by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
There’s a lot of back and forth on Yoga for Jews. Many Jewish religious authorities recognize it’s a problem, some teachers insist they’ve stripped it of all religious meaning and it’s just exercise.
During our research, two people have presented us with letters from the Lubavitcher Rebbe which they use to state the Rebbe has a permissive position on yoga – the letters discussing permission to develop and use neutral meditative practices that have potential medical benefits and their use by qualified physicians for patients diagnosed with illnesses that may benefit from such. When presenting such letters, the presenters usually stop with “permission to develop neutral meditative practices”, omitting “by physicians for patients with illnesses that may benefit…”. Regardless, we have never seen any letter or talk from the Rebbe specifically discussing yoga … until today.
The following Letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe is provided by Nissan Mindel publications:
NOTE all (parens) are additions added by me, explaining or translating a term or Jewish item for better understanding. Further, all BOLDING and COLOR is also added by me – to highlight the focus of this article. Any mistake of anything in (parens) or BOLD or color is purely my failure.
…DISCONNECT FROM ALIEN INFLUENCES "INCLUDING YOGA & SIMILAR CULTS"
(title added by the web site or letter archivist)
By the Grace of G-d
Rosh Chodesh Sivan, 5739 (May 27, 1979)
Johannesburg, 2000 (South Africa)
Greeting and Blessing:
This is to confirm receipt of your letter and may G-d grant the fulfillment of your heart’s desires for good.
Noting the beginning of your letter, it is surely unnecessary to reiterate that the everyday life and conduct in accordance with the Torah and mitzvot, although a must for its own sake, is also the channel to receive G-d's blessings in all needs. Consequently, every additional effort in matters of Yiddishkeit (Judaism) widens the channel, and there is always room for improvement in goodness and holiness, Torah and mitzvot.
Since you brought up this subject, it gives me an opportunity to relate it to the timely topic of these days of sefirah (the time between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot), linking the Festival of Yetzias Mitzraim (the exodus from Egypt – meaning Passover) with the Festival of Mattan Torah (the giving of the Torah – meaning Shavuot). For, as you may know, our Sages declare that one of the things in the merit of which the Jewish people merited the Liberation from Mitzraim (Egypt) was the fact that they did not change their Hebrew names which was an important factor in preserving their identity. Which also reminds us that the ultimate purpose of the liberation from Egyptian bondage was to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai, which we will soon celebrate on Shovuos. With the giving of the Torah, every Jew was given also the capacity, and hence is also fully expected, to go from strength to strength in the study of the Törah and the observance of the mitzvot, bearing in mind that the actual practice is the essential thing.
Inasmuch as the Torah and mitzvot were given to all the Jews, and to each one individually, for all times and in all places, and “these are our lives and the length of our days,” it is clear that every moment of a Jew's life should be consecrated to Torah and mitzvot. Hence it is both surprising and painful to see a Jew spending precious time in search of "greener pastures" elsewhere, even if his intentions are good, for, as above, the important thing is the actual deed.
Needless to say, the above includes Yoga and similar cults even if it is not connected with anything pertaining to avodo zoro (idol worship) - if there is such cult that is completely free from avodo zoro, and in this only a competent Torah authority who is permeated with halocho is qualified to rule.
I am not seeking opportunities to admonish anyone, but since you mention certain oriental cults, it is my duty to call your attention to the fact that every spare moment that a Jew can use to deepen his knowledge of Torah he dissipates it on other things is deplorable enough, not to mention cults that in their overwhelming majority are certainly connected with avodo zoro in one way or another, and if there are exceptions, one must make doubly sure through an expert Torah authority, as mentioned above.
The present days are highly suitable for Jews to separate themselves from any alien influences in preparation for the Festival of Mattan Toraseinu (the giving of our Torah), when G-d sanctified us as a nation apart from all other nations, a unique "Kingdom of G-d's servants and a Holy Nation," by giving us His holy Torah and mitzvos. And since G-d Himself has shown us the way, what sense is there in looking for better ways. This is really too plain and self-evident to need further elaboration.
Wishing you a Joyous and inspiring Festival of Kabbolas haTorah and the traditional blessing to reaffirm the commitment to Torah and mitzvot with joy and inwardness.
The Rebbe’s Signature