Monday, November 05, 2012

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Why Yoga in Chabad?

by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths

A reader wrote,

“I heard from a friend that there's a Chabad House here in the Los Angeles area where they have a yoga teacher come to teach the (Jewish) children.  Oy.  I referred the friend to your blog archive on this.

Is this common in Chabad Houses?   I would write to 770 (Chabad headquarters) but I figure you have already done so..and who am I anyway?

Akiva replies…

Brief background – The Chabad Lubavitch chassidic movement sends married couples, a rabbi and rebbitzen, out to cities, towns and colleges throughout the world with a Jewish population to reach out to not-currently-religiously-observant Jews and introduce them to their Jewish heritage, Torah, mitzvot and the Jewish people’s relationship with G-d.  These representatives are called “shluchim”, meaning emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.  The majority who go, go on a one way journey and make it their mission for life, building up what are known as Chabad Houses, which include a synagogue, outreach and educational programs, and over time will include a Jewish school, mikvah, and more.  Now to the answer…

Chabad shluchim use a variety of techniques to reach out to our disaffected Jewish brothers and sisters.  In our modern times they try to present and package traditional Judaism in forms that can speak to and gain the interest of Jews who have no knowledge of their heritage.  Among those techniques, they generally do a good job of trying to use new-agey stuff, which sometimes means focusing on mystical aspects of Judaism such as meditative or kabbalah. 

Unfortunately few shluchim understand the problems with yoga.  They accept the modern US cultural approach that yoga is just some fancy new-agey exercise based on old techniques from India.

Confusing this further, there's a few Chabad involved types that have pushed yoga (due to a personal preoccupation) and twisted some letters of the Rebbe from the 60's.  In the 60’s the Lubavitcher Rebbe was looking for a way OUT for those involved in Transcendental Meditation (T.M.).  The T.M. movement grew very big in the late 60’s and drew in thousands of Jewish college students.  Those involved in any form of meditation will tell you, you can’t just drop meditation “cold turkey”. 

The Rebbe sent several shluchim to distant places in the world looking for a “neutral” form of Eastern meditation, to give those Jews involved a path out.  (None was ever found.)  In addition the Rebbe answered several mental health practitioners who inquired about incorporating meditation that if such techniques have a positive CLINICAL impact, it’s permitted and advisable to offer them to THOSE WHO ARE ILL who could benefit from them.

Unfortunately the religious proponents of yoga have taken these letters, written about Transcendental Meditation, and used them to show the Rebbe’s approval of yoga.  In no case did the Rebbe ever give approval to yoga OR to any Eastern meditative technique.  He wrote regarding using a meditative practice as a medical treatment for the seriously ill – if such a practice provides actual clinical benefit.

The Chabad houses offering yoga classes, which even in some cases include yoga for children, are making a mistake.  They’re only using it to get people in the door, so to speak, not realizing it’s religious aspects. 

You should write and make a call, to let people know that there are concerned Jews out there.  Every voice counts.

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