptability is a strength (or are you in the habit of sacrificing lambs and goats on Shabbas?), and incorporating meditation or yoga shouldn’t pose a spiritual or religious crisis unless you are in the regular habit of forfeiting your cognitive abilities to the Rebbe.

There is always another Jew MORE OBSERVANT than you (I have eaten Matza out of a bag with Lubavitchers just in case a crumb of matza touched a drop of water and managed to leaven), and all this ‘niggling’ (as the author calls it) probably accounts for the high level of neurosis and OCD behavior in the Ashkenazi community.

You don’t have to worship Ganesh to do yoga. Ever heard of Kavanah?

And you probably should be on SSRIs if you worry so much.

Shabbat Shalom everyone.

“Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, God, and I will send a famine on the land, not a hunger for food nor thirst for water, but to hear the words of God.” (Amos 8:11)

There will be a time when people will seek spiritual fulfillment, but will not be able to satisfy it with the words of God, and so to quench their thirst they will turn to other ways, ways they did not know.

I have always avoided Yoga for all the religious reasons you have stated so well. (I do Pilates instead -essentially the same exercises and stress release without the “religious” piece). I have many friends who practice Yoga and then come to Shabbat services and claim to get nothing out of it-no Kavanah. If they put as much time and energy into their Jewish learning and practice as they do their yoga, they may feel differently. Nevertheless, this was a great article. I wish you would have stood your ground and not sold out in the last paragraph though.

Deborah Shaya says:

1. Yoga and Tai Chi

These physical exercises are based upon AVODAH ZARAH (idolatry), and come from a SOURCE OF TUMAH. (‘Tumah’ is spiritual ‘uncleanliness’, which is extremely damaging to a person’s home and life). Practicing yoga or tai chi is harmful to a Jewish person – spiritually, and therefore physically.

2. Many people today have been misled into avodah zarah, of one kind or another. Some people have been misled unknowingly. The sting of avodah zarah can cause terrible harm h”v.

Nevertheless, there is always great hope. And that is the great light of Teshuva (returning to Hashem, our G-d.) Hashem is calling out to us every day, to return to Him properly, with a pure heart:

“……shuvu Eilai ve’Ashuva aleichem amar Hashem Tzevakot…..” (Malachi 3:7)
“……return to Me and I will return to you, says Hashem, Master of Legions…..”

Teshuvah is very great and is regarded very highly in Shamayim. A person should seize the opportunity to do Teshuva to Hashem right now, while “the Gates of Teshuva are open”.

Teshuva is one of the greatest Gifts that Hashem, Our G-d, has given to us. So swallow your pride.

By doing a true and sincere Teshuva to Hashem, the brachot (blessings) from Hashem will come into a person’s life, and obstacles will begin to shift.

1. I will list below:
(a) what the sources of Tumah, and Avodah Zarah are. And

(b) what a person should do to remove the sources of tumah and Avodah Zara from her/his home/life.

2. I will then list a few mitzvot, and practical steps that a person can take, in order to do Teshuvah for any kind of involvement in avodah zara.

Deborah Shaya says:

What are the Sources of Tumah, and Avodah Zarah? (‘Tumah’ is spiritual ‘uncleanliness’, which is extremely damaging to a person’s home and life)

What should a person do to remove the sources of tumah and Avodah Zara from her/his home/life?

COMMANDMENT AGAINST IDOLATRY:

We are specifically commanded against idolatry, in the SECOND COMMANDMENT of the Asseret Hadibrot:

‘Do not have any other gods BEFORE ME.’

‘Lo yiheyeh lecha elohim acherim AL PANAI.’

And: ‘Do not represent (such gods) by any CARVED STATUE OR PICTURE of anything in the heaven above, or the earth below, or in the water below the land.
Do not bow down to (such gods) or worship them.

I am G-d your Lord, A JEALOUS G-D, who demands EXCLUSIVE WORSHIP.

Where My enemies are concerned, I keep in mind the sin of the fathers for (their) descendants, to the third and fourth (generation).
But for those who love Me and keep My Commandments, I show love for thousands (of generations.)’

‘Lo ta’aseh lecha PESEL…………. KI ANI HASHEM ELOKECHA, KEL KANAH, poked avon avot al banim, al shileshim, ve’al ribe’im, le’sonay.
Ve’osseh chessed la’alafim, le’ohavai, u’leshomrei mitzvotai.’

(Parsha of Yitro, Chapter 20, verses 3-6)

Hashem, our G-d, is a very “Jealous G-d” who demands “Exclusive worship.”

Deborah Shaya says:

1. PLACES OF IDOLATRY

Do not go into any of the following, as they are all places of idolatry, and AVODAH ZARAH (literally ‘strange worship’). They deny the Sovereignty of Hashem, the One G-d, and Creator of the World.

- Churches
- Buddist temples
- Hindu temples
- Sikh temples
- Greek temples
- Temples/buildings of any other kind of foreign worship.
- Freemasonry

There is a lot of TUMAH in them (spiritual ‘uncleanliness’ which can affect a person has veshalom, physically and spiritually in different ways). Always walk to the opposite side of the road rather than walk directly past one of these buildings e.g. a church.
If any Jew is a “Freemason,” this too is based upon Avodah Zarah. He/she must stop going to such a place, and associating with “freemasons.”

Deborah Shaya says:

2. STONE/WOOD SCULPTURES OF THE HUMAN FORM; THE HUMAN FACE; STATUES

These are graven images. They should IMMEDIATELY be removed from your home and discarded, no matter how much they might have cost, or the sentimental value attached to them. They are a strong source of Tumah.

Deborah Shaya says:

3. Tefillah/Prayer – in the synagogue, and at home.

(a) There should be NO IMAGES whatsoever, inside any shul.

There should be NO IMAGES of
• ANY PERSON, or
• ANY ANIMAL or
• ANY OBJECT
inside any synagogue.

Any images of a person, animal or object should be REMOVED immediately, and ENTIRELY out of the synagogue or shteibl. No matter how large or small they may be. This is against the Halachah.

(b) When praying at home, a person should endeavour to pray in a room which does not contain any images or paintings of a person, animal or object.

Deborah Shaya says:

4. BOOKS, MAGAZINES, LEAFLETS

These are a strong source of TUMAH, and bring in a lot of negativity into the home. These books and magazines negatively affect those who live in that home.

Go through every book in your home very carefully, and check for the following. If it falls into one of these categories, or you have doubt about it – sort them out into a pile, and then DISPOSE of these books as soon as possible, and take them out of your home. Or at least take them out of your home and put them in a shed if you can.

It is a very great MITZVAH to remove such sources of Tumah from your home. If some of these books were expensive – discard them anyway, and put aside how much they cost. They are a form of Avodah Zarah, and should be removed immediately.

• Instead, place your EMUNAH (faith) in Hashem, that He will bless all your endeavours, and new, good things, will now be able to come into your life. You might start to feel better in yourself.

The following are some examples:

(a) ‘New Age’ books – (e.g. Indian authors, ‘Shambhala’ publications)

(b) Philosophical books (e.g. by Indian writers such as Deepak Chopra etc)

(c) Yoga/Tai Chi books (qi gong)/yoga magazines &leaflets; tai chi (qigong) magasines & leaflets – these physical exercises are based upon AVODAH ZARAH, and come from a SOURCE OF TUMAH. Practicing yoga or tai chi is harmful to a Jewish person – spiritually, and therefore physically.

Have Emunah (faith) in Hashem that He will help you to find another alternative form of exercise.

(d) Meditation books – by non-Jewish or unorthodox Jewish writers.

Buddism abounds with “meditation.”

Meditation is only for Prophets – it is not for the ordinary man or woman.

(e) Books that appear ok – but contain many idolatrous images and drawings e.g. mathematical or philosophical books interspersed with pictures of dragons; snakes; mandalas; crosses; ‘third eyes’; hindu gods; hindu goddesses; buddas; tibetan gods; egyptian gods; greek gods; stone/gold idols etc etc – THESE SHOULD ALL BE REMOVED IMMEDIATELY FROM YOUR HOME.

Deborah Shaya says:

5. (a) Written “Requests” of the Igrot/Igros (letters of advice written to other people by Rabbi M. Schneerson tz”l during his lifetime);

(b) FAXES and LETTERS “SENT TO” Rabbi M. Schneersohn tz”l after he passed away in 1994 – at the Bet HaChaim (incorrectly referred to as the, “Ohel” by Lubavitch)

(c) Any other written “communications with” tzaddikim at the Bet HaChaim (cemetery), who are not physically alive.

These written requests should all be destroyed. However “nice” or “comforting” or “accurate” the “reply you received” was; or whatever “bracha you received;” or “whatever the date of the letter was;” – these writings should be destroyed. They are pure Avodah Zarah.

There should be NO MEDIATOR between a person’s tefillot (prayers) and Hashem.
If a person chooses to use intercession instead of praying directly to Hashem, this is completely Assur, and forbidden.

Deborah Shaya says:

6. PHOTOGRAPHS

If you have taken holiday photographs of e.g. Buddist temples, whether on the outside or inside, these are a source of Tumah, and should be discarded. Similarly for buddist celebrations. These places of AVODAH ZARAH completely DENY THE SOVREIGNTY OF HASHEM, the One and Only G-d, and Creator of the World. They should not be in your home.

The same applies to photographs of:
- Churches
- Hindu temples
- Sikh temples
- Greek temples
- Temples/buildings of any other kind of foreign worship.
- Freemasonry

Sort through your photographs, and discard those that relate to Avodah Zarah.

However attached you may feel to these photographs, they should be discarded, as they completely deny the Sovereignty of Hashem.

• Instead, place your EMUNAH (faith) in Hashem, that He will bless all your endeavours, and new, good things, will now be able to come into your life. You might start to feel better in yourself.

7. Discard any other items related in any way to Avodah Zarah. No matter how small and insignificant, or however large e.g. bookmarks with pictures of churches; jewellery and accessories.

Deborah Shaya says:

SUMMARY:

1. Do not go into any places of idolatry.

2. Discard and remove from your home all stone/wood sculptures e.g. sculptures of:
(a) the human form (“nudes.”)
(b) the human face
(c ) statues – of the human form in particular.

3. Books – discard and destroy all books relating to Avodah Zarah.

4. Photographs – discard and destroy all photographs of Avodah Zarah.

5. Discard any other items you have relating to Avodah Zarah e.g.jewellery.

Deborah Shaya says:

HOW TO DO TESHUVAH FOR AVODAH ZARAH – once you have removed all sources of Tumah, and Avodah Zarah from your home/life.
CHECKLIST.

1. Say the KETORET twice a week at least (Tefillah, prayer).

The Ketoret has great Kedushah, (holiness) and power to transform all negatives into positives. Say the full text of the Ketoret in the full “Sefarad” version.

If you can say it every day, including Shabbat, this is even better. You can say it as many times as you like during the day.

The Ketoret is said formally 3 times a day in total: twice in the Shacharit, and once during the Minchah prayer.

Deborah Shaya says:

2. Decide on an amount to give to TZEDAKAH, (charity) in Israel, so that it ‘hurts you’ a little bit. Give to a proper registered charity, such as a hospital or emergency services.

Deborah Shaya says:

3. MEZUZOT – (Positive Mitzvah, commandment in the Shema – affirming that G-d is ONE, and warning against idolatry.)

Check that:

(a) You have properly affixed a mezuzah on EVERY DOORWAY which needs a mezuzah. This includes archways, patio doors, folding doors, side doors to garden, garden doors.

(b) If any places in your home are lacking a mezuzah, purchase one as soon as possible from a qualilfied Sofer (Scribe), and put it up as soon as possible.

(c) Check that ALL your mezuzot are kosher, as soon as you can. These should be given to a qualified Sofer (scribe) for checking.

(d) Mezuzot should ideally be checked ONCE A YEAR.

Deborah Shaya says:

4. Travel to the KOTEL in Israel. If you can travel with a group of people who are going for the purposes of Teshuvah, this is even better. The purpose will be to pray, (Tefila and Teshuva), and ask Hashem, Hakadosh Baruch Hu, for His forgiveness, for mechilah.

If a group can be arranged, this will be a greater mitzvah for everyone who joins. If you can go individually to the Kotel, in the meantime, before the group travel, this is also very good.

Deborah Shaya says:

5. When you have done 1-3 and/or 4 above, (summarised below as well), you should obtain the special BERACHA, (bracha, blessing) of someone who is known to be a TRUE KOHEN/COHEN. This will bring Hashem’s brachot of the material and spiritual blessings directly into your life.

Deborah Shaya says:

SUMMARY:

1. Say the Ketoret – at least twice a week.
Say the full text of the Ketoret in the full “Sefarad” version.

2. Give Tzedakah to recognised charity in Israel

3. Mezuzot - Have you affixed a mezuzah on every doorway?
- Have you checked that all your mezuzot are kosher?

4. Kotel in Israel – in a group (and individually, if possible)

5. Bracha of a true Kohen/Cohen.

JesusH. says:

Will someone please the delete the postings of this fundamentalist nutter?

Yoga, part of sanatana dharma (hind Yoga recommended -Law book of Manu of Aryan people, & Tirumantiram (dravidian people). Buddhism is Hindu (read the Dhammapada. Goal of yoga become one with god. Whoever is telling you is it “scientific” is stating ONLY ONE ASPECT-that is deception. The exercises, asanas are to help your KUNDALINI FLOW. The Kundalini is a dormant potential energy at the base of the spine that flows up to the brain. It’s called serpent power. The Hebrew way is not to BECOME ONE WITH GOD but that GOD’S LIGHT WILL DESCEND, BLESS AND TRANSFORM YOU IF YOU LIVE A LIFE OF HOLINESS, PURITY AND COMPASSION. THERE IS A LONG LIST AND LINE OF DEMONS (Ravana,Sri Lanka) WHO BECAME POWERFUL YOGIS WITH WHAT ARE CALLED SIDDHIS, SUPERNATURAL POWERS. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BECOME HOLY OR SAINTLY TO ACQUIRE SUPERNATURAL POWERS, SIDDHIS, PSYCHIC ABILITIES. ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS YOGA, THE ASANAS EXERCISES AND PRANAYAM (BREATHING) bring up KUNDALINI. Atharva Veda has human sacrifice, to goddess KALI, + idol worship prescribed clearly (all the vedas and law book of manu). Ganesha is supposed to be the son of Lord Shiva who got his head cut for not listening to his father (NOT ARCHETYPE) half truth again. His mother goddess Parvati had him when his father was away, and Lord Shiva attached an elephant head to his body. In Kazhakistan, the archaeologists found an horses head attached to a human body with the spine perfectly fuses. The archaeologists VOMITED. In VELOS, GREECE, the archaeologists found a SATYR, A HUMAN HEAD ATTACHED TO A HORSE’S BODY, PERFECTLY FUSED SPINE ON DISPLAY at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Be careful what you practice. Make sure you know ALL about what you are getting involved in. What appears innocent, is INDOCTRINATING YOU slowly but surely into another culture, another belief system, that is not hebrew.
HEBREW CULTURE IS NOT POLYTHEISTIC, IDOLATRY OR KUNDALINI SERPENT POWER OR MAGIC.IS THAT WHAT YOU REALLY WANT/ASSIMILATE?

I grew up with a Yeshiva education and a strong connection to Hashem and Judaism. My mom taught Hebrew school for over 40 years. I found yoga after college while looking for exercise. It felt like a perfect path of growth for me – slow, careful, deep, transformative. i had a sense of doing just the physical part. Being a child of Holocaust survivors, there was much fear lodged in my body. Each pose provided a different path of depth, self knowledge and healing into specific, heretofore unknown places in my body. By the time I had been practicing for 10 years, I was no longer a fearful person. Yoga empowered me away from the traumas that were present in my childhood, due to the Holocaust.

I was willing to acknowledge emotional growth from yoga, but still felt I would avoid the spiritual part. But we are not parts – we humans crave wholeness. Five years after that, I became a yoga teacher in the Iyengar tradition, and began having Jewish spiritual epiphanies during my yoga practice. The first was that while I was in trikonasana, the triangle pose, I was in the Aleph. I prayed that this knowledge of connections was just for me – after all with my background, of course my Jewish soul would inform my physical practice. But revelations kept coming – and I found a rabbi – and began studying Torah again and Kabbalah.

I learned from the texts that the Aleph is in fact a person reaching from earth to heaven making a connection between the two. This is instruction for the pose, trikonasana. I learned how the chakra system and the Tree of Life, both body maps, share essential truths. We Jews know Shabbat and in yoga there is Sava -sana – the pose of rest. Yoga is a tool for all religions as it makes the physical, spiritual. Fear not that you will lose yourself or your Jewishness with a practice. Find me – kosheryoga.net

Thank you Taffy for bringing up the subject that bother so many of us in such a thoughtful way.
As you pointed in your article you got many different answers to that same question so please let me add mine.
During the history, Judaism had an open conversation with its surrounding and its scholars, this is all the commentary we know. Today it continues and we are privileged to be part of that exploration of such a long lineage. Some people will adapt changes faster (reform) some will take more time (orthodox) but Judaism is a living organism that grow and evolve, welcome to the conversation.
according to the Siva-Shakta tantric tradition our body contains both the physical body as well as our spiritual body (Neshama?). When they are not in sync our God seeing is in complete. There are 3 main paths of yoga: Jana yoga – knowledge, Karma yoga – action and Raja Yoga – supreme. By doing the Karma yoga, asana, we can better connect our physical body with our spiritual body and therefor we connect better with the universe/God/ Higher Self/ Supreme find the name that works best for you. Yoga, religious, are both tools for that connection of finding the Supreme in our life. In my very humble opinion, I think Judaism was threatened by that connection and the connection to the body therefor all the TOM’A laws. If by practicing Asana and Praniyama you find better connection to your path – use it as a tool. Yoga invites us to connect to our greater being and offers tools for that. Make it your vehicle for inner transformation.

You made various nice points there. I did a search on the subject and found the majority of folks will go along with with your blog.

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David gupta says:

Silly Jewish , indians invented yoga, it’s an “INDIAN” created practice. Dont modify the “Hinduism/Indian” in it, modify yourself or get outta the water!. I wouldnt go to a jewish temple and start singing “Jesus loves me”!

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I’ve said that least 822259 times. The problem this like that is they are just too compilcated for the average bird, if you know what I mean

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Francine says:

I really like this, it has been also an issue I struggle with everyday. Wanting to take my yoga practice more in depth but yet something holds me back and at the same time wanting to open myself up to the consciousness/G-d inside but again the same thing hold me back.
I had this before, but it seems to have diminished as I have taken my Judaism more in depth.
Francine struggling Jewish Yogini

Carrie says:

I also don’t do yoga but there are some poses that make their way into other exercise classes. For example a class that is called aerobics has a downward dog style pose. When it comes to this, I make sure to do a slight variation so as not to do the pose exactly and then I imbue it with new meaning. As to going to a yoga class, I don’t think that Jews that go are necessarily practising idolatry if it’s taken out of the spiritual context but for me, I wouldn’t risk it. In Judaism, there are also things that I don’t do such as wearing the hamsa as the word is not even hebrew and it comes from idolatrous religions predating Judaism and Islam. I think sometimes you can’t avoid certain poses but you can make them slightly different and if you change them it’s okay. I don’t think it’s fair that hindus would own putting your hands straight up in the air and stretching. That’s not something that’s copywritable so if something like that or similar makes it way into a different exercise class and you don’t have the intention of practising yoga and you do a slight variant on it even if it is mouthing ‘kipa’, it should be okay…however if you go to a yoga class there’s a problem as it’s called yoga which comes from hindu and the hindu reliigon or spirituality which is avoda zara however if you were to go to a class that’s called Jew-ga that uses similar moves (however not to serve Hashem in a way not commanded) than that should be fine as long as your remove the connection completely!.

Carrie says:

I agree but sometimes people view them as ‘art’ and I know some orthodox rabbi’s give their approval as long as they are not used for worship.

Carrie says:

I agree about the whoe dressing in a strimel thing and like menonites, that dress comes from a completely different religion. So does the hamsa. which has idolotrous roots and which is why I don’t use it. it’s a good luck charm. We’re not supposed to have superstitious amulets like that. Howoever, what you said about the Pesach seder does not but I get what you’re saying, a seder in the sense is not copyrightable. .

Yoga is from another religion which is why a person who does yoga has to be very careful to not practice it as a religion or spirituality. I think there is a possibility that the poses could be taken from yoga and stripped of their spirituality. People don’t own a particular pose… no one owns putting your hands up in the air or stretching. However, if one does the poses and calls them the actual sanskrit names, that’s when there is a problem. I think if you were to take the moves and do a small variant and rename them, you’d have no problem doing something similar to yoga….however one should probably not attend a class called ‘yoga’ for the reason that the name comes from avoda zara however if you called it ‘Joga’ and changed the name, it might be okay to practice it in a a Jewish context or Jew-ga as long as you weren’t using it to serve Hashem in a way not commanded :)

I enjoyed reading. I agree for most part, and think that your original intent was to get out of your anxiety. However, once you beginning to feel and think about Yoga the way you were it is worth to stop. No matter what other says it is what you feel. In the end it is a man face to face with the Almighty One, you cannot use other people logics to justify only your soul.

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Is Yoga Kosher?

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