Thursday, November 20, 2014


Is Yoga Idolatry?

 by Reb Gutman Locks   

  Is Yoga Idolatry?  


    A well-known Chabad rabbi sent me the following:

     My son Avrohom is the editor of a Chabad think tank. There are numerous Shluchim (Chabad emissaries) who advertise yoga exercises. I have been adamant to voice my opposition since our program at a yoga center. However, he has amassed many opinions who feel otherwise. I do not agree with them. I told him that you are a true expert on yoga so he asked me to forward his article to you to get your opinion on the various forms that people use yoga exercise.


Gutman's reply:

     I read your son's article. With all due respect, although the article is very well done, in my opinion, he misses the main objection to Jews practicing yoga.

     Even if a Jew is not worshiping the idols that yoga can bring, still he should not have anything to do with it. Understand, I am not speaking of the physical aspects of yoga. I am speaking about the word "yoga," and all other related words. Even if the word can be paarve (i.e. apply to entirely secular subjects), its root derives from a system of idolatry, and Jews should have nothing to do with it.

     Why do these Jews insist on calling what they do "Yoga"? This is the main problem. If all they want are the physical exercises, let them do whatever exercises they want, but call what they are doing by some other name. But the problem is that they think the word yoga draws Jews to their Chabad classes, when it actually brings them to learn yoga.

     Recently, the yoga studios in New York State won their tax case with the local tax authorities. You can find the details online. The tax commission decided that the yoga studios do not have to pay the State sales tax as do the physical exercise studios, because the yoga studios are mainly teaching a spiritual discipline, and not simply physical exercises.

     Is there any greater proof that any system called yoga should not be practiced by any Jew?

     A neighbor of mine practices yoga every day, but he watches the News while he does, so he thinks that he has no problem doing yoga. He just came back from his almost annual trip to India where he goes for two weeks to practice yoga. He loses weight and feels great. 

     I asked him, "Wasn't there a lot of idolatry mixed in with the yoga?" He answered, "Yes, but I don't pay any attention to that stuff." I asked him if a Jew is allowed to tie his shoe in front of an idol. He answered, "Why not?" When I told him because others would think that he is bowing down to the idol, he laughed out loud.

    Last week, "Living Jewish" published a short article quoting Rabbi Braun, Badatz of Crowns Heights, saying that yoga is forbidden.    

     Your son's article will give approval to yoga in every Jew's life. This is a desecration of Hashem and His Torah.

    If yoga is allowed in the Chabad system, Chabad is saying that yoga is kosher, and Jews all over the world are going to flock to India to learn how to do it "right". 

     Your son should start the article over, but first discuss it with me. Especially, what happens when a Jew goes deeper and deeper into yoga.


What's Wrong with Yoga?

Jewish vs. Buddhist Meditation

(video links)


R' Avrohom (the editor of the Chabad think tank) read my response and wrote:

     Thank you very much!

     We will be in touch with Gutman directly and update everything to reflect his input. If it's ossur (forbidden), it's ossur and that's all there is to it.

Gutman wrote to R' Avrohom:

    It is very important that this issue be resolved according to halacha and that the decision be followed by the Chabad Houses all over the world. The major problem is that anyone can ask a question of a beis din in such a way as to get the answer that he wants. So, if someone asks the beis din in Crown Heights, "Am I allowed to do yoga which means that I bend over and touch my toes?" the obvious answer will be, "no problem."  The rabbis who make this decision must have a great degree of understanding of what yoga is, where it is coming from, and where it goes.

R' Avroham wrote:

      We have a team of scholars that develop drafts of responses on an array of topics (we are a service for people who wish to receive in-depth reviews of subjects from across the spectrum of Torah) and the drafts are reviewed by others on the team, and sometimes by prominent Rabbis to ensure the highest possible quality. 

     This paper too is no exception and is being reviewed by others. I have forwarded your videos, the link to the website with a discussion about this, Rabbi Braun's video and other relevant info to those reviewing the paper. Once it's back from them we will review the conclusions with some prominent Lubavitcher Rabbonim before publishing. We have a responsibility and we make every effort to live up to our task. 

     Will be in touch should we have any further questions about the practices, history or trajectory of the Yoga movement(s).

All the best and thank you for your input


Gutman's response:

     With all due respect, the Rambam says that there is no power to avodah zara (idolatry), so any rabbi who holds by the Rambam on this will agree that there is no power there, and he will base his halacha decisions according to that. But I was there, and lived with that power.

    The same is true with the depth of idolatry that yoga brings. There are at least 8 branches of yoga. For instance, meditation yoga, devotion yoga, serpent power yoga, belief yoga, sexual yoga, and so on. You are apparently only aware of hatha (exercise) yoga. But when one grows in yoga, or accepts yoga as kosher, the other branches are also acceptable.

     All I am suggesting is, let everyone do any healthy exercise he or she wants, but do not call it yoga, or by any other Hindu term.

R' Avroham's response:

     I got it. 

Gutman's response:



  1. Hashem bless Reb Gutman, who has written on this subject many, many times and yet it is falling on deaf ears all because in today's society everyone has the chutzpah of thinking he is the expert in Torah and Halacha. How many warnings are needed? Reb Gutman is the expert here as he has 'personal' knowledge on this topic. The selfishness of people in general, and r'l, religious ones, in particular, is mind boggling, to say the least. This obsession with a 'fitness' or exercise regimen trumps Torah laws in today's society. Shame, shame. All for a stupid exercise, no matter what.

  2. I do a series of postures as exercise every morning for half hour or so, that were "yoga" postures when I learned them 30 years ago, but now I do them with names like "nesher a gozalav" or "asher yatzar" and loosely refer to the whole practice as "ol briut" - the yoke of health. I also recite tehillim or other things I'm memorizing like the 39 melachos avot, various kavvanot, or categories of mukztah. Exercise is good. My back doesn't go out all the time. As Jews, we should cultivate a JEWISH form of exercise that has the benefits of yoga, without the loaded jargon. That is all.

  3. we should cultivate yoga and tai chi movements using hebrew letters and the meditations of the sefer yetzirah raavad and gra are the 2 main commentaries . as for idolaatry the 7 meridians are not idolatrous nor are the 365 acupuncture points and the meridians . the east has amazing chachmas with meditation chuckle chucle a few heradi jews could learn from .

  4. prostrating to an idol or accepting it as a divinity is avodah zorah . We must culivate movements from tai chi and yoga which streches and strengthens meridians , into something kosher ie movements of the hebrew letters and the sound healings of the nekudot . Its very sad we have litle leadership here in cultivating kosher techniques Hashem Yerachame

  5. Agree with the idea of creating a Kosher Jewish system of Exercise based on Yoga and Tai Chi movements / exercises with all idolatrous references expunged, perhaps name it after the Rambam in reference to his historical role as a physician and as a well-known proponent of healthy living?

  6. For those of you lucky enough to live in Israel check out Abir Warrior Martial Arts based on the letters of the Hebrew Alphabet.
    I have never practiced it but maybe investigate?

    Otherwise I can vouch for walking, swimming and Pilates.


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