Peace In The Middle East: Is Yoga Kosher?

"I personally do not think that Yoga can co-exist with Judaism, because, Yoga is for Satanists, while Judaism is not, unless if I am misinformed." You are, but even non-lunatics agree this is an issue!

For those of us too lazy, poor or contrary to jump on the yoga bandwagon, there are many ways to justify our indolence. But rarely do we invoke higher powers. Not surprisingly, yoga's getting big in Israel. But for the country's sizable Orthodox population, it's the subject of hot debate. The issue? Many yoga practitioners involve Hindu chants dedicated to multiple deities in their practices, which flies in the face of the Jewish injunction to worship only one God. Cranks like the poster quoted above are obviously not going to whip out a mat any time soon. But for those craving the physical and mental benefits of yoga, the question's trickier. Some authorities, after studying the matter, have granted a qualified OK. As Israelity puts it,

theologians have posited that since they all essentially represent manifestations of the one primary godhead, Brahman, the additional Hindu gods can be seen as analogous to Jewish mysticism's concept of the sephirot, the kabalistic manifestations of the Jewish God's various components of holiness.

Even so, American-born Aviva Schmidt, whose "Power Flow" is known as "Israel's first kosher power yoga studio" is at pains to keep things, well, kosher, emphasizing yoga's physical - rather than spiritual - aspects. As she puts it, "I don't say the names of the positions, there is no chanting, no ohming. I do focus on the breathing, as this is very important in yoga, but any kind of eastern philosophy stays outside." Adds another practitioner: "Yoga physical exercise can be kosher as long as it remains within the context of physical fitness and stress management." Some rabbis even recommend studying Torah before practice, to keep one's mind clear of polluting influences.

To serious practitioners of yoga, this is problematic to say the least; as one commenter on a message board commented, "Can't be done. Yoga without the spiritualism is like a martini without the drink. You're missing the point." Or, as a friend of mine put it, "Sure, you can stretch and breathe - but it's not going to be yoga." This is a particularly stark example of the kind of culture clashes that are not uncommon in modern Israel. Says Isreality, "We've heard of kosher cell phones and kosher sex, so kosher yoga? Why not." Well, there is the devil-worship issue...

Yoga Puts Religious Israelis In An Uncomfortable Position [Israelity]
Israel: Can Yoga And Judaism Coexist? [Global Voices]
Kosher-Style Yoga [Haaretz]