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A few years’ back, on Emunaroma, I spent quite a while trying to bottom out whether yoga could really be ‘kosher’ for orthodox Jews.

After a lot of digging around, the answer that crystallised was:

No, absolutely not!

Last week, a friend called me and asked me to re-post the yoga report on my new blog, as there is a 3 day ‘yoga retreat’ happening in Israel, and she was shocked that so many very orthodox women are spending a whole three days of their precious lives bowing to the modern baal that is yoga.

So, I’m reposting it below.

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Can Yoga Really be Kosher?

Some background

For years’ now, I’ve been hearing from different people in the frum community about how ‘great’ and ‘amazing’ and ‘wonderful’ yoga is. But because I’m a religious Jew, I’ve been very wary of getting into anything that seems so connected to idol worship and the Hindu religion (more on this in a moment).

‘But yoga can be kosher!’ I’ve been assured repeatedly, and I never pushed the issue very much because a) I still wanted to get Shabbat invitations, and b) I wasn’t really interested in doing it anyway.

When I started to develop an interest in alternative medicine, I made a point of seeking out a knowledgeable, well-respected orthodox Rabbi in Sanhedria, to ask him what was acceptable, halachically, and what wasn’t. He gave me guidelines that things like acupuncture and acupressure and even applied kinesiology – where everything is directly ‘hands-on’ and there’s no indirect, invisible ‘forces’ at play – are halachically OK.

But anything to do with chakras, or anything hands-off (like the type of healing that occurs with Reiki, for example,) was not.)

I did  more research, and was told that a rabbinic research group had been put together a few years’ back by one of the ultra-orthodox organisations in Israel, to explore what was ok, Jewishly, and what wasn’t. The basic conclusion is that most of the things coming out of China were OK, but the practises coming out of India were NOT OK.

I also discovered that Rav Elyashiv had given a ruling about kisufim (the use of magic) in alternative medicine, that basically said that anything where it couldn’t be shown scientifically how it actually worked to help a person heal, should be considered kisufim and avoided by Jews.

In recent years, there have been many studies done to show that the body is made up of electrical impulses, that each cell is polarized with an electrical charge, and that the traditional acupuncture points of Chinese Medicine actually correspond to areas where the electrical ‘charge’ of the skin is much greater than in surrounding areas.

Long story short: Chinese Medicine now has a proven scientific basis for how and why it works, and is thus acceptable for orthodox Jews.

But the same can definitely NOT be said for the Indian healing tradition, which includes multiple references to energy centres (the chakras and the nadis) and working with the ‘astral’ body, i.e., a person’s soul. Yoga is part of the Indian healing tradition.

So, can it be ‘kosher’?

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Yoga’s bad vibe

Let me start by explaining how I came to be researching this topic. A few weeks’ ago, I finally attended my first apparently ‘kosher’ yoga class. The teacher was a very lovely woman, but the spiritual ‘vibe’ I got from attending the class was so disturbing to me – despite the fact that all we seemed to be doing was some nice stretching exercises – that I decided to check things out properly, to see what’s really going on with ‘kosher yoga’.

I decided to buy a book on the history of yoga by yoga expert Georg Feuerstein, which would set everything out, and explain where yoga had come from. Immediately, the first red flag went up as I started to read some of the comments about yoga being the ‘midwife’ of at least four idolatrous religions; and how it was ‘impossible to separate yoga from Hinduism, just as it’s impossible to unscramble an egg.’

There was also a lot of talk about how it helps people to tap into to the ‘mythical energy of the serpent’, and a whole bunch of other stuff that frankly made my hair stand on end.

Let’s be clear that the people discussing yoga in this fashion were adepts and experts who really knew what they were talking about, and who didn’t have a vested interest about pretending that yoga was nothing to do with religion.

They stated very clearly that it was a religious, spiritual practice, associated with many of the world’s most idolatrous religions.

Things did not look very promising, initially, but I decided to wait and see what the book said, before really making up my mind.

Then, someone contacted me complaining that I should look at the ‘secular’ branch of yoga as taught by BKS Iyengar, and practiced in the West, which was all about health benefits and exercise, and nothing to do with religion at all.

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There is no such thing as ‘secular’ yoga

I went to check out BKS Iyengar – and got to an official site that was dripping with idol worship and full of prayers offered up to the dead founders of yoga, who had now been officially deified (including by BKS Iyengar, himself).

(As a side note, whenever you do that ‘OM’ chant, the underlying intention is that you are praying to an idol.)

The more I was scratching the surface of yoga, even apparently ‘secular’ yoga, the more I was finding references and connections to idol worship – so much so, that I literally started to feel a little nauseous about the whole affair.

The next thing I did was go back to our halachic sources, to check what it says about idol worship.

The Torah gives us two very clear commandments in connection with the severe prohibition against idol worship (I’m quoting the notes to the Artscroll Tractate of Avodah Zarah, 11a):

  • “And you shall not follow their rituals – Leviticus 18.3 – which proscribes rituals that are used in idol worship.”
  • “And you shall not act according to their practices – Exodus 23-24 – which forbids any practices specific to idolatrous peoples, even those that have nothing to do with idolatry.”

On the face of it, even if yoga was ‘secular’ and ‘just exercises’, as is claimed by the kosher yoga crowd, and even if you got rid of the salutations to the sun and the chanting,

Jews are still forbidden to do it because yoga is indisputably a practice that’s specific to idolatrous peoples.

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Trying to track down the halachic approval for yoga

So now, we hit the next stage of the process: trying to track down the rabbis who had apparently approved yoga as kosher, to hear from them how their rulings squared with the above Torah laws.

And this is where things have become very interesting!

I was put in touch with a yoga teacher who had apparently received the halachic OK from two well-known orthodox figures. When I asked for more details, she told me she’d been told verbally by one of them that yoga was OK if she just avoided the ‘salutations to the sun’ and the chanting stuff.

I have been trying to get hold of that person to speak to them, but so far they haven’t returned my emails. (If he does, I will update you.)

It turned out the other figure had never spoken to her directly, and to my source’s credit she was unwilling to name them or pass on what they’d said as she’d only heard it second-hand (and as I’m learning with this stuff, even the ‘first-hand’ approvals have to be taken with a huge pinch of salt.)

But she put me in touch with the ‘orthodox’ yoga teacher who’d trained her – and hundreds of others in the orthodox world – who she was sure could give me more details about the halachic backers of ‘kosher’ yoga.

This is an excerpt of our email exchange, after I’d asked the teacher (very politely) if she could please give me details of the Rabbinic backers who had certified her yoga courses for the orthodox Jewish world:

I would love to be part of this discussion however this is the craziest month for me with school ending, camp coming, Shavuot around the corner, and my program starts in a month so everyone is calling.

I can only tell you Rivka that I have done extensive research on this and there is a false understanding that the modern postural practice of yoga, which we westerners practice, is rooted in Hinduism.  I am sending you this article to read which explains it all http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/living/not-as-old-as-you-think#page3.  There are major Rabbanim that poskin that yoga is fine so long as it is done for health purposes and that it practiced as an exercise or a path to wellness and health. 

Other than this I can’t get into a whole dialogue about it because of my time constraints but just know that the poses were influenced greatly by western fitness models and you don’t have to worry about it.

I responded:

I took a look at the article, thanks, and it’s not at all clear. It’s obviously a very hot topic of debate within the yoga world itself about whether yoga can truly be cut off from its hindu origins, and the person who wrote the article appears to be a lone voice in the wilderness, saying that it can. Do you have any other references?

Also, I just looked up your teacher’s site (as per your info on your site) and was a little surprised that it said the following – the part about her system of ‘flow yoga’ being ‘rooted in the ancient system of Tantra’ etc. So clearly, her yoga DOES have a spiritual basis rooted in hindu tradition, as she herself is publicising on her site.

I’m curious if that’s the same style of flow yoga that you’re teaching and certifying via [YOUR YOGA COLLEGE]?

And if yes, I really do need the names of your halachic poskim.

(The ‘orthodox’ yoga teacher had apparently learned her completely ‘secular’ yoga practices from someone who studied directly from a tantric master, and who happily teachers her yoga in temples dedicated to ‘Lord Shriva’.)

This is what I got back:

Hi Rivka

Why are you inquiring about this? I don’t know of your intentions for why you are asking all these questions. Are you thinking of learning yoga. ? Do you want to teach it? Are you upset observant Jews are teaching yoga?

I responded:

Let me ask you a question: Why are you being so reticent about giving me the names of your halachic poskim? What’s the big deal? If it’s ok, halachically, let me know who your rabbis are who have sanctioned it, and end of story.

My intention is this: I am trying to find out if yoga is halachically OK for Jews to do.

I am writing up my discoveries as I go along, and I’m sharing what I’m learning with others.

If you have halachic sanction from orthodox rabbis, please give me the names so I can contact them for further details. If you can’t do that, then it suggests that the issue is not as straightforward as you’re representing it to be.

I got this response back (peace ‘n love, man…)

It doesn’t suggest anything. I am straightforward. I have dealt with people like you in the past and frankly I don’t have the time of day to deal with it. We have 100% have called Poskin and got permission to practice yoga.  Now it’s your turn to do the same. Call your Rabbis and speak to them about your particular situation.  I am not interested in being scrutinized nor will I pass the name out of my Rabbis. Yoi have your own Rabbis, own community and own hashgafa so get ypur answera from your own community. It was rude of you to look up my teachers bio (who I learned with 20 years ago when I wasn’t frum) & question my authenticity based on her bio. Please don’t write me and go do your own research into the topic. Next time you have questions such as this try not to approach a person with such judgement and maybe you will learn something.

Well, learn something I certainly did….

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Wikipedia to the rescue

The proponents of ‘kosher yoga’ like to say that it’s completely secular and just exercise. But even a cursory look at Wikipedia shows that yoga and idolatry are so tightly woven together, THEY CANNOT BE SEPERATED.

  • Plug in ‘Hatha Yoga’ to Wikipedia and here’s what you’ll read, in the first two lines:

Hindu tradition believes that the deity Shiva himself is the founder of hatha yoga.[3][4][5]

In the 20th century, hatha yoga, particularly asanas (the physical postures), became popular throughout the world as a form of physical exercise, and is now colloquially termed as simply “yoga”.”

  • Plug in plain ‘Yoga’ to Wikipedia, and you’ll get this:

“In the 1980s, yoga became popular as a system of physical exercise across the Western world. Yoga in Indian traditions, however, is more than physical exercise, it has a meditative and spiritual core. One of the six major orthodox schools of Hinduism is also called Yoga, which has its own epistemology and metaphysics, and is closely related to Hindu Samkhya philosophy.”

And a little later on, you get this, in the section called ‘The Goals of Yoga’:

“According to David Gordon White, from the 5th century CE onward, the core principles of “yoga” were more or less in place, and variations of these principles developed in various forms over time:[29]

  • Yoga, as an analysis of perception and cognition; illustration of this principle is found in Hindu texts such as the Bhagavad Gitaand Yogasutras, as well as a number of Buddhist Mahāyāna works;
  • Yoga, as the rising and expansion of consciousness; these are discussed in sources such as Hinduism Epic Mahābhārata, Jainism Praśamaratiprakarana;
  • Yoga, as a path to omniscience; examples are found in HinduismNyaya and Vaisesika school texts as well as Buddhism Mādhyamaka texts, but in different ways;
  • Yoga, as a technique for entering into other bodies, generating multiple bodies, and the attainment of other supernatural accomplishments; these are described in Tantric literature of Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as the Buddhist Sāmaññaphalasutta.”

 As these excerpts clearly and unequivocably show, the focus of yoga is NOT on exercise and physical health at all. The spiritual underpinnings of yoga, and its direct connections to idol worshipping religions are so obvious, it’s hard to believe that I’m even having to write this.

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“If you do yoga just for your physical health, then it’s ok halachically”

So now, we come down to the crux of the ‘Kosher Yoga’ argument, which is that if you only do the exercises, and you have no connection whatsoever to the philosophical or religious associations, then it’s OK, halachically.

That appears to be the current argument of the people who are convinced that yoga can be koshered. But there are a number of serious problems with this approach.

  • PROBLEM ONE: It doesn’t satisfy the Torah prohibitions we brought above, namely:

“And you shall not follow their rituals – Leviticus 18.3 – which proscribes rituals that are used in idol worship.”

“And you shall not act according to their practices – Exodus 23-24 – which forbids any practices specific to idolatrous peoples, even those that have nothing to do with idolatry.”

Who can deny that yoga is a practice that is specific to idolatrous peoples?

Who can claim that the exact same poses used in the worship of ‘Lord Shriva’ or some other idol are NOT ‘rituals that are used in idol worship’, even if the person doing them doesn’t have that specific intention?

So that’s the first, massive problem with this halachic approach, and I would love for the Rabbinic poskim who have apparently sanctioned yoga for orthodox Jews to come out of hiding, and openly explain how they have specifically addressed this issue, in their rulings.

  • PROBLEM TWO: It doesn’t work, in practice.

Why not?

Because as we’ve been learning, it’s impossible to disentangle the physical exercises from their spiritual and philosophical roots.

As soon as you call your exercise program ‘yoga’, you’ve connected it to the philosophy and spirituality of idol worship. (This is a good time to remind you that a leading branch of Hinduism is actually called ‘yoga’. If you’d be uncomfortable attending a class called ‘Xtian stretching’, then the same issue applies here.)

If you’re still not convinced that even the name is steeped in Hindu philosopy and idol-worshipping spirituality, I found the following on one of the official websites promoting Swami Vivekananda, the man credited with ‘secularising’ modern yoga for Western consumption a century ago:

“The word Yoga is FIRST defined by sage Patanjali in his book Patanjali Yoga Sutra. He summarized YOGA as CHITTA VRITHI NIRODHA.

CHITTA means MIND
VRITTI means VIBRATIONS
NIRODHA means STOPPAGE”

(As a side note, you should know that ‘sage Patanjali’ has been officially deified by many branches of the Hindu religion.)

Also, in order to qualify as an ‘official’ yoga teacher in the West (even via the apparently ‘kosher’ yoga colleges)  you are still required to learn ‘yoga philosophy, lifestyle and ethics’, that are all clearly rooted in idolatrous beliefs and philosophy, as per the below which comes from the Yoga Alliance website for registered yoga schools:

  1. Yoga Philosophy, Lifestyle and Ethics for Yoga Teachers:

30 hours

Minimum Contact Hours: 20 hours

Minimum Contact Hours w/ Lead Trainer(s): 0 hours

Special Requirements: A minimum of 2 of the above Contact Hours must be spent on ethics for yoga teachers

Topics in this category could include, but would not be limited to:

  • The study of yoga philosophies and traditional texts (such as the Yoga Sutras, Hatha Yoga Pradipika or Bhagavad Gita)

  • Yoga lifestyle, such as the precept of non-violence (ahimsa), and the concepts of dharma and karma

  • Ethics for yoga teachers, such as those involving teacher – student relationships and community

  • Understanding the value of teaching yoga as a service and being of service to others (seva)

Now, I’ve never heard of people having to immerse themselves in idolatrous texts for thirty hours just to be able to teach tennis, or a good aerobics class. Is there really anyone out there who still believes that yoga is ‘purely’ a form of exercise?

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Yoga is not just an exercise, it’s a lifestyle choice

The last thing to say is that yoga, even the apparently ‘secular-just-for-exercise’ version is a complete lifestyle package. As soon as people get into yoga, they start wanting to learn more about it, and expand their knowledge of this amazing new ‘exercise’ their doing.

As soon as they do that – as soon as they read the information on Wikipedia, or on any other yoga site, for example – they’re connecting to the philosophy and spirituality behind the exercises, which makes it instantly forbidden to them to continue practicing yoga, even according to the halachic opinion quoted above, that it’s: ‘OK’ to do yoga if it’s completely divorced from spirituality or philosophy.

(And this is a good time to note, again, that the exercises CANNOT be divorced from the spiritual side of things, for all the reasons and more stated above.)

Where do we go from here?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about yoga-practicing Jews, even the ‘frum’ ones, it’s that they will defend their ‘exercise’ program religiously.

Again, the idol-worshipping connections to yoga are so obvious, that anyone who even researches this topic a little will quickly find stacks of information making it clear that yoga is off-limits for believing Jews.

So it comes down to this: For the God-fearing people in our midst who really want to avoid idol worship, and who are really concerned about doing what God wants, even when it involves some sort of self-sacrifice on their part, there is really no question:

Yoga is an idolatrous practice, and is forbidden. Engaging in yoga, even so-called ‘secular’ yoga will damage your soul and your connection to God and Yiddishkeit.

For the other people, who decided a long time ago that yoga was ‘kosher’ – regardless of the issues raised above – nothing I wrote here will change their mind, and they will continue to try to convince everyone else that you can really kosher a pig, and that they aren’t doing anything wrong!!!

And for the people in the middle?

Get informed.

Ask your ‘kosher yoga’ provider the name of the rabbi who certified their program – and don’t let them wiggle out of giving it you. Ask them how their ‘secular’ style of yoga differs from the poses used in idol-worship (and then watch them squirm, because the whole point of certain schools of yoga is that the poses, or ‘asanas’ have to be done precisely, as taught by the (idol-worshiping) yoga masters.)

Ask them how can be sure that the 30 hours of instruction in idolatrous beliefs they had to do in order to even qualify as a yoga teacher hasn’t seeped into the classes and exercises they’re giving over to their own students.

Go onto the internet and see for yourself how yoga is basically its own idolatrous religion.

And then you can decide which group you want to really be in: God-fearing Jews who care about their souls and their relationship to the Creator; OR Jews-for-yoga.

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‘I believe I get health benefits from doing yoga. What can I do instead?’

This one is easy:

Do any stretching exercises you like that aren’t called ‘yoga’, or attached to idolatrous philosophies or religions!

That could be Pilates, the Alexander technique exercises, even just the ‘plain vanilla’ stretching exercises you can find in books like ‘Stretching for Dummies’. There are many different ways that you can stretch in a truly kosher way that have nothing to do with idolatrous faiths and practices.

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A word to our Rabbis

Let’s end with a plea to the orthodox rabbis who are apparently certifying ‘kosher yoga’ (if they actually do exist…) Dear rabbis, I know you have a very hard job of trying to bring people closer to Yiddishkeit, and trying to accommodate the strange and superficial ideas about spirituality that so many modern people have.

I know it’s a very hard sell to get people to believe that body, mind and soul are really connected (which is why a Jew can’t just eat what they want, and why we go to mikva, and why we dress modestly, for example.)

But please don’t certify any more ‘kosher yoga’ programs until you’ve really done your homework about the idolatrous roots of yoga, and the spiritual implications of ‘just doing the poses’.

Giving a hechsher to idol worshipping practices is hugely problematic, and should not be done lightly.

(Remember, in order to be a certified yoga instructor, you have to have spent a minimum of 30 hours learning ‘Yoga philosophy, ethics and lifestyle’, as discussed above, which basically boils down to 30 hours of instruction in idolatrous ideas and philosophies).

If you decide it IS possible to make a form of ‘kosher’ yoga, then please publicize your rulings, and please give enough detailed explanation so the masses can also understand why doing even a ‘kosher’ form of yoga doesn’t infringe the serious Torah prohibitions against:

And you shall not follow their rituals – Leviticus 18.3 – which proscribes rituals that are used in idol worship.”

And you shall not act according to their practices – Exodus 23-24 – which forbids any practices specific to idolatrous peoples, even those that have nothing to do with idolatry.”

May Hashem help us all to have the clarity to differentiate between good and bad, spiritual light and spiritual darkness, and the courage to act on our holy convictions, even when it’s very difficult for us.

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You can download this whole post as a PDF here:

Can Yoga really be Kosher

You know, I’ve been learning a lot from all this ‘yoja’ stuff, not least about how much hypocrisy is floating around the place.

When I first started researching yoja, from a perspective of being truly interested in its apparent health and healing benefits, I had no idea that I was going to uncover such an avalanche of obvious idol worship and very dodgy spiritual practices.

But then, as all the evidence started to stack up so spectacularly, it raised another very big question, namely: How could the ‘orthodox’ practitioners of yoga in our midst be so blind to all this stuff?

I’d always assumed, before I started really researching this subject, that yoja was a bunch of exercises that had tenuous connections to idolatrous religions. But it quickly became SO obvious that yoga is drenched in and permeated by idol worship to such an extreme degree, that you’d literally have to have some issues with your cognitive functioning to not recognize the problem, if you’re an orthodox Jew.

Which then raised the next awkward question:

Are the ‘orthodox’ practitioners of yoga cognitively impaired in some way, or are they actually deliberately trying to mislead people?

This is not a sarcastic question. We all make mistakes some times, and we all get it wrong some times. I’m certainly not infallible, and I’ve had more than one episode in my life when I followed after a person, or a shita, or a belief system that ultimately ended up being a very negative force, and spiritually-corrupt in some ways.

In this mixed-up world, that stuff unfortunately happens and it happens a lot. We all have blindspots, we all have flaws, we all have difficulties being able to ascertain what’s true, particularly when it comes to matters of the soul.

But here is what’s starting to disturb me so much with all this ‘kosher’ yoja stuff: Even when you repeatedly bring clear evidence of the problem, and repeatedly point out the huge halachic and spiritual issues involved with practicing yoja, not only are the ‘orthodox’ practitioners not even a little bit chastened or confused or concerned about whether they may be barking up the wrong tree (and misleading a whole bunch of other less-informed people in the process…) – they come back at you with sniping personal attacks that are dripping with misplaced self-righteousness, harsh judgment and anger. (peace n’ love, man).

Yes, it’s very upsetting when we find out the truth we believed in may be a lie; or that the path that we chose in good faith is actually leading us to perdition, but the mark of a healthy soul is that it can ultimately recognize its mistakes, and at least try to make Teshuva.

A few years’ back, me and my husband got caught up in a very spiritually-unhealthy ‘Breslev cult’ type organization, that came packaged with a big Rabbinic backer who we both really respected.

It took us three long years to figure out just how much damage our association with that ‘cult’ had done to us and other people. But once we realized our mistake, we did our best to rectify it. I apologized to a whole bunch of people who I may have inadvertently hurt, and I ate a lot of humble pie.

I made a mistake!

That happens sometimes, even when we have the best intentions.

So what I was expecting to hear from all these ‘orthodox’ yoja teachers was maybe some contrition, some concern that they’d been involved in such a negative spiritual practice, and some worry that they’d also been encouraging other orthodox Jews to do it, too.

In short, I was expecting a tiny bit of humility.

But that really hasn’t shown up in any way, shape or form, and in fact, I’ve been getting the opposite: sniping personal attacks, a complete avoidance of the real issues, misleading statements about people having rabbinic backers when they really don’t, and a bunch of such obviously bad middot that is frankly makes all the spiritual benefits being claimed for yoja a farce.

So I’m back to the question:

Are the ‘orthodox’ yoja people out there cognitively impaired in some way (which clearly would explain a lot…) OR, are they deliberately trying to mislead people?

If it’s the former, I have some theories about how that might have happened (which is definitely a post for another time.) If it’s the latter, then the whole thing suddenly takes on a much more sinister spiritual hue.

It’s like this: Jews for J may also be very nice, well-meaning people, but I still wouldn’t invite them for Shabbat or have anything much to do with them.

Why not?

The answer is obvious (or at least, I hope it’s obvious).

Yoshkianity, Hinduism and Buddhism are all alien religions, and complete poison to a Jewish soul. If someone wants to cling on to their asanas for dear life, it’s a free country and they’re allowed. But just as I wouldn’t want anything to do with an evangelical Jew for Yoshki, I also don’t want anything to do with an evangelical Jew for Yoja, either.

And for exactly the same reason.

One day, a shiny new van drove up to the small hamlet of Yidville, and a very fit, muscular, tanned man in tennis whites stepped out, with a large statue under his arm.

He strolled over to one of the local parks, set his shiny, black statue up in the middle of one of the grassy areas, and began to casually toss a stone or two in its direction.

One of the friendlier residents of Yidville came over to say hello, and to ask him what he was doing.

“This?” replied the man, tossing another stone at the statue. “Man, this changed my life! Before I started doing this, I had all sorts of aches and pains, and I just couldn’t breathe good. But once I started doing this – well, all my problems cleared up, I grew five inches taller and I developed 28 inch biceps overnight!”

The Yid couldn’t help but be a little impressed, but was also a little puzzled:

How could throwing stones at a statue have so many health benefits?

As the man continued to toss his stones, he explained:

“It’s all about posture, man. And self-control. And balance. See this stone? It looks to you like I’m just tossing it around, casual-like. But really, I learned how to throw stones like this up a mountain in Tibet for five years. Once you learn how to throw the stone right, you’ll see how you just start to feel so darned great!”

Convinced, the yid started learning with the successful stranger how to properly throw stones to Marculis – purely for exercise reasons – and very soon, the stranger had opened his own ‘Throw a stone to Marculis’ studio in Yidville, and was selling branded clothing and a throw-a-stone-to-Marculis line of soft furnishings.

All was well, until a little while later another shiny new van drove up to Yidville and stopped in the centre of town.

A supermodel-type lady got out, tucked a lithe white statue under her arm, and strolled over the local park.

She’d heard about the success of the ‘Throw a stone to Marculis’ studio, and she wanted a piece of the action, too. Her exercise routine was called ‘Ba’al Peor’, and it involved regular rounds of colonic irrigation and other things too complicated for mere plebs to understand.

The people of Yidville crowded round, keen to learn what this latest innovation in holistic health would do for them.

“Laydees,” she drawled, “I used to be FAT!” A gasp erupted from the crowd. “And POOR!” another gasp. “And SOCIALLY INEPT!!!” Now, people were really shocked.

“But then, laydees, I discovered this ‘Ba’al Peor’ exercise routine, and it completely changed my life! I lost 40 lbs in a day and a half, I won the lottery, and then I started to make tons of friends, when I put out my ‘Ba’al Peor Holistic Healing’ home-play DVD. And now, for just $1000 a month, I’m willing to teach you how to access these AMAZING health benefits too!”

Well, that sounded like a deal that was just too good to turn up, so the laydees of Yidville eagerly signed up for ‘Ba’al Peor Flow’ classes, and happily subscribed to the ‘Ba’al Peor Living’ magazine, when the first edition came out just in time for Rosh Hashana.

Things settled back down in Yidville – everyone was happily congratulating each other on discovering their AMAZING exercise routines, which contained so much INCREDIBLE wisdom for living the good life, and kept them so busy they didn’t have time for their more traditional pursuits like praying or learning Torah.

But this stuff was so much more FUN!

The men happily compared the bulging biceps they’d earned from spending 10 hours a day throwing stones to Marculis, while the women couldn’t wait to try out the latest purge-and-cleanse recipe they’d just seen in Ba’al Peor Living. Man, this was the life!

A little while later, another shiny van drew up to Yidville, and yet another successful, spiritually-inclined wise person got out, this time with a bright red statue and a big packet of matches. He knew he had a tough sell on his hands, but he was the best in the business for a reason, and he’d promised the boss he wouldn’t come home until he had at least 50 people signed up for his new exercise class, called:

‘Burn your children for Moloch’.

As the locals crowded around, he made his pitch:

“Guys, this stuff is the most hard-core exercise class out there. It’s only for the best-of-the-best. A lot of people out there don’t get how burning your child for Moloch can help you develop abs of steel, get you inner peace, and triple your income in just eight minutes…”

Here, his voice dropped to a whisper, and he motioned his audience to lean in a little.

“You know why they don’t get it? Because they didn’t do their research, that’s why! They didn’t check this stuff out properly! They’re still stuck in their narrow-minded ways of doing things, and they’re scared to try new things in life! You know, throwing a stone to Marculis is for beginners. If you really want to transform your life, this is the exercise class for you!”

And to close the deal, the rep from ‘Burn your children for Moloch’ passed out some cute devotionary candles that had a really interesting smell, and a bumper sticker that bore the legend: “There is nothing wrong with playing with fire!”

Dear reader, you get to pick what happens next. Do the residents of Yidville:

  1. Vote to relocate their town to an ashram in India (purely for ‘health’ reasons)
  2. Come up with their own new exercise routine called ‘Kosher-Burn-Your-Children-For-Moloch’ – and get a rabbinic psak for it
  3. Make Teshuva and bring Moshiach and the rebuilt Beit HaMikdash

Vote for your choice in the comments section!

Auras, or ‘hilas’ as they’re known in Hebrew, are a Jewish concept, and also scientifically-proven. Scientists have been using Kirlian photography for years, to measure and record the energy fields that every single living creature gives off, kind of like an invisible force-field.

In his great book called ‘The Coming Revolution’, Rav Zamir Cohen has a whole chapter showing before and after pictures of how laying tefillin can change the colour of a man’s aura; and how covering the hair can do the same for a married woman.

In the same vein, many pictures abound of holy rabbis who have a white light visibly shining from their face, or around them: that’s their aura. It’s so holy, pure and strong, even regular photography can pick it up. Remember the light that was shining from Moshe Rabbenu’s face after he’d been talking to G-d non-stop for 40 days? It’s the same idea.

Last year, I met a woman who did ‘kosher healing’, apparently in a 100% halachically-acceptable way (although now, I’m seeing that a lot of people make that claim for the alternative healing things they’re involved with, and it’s not always true.)

Anyway, she seemed pretty nice and frum, and one of the stories she told me was about trying to do a ‘healing session’ on someone who had come to her, who was really into their yoga.

Her client was a baal teshuva, or recent returnee to Judaism, and she’d left a lot of her old lifestyle and beliefs behind – but she couldn’t quite disconnect from the yoga. Every day, she’d do her half an hour of meditation, and she still attended a few classes a week at her local yoga studio in Tel Aviv, where she lived.

The healing woman told me:

“Once, she came to me straight after doing a yoga class, and her aura was completely gone. I couldn’t ‘feel’ anything to work with; it was like trying to work with a plastic mannequin, not a living, breathing human being.”

The healing lady was so shocked by the phenomenon, she mentioned it to her client, to try to work out what had caused it. The client couldn’t think of anything – except that she’d just been to a yoga class.

The next week, she came a different day – and her aura was back. The healer decided to do an experiment. She asked her client to schedule a few sessions in a row, some after her yoga class, and some not, so she could see if a pattern would emerge.

It did.

Every time the client came after doing yoga, her aura, or protective outer energy field, was completely gone.

Now, you can say all this is superstitious clap-trap; you can dismiss this as an old wives’ tale; you can jump up and down and say there’s ‘nothing wrong’ with doing a bit of stretching.

What I can tell you is this: yoga, and other disciplines like it, which are firmly rooted in idol worshipping practises and philosophies, can and do cause damage to a Jewish soul.

It may not be obvious to us, which is why we need to check things out very carefully with our learned rabbis, who usually know much more than we do about deep spiritual issues that most of us don’t have the first clue about.

As we mentioned in a previous post, if the practitioner isn’t a G-d-fearing person, they are already not going to be a healthy spiritual source of healing for you, whatever they’re doing.

If what they’re doing is also spiritually unhealthy or damaging, then you’re really asking for trouble.

I don’t know what all this means, practically – I’m still trying to work it out myself. But it seems wise to start exercising more caution about the non-Jewish disciplines and ideas and therapies we get caught up in. Yes, they sound good. Often, they even work – but if that ‘healing energy’ is not coming from G-d, then it’s coming from a very dark place. And speaking for myself, that’s definitely NOT something I want to get involved with.

As I was lying in bed on Shabbat, watching the sky alternate between a brilliant Spring blue, and a gloomy, maximum-Winter grey, it struck me how the weather in this country is SOOOO holy.

In the UK, where I’m from, the sky most days is some version of grey, with the odd patch of blue showing through in between the clouds (occasionally, in the Summer time…)

When I lived Montreal, a place known for its massive extremes of weather, you could certainly have a tremendously cold, but still sunny day in the middle of the snow season; and you could also have a cloudy day in August, prior to one of Montreal’s spectacular Summer thunderstorms.

But what I’ve never seen anywhere else is a sky going from powder blue, to darkest grey, to powder blue, to darkest grey – literally changing every 10 minutes from one extreme to the other.

I was watching the heavy snow fall in Jerusalem, and interspersed with it, I was watching the sun shine out unabashed, and it took my breath away.

I could deal with the grey, snowy horrible weather so much better, because I knew the sun was literally a 10 minute wait away. I could also enjoy the sun, because I knew that we’ve had enough rainfall this year to last us a decade (but that won’t stop them printing ‘drought imminent’ stories again next year, as soon as we get past Pesach.)

As I lay there, looking at the sky, I realized G-d was given me a mashaal, or an allegory for life, especially life in Israel, and especially, my life at the moment.

I’ve hit every ‘grey’ extreme going the last few months. I’ve had days when I literally felt like I couldn’t take ‘it’ any more, and I felt like I was going to explode, or break into pieces, if something didn’t change, pronto.

And then, the clouds parted, and I’d feel so much better, and calmer, and even a little bit happy again. I was back in my ‘blue sky’ mindset. And then 10 minutes later, the freezing wind and hail and snow showed up again, figuratively speaking.

The other day, I was trying to work out what’s been the most difficult thing to deal with, emotionally-speaking, and after I did a mind-map on the subject, what came through loud and clear was ‘uncertainty’. Nothing is certain. Not only that, my life, my attitude, my outlook, can flip from stormiest grey to sunniest blue in a second – and then flip back again in another second.

It’s enough to drive you bonkers.

But then, I looked at the sky on Shabbat, and I saw that this uncertainty is actually a blessing, in many ways, because it’s hiding the certainty of G-d, and His kindness, and the way He’s directing the world and my life.

After half an hour, I really got that G-d is controlling the extreme weather; G-d is flipping the switch; G-d is tipping things from grey to blue, and back again. When I need grey, I’ll get it. When I need blue, I’ll get it – and things will change according to what G-d decides is best for me.

And that’s for certain.

So like I said, even the weather in Israel is holy, and can teach us some profound lessons about how G-d is in charge of everything. We just have to take that half an hour, or five minutes, or 2 seconds to stay still, sit quiet, and try to work out the message He’s hiding in everything, even the freak weather.