Sunday, December 30, 2012


Idolatry – Yes or No?

by Reb Gutman Locks @ Mystical Paths

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Within the last two weeks, I have been asked if the following techniques are alright for a Jew (are they kosher), or do they involve some type of avodah zarah (idolatry). 

Thai Massage

Oriental Martial arts

Prajna medicine

Emotional Freedom Technique - tapping

     The problem with saying that any particular practice is perfectly alright is that not all people who apply these various “arts” follow their own rules. Nor do all of these systems have a single source, so one may be alright, while another with the same name or practice might be a problem.

     For instance, oriental martial arts (such as karate) are said to be free from idolatry, but when I checked out karate in Okinawa in 1957 the teacher told me that when you reach the very high level of Fifth Degree Black Belt you were to call on spirits to assist you in the art of breaking bricks with your bare hand! Does this condemn all Karate? I do not think so. But, it is an obvious warning.

     Today, there is a very popular American, evangelical (Xian) American football player who kneels down and prays to his deity on the field before the game. Everyone sees him do this, and he is so good at the game that he is inspiring young people to do the same. Does this forbid American football? No, not at all. So, even though a particular practice may be idol-free that does not mean that any particular teacher of that “art” is not including his idolatrous teachings.

     There are some general rules that you can watch out for, and then you should be able to judge these things for yourself. But surely, to be safe, it is good to ask someone who has the experience and knows the subject. Know that not all rabbis are familiar with the actual practices of idolatry, so they will not know what is safe and what is not. Their answers will depend upon how you explain the practice to them.

     One big rule is, if the practice is dealing with “energy,” and if this so-called energy is coming from or through the “healer” or practitioner, and moving on to the person he is working with, then that practice is spiritually wrong and you should not be part of it.

     Obviously, if the “healer” or practitioner calls on the names of spirits or entities or such, you should not be part of it.

      If the practice copies practices that are known to be part of a religion, such as sitting in the “lotus” position with your thumbs forming a circle with your forefingers when you meditate, then it is not for you.

     Often, the actual techniques can be alright if they can be entirely extracted from any association with the idolatry. 

Reb Akiva adds, this can be particularly tricky as it requires the person to be an expert in the practice and be an expert in the Jewish proscriptions against avodah zara, idol worship.  Few Westerns today (including rabbis) recognize avodah zara practices, even when they’re literally in front of them.

      A recent example; a friend went to a practitioner of the new fad, “tapping.” Depending on whom you learn it from, they will tell you all sorts of “facts” about what is going on, but basically, the person who is being worked on learns to gently tap certain spots on his or her body and this relieves them of their anxiety.

     My friend was told by the Jewish man who taught the practice to him that he learned it from someone who taught him to call on deities when he tapped himself! But the Jew threw out all of the deities and just kept the physical tapping. He also cleaned up the statement that you make when you tap.

     Obviously, there is no physical healing happening, but many people who do this say that it helps them. They quickly and gently tap their nose many times, or their forehead, or some other spot on their body, and they say something like, “I have been nervous about such and such and this is going to relieve me.” And it helps them. Okay…, psychological healing is also healing, as long as there are no spirits involved.

     As for “prajna medicine”; every site that I checked for this proudly displayed idols and praises of them. Other sites warn against the actual “natural” elements that pranja uses, saying that such problems as excessive lead content have been found in some of their “medicines”.

     Another basic rule when seeking out such “cures” is to use your head. Do not ask a barber if you need a haircut, and do not ask a natural healer if he can heal you. Certainly, some of it works, but do not bet your life on it.

     Be well.


  1. What do you say about replacing the not ok terms/intentions with "Hash-m"?

  2. Interesting question Anonymous.

    Thanks for answering my question about EFT R. Gutman.

    For your information, the statement is almost always the same in the beginning (and it has to be said 3 times while tapping the side of one's hand): "Even though ...insert problem...I deeply and completely love&accept my self". Until here I do not see where is the danger of idolatry, although you might say it is not ok anymore since when you're taping and saying that statement you are clearly informed (by the books/practitionner) that you are dealing with energy flow and trying to recreate a balance...then one goes repeating what exactly is the problem (and only that) while gently tapping other energy points...

  3. What's the mishagas of yoga and all these Eastern exercises? What's wrong with plain old fashioned workout or just walking and working. Odd how the frum world all of a sudden has taken on so many of the practices of the outside world. You have answered on these questions many times. Why can't they understand - it's prohibited and that's it because it's just another form of avodah zorah!

  4. Anonymous from December 30, 2012 9:47 PM.

    You ask why, I'll tell you why from my point of view:

    Simply because things are not that "simple". What you think is easy for you may very well be higly difficult for someone else. That's the case for most things and specially for the most ridiculous ones.
    You have to think outside of your situation and see that even though people are all the same they have different things going on (particularly in their mind).

    Take for example Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD. Saying things like "walking and working" are enough to tapper it off (I'm not even suggesting curing) symptoms of OCD or other mental/psychosomatic disorders is funny...not to say outrageous if you suffer from a specific condition.

    People are not always ready to consult some stranger psychologist (time,money,intimacy etc you name it) or to take tons of mind numbing pills and each have peculiar problems affecting them.
    So I would find it cruel not to try gaining from the beneficial effects of "new"/foreign remedies without at least stripping them off the idolatrous tricks they can submit jews in need.

  5. Is Ayurvedic medicine linked with idol worship? Is it permissible to take these kinds of herbs for better health? Hashem makes the herbs, no?


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