The Lubavitcher Rebbe on Transcendental Meditation

Back in July 1979,  a rabbi sitting outside on a porch in the Catskils, with a friend or older bachur, he was listening to the Fabrengen. I was called over to listen to it because the Rebbe was speaking about Transcendental Meditation, he assumed that I would be interested.  I was not particularly enthralled since all I heard was “avodah zarah,”  “idols, incense and gurus” “worship of the sun and moon,” “it is OK for doctors to teach.” At the time, I felt that it did not reach the issues and was too removed, too Biblical, and was not really showing understanding.  Beyond that he treated TM as a pathology to be dealt with by physicians. He did not want any connection of meditation to Kabbalah.  Yet, for some reason I still remember the event, the cloudy evening, and my reaction, especially my disappointing mulling it over for some time that evening.

Yesterday, someone sent me a question on Yoga and Judaism, and after an initial email the response reminded me of the Rebbe’s sicha.

So here an audio- video of the original.

The Rebbe compares TM to the avodah zarah of the sun and the moon. The Rebbe does not address other religions but deals with the issue as part of the problem of cults. He wants the creation of something new called “Jewish meditation” to wean people away from TM. It should be seen as a medical problem and should only be taught by someone who  knows the laws of avodah zarah. It is interesting that the Rebbe is careful not to call all of it “ruah tumah” or “klipot nogah.” Rather, the problem is the incense, bowing, and the false gods or treating the guru as a deity. The patriarch Abraham is portrayed as engaged in solitude, yet the Rebbe does not want this new invention of Jewish meditation connected to Kabbalah, it should be done clinically by physicians.

Here are selections from the translation.

There in an issue, which is connected with the physical and psychological health of many Jews, that demands attention. It is quite possible that these words will have no effect. Nevertheless, the health of a Jew is such an important matter, that efforts should be made even when there is not a sure chance of success.

This issue is the idea of meditation. Meditation has its roots in the very beginning of the Jewish heritage. The Torah commentaries explain that Avraham and the other patriarchs chose to be shepherds so that they could spend their time in solitude.

The sun, the moon, and the stars are necessary for life of earth. They bring about manifold goodness. However, they also have been worshipped as false gods. One might ask (as the Talmud asks): “Since they have been worshipped as false gods, shouldn’t they be destroyed? However, should G-d destroy the world because of the foolishness of the idol-worshipers?” The same concept applies in regard to meditation. Though essentially good, meditation can also be destructive. There are those who have connected meditation to actually bowing down to an idol or a man and worshipping it or him, bringing incense before them etc.

The cults have spread throughout the U.S. and throughout Israel as well.

They have called it by a refined name “transcendental meditation” i.e. something above limits, above our bounded intellects. However, they have also incorporated into the procedures the bringing of incense and other practices that are clearly “Avodah Zorah,” the worship of false gods.

Since we are living within the darkness of Golus, many Jewish youth have fallen into this snare. Before they became involved with this cult, they were troubled and disturbed. The cult was able to relate to them and bring them peace of mind. However, their meditation is connected with Avodah Zorah, burning incense and bowing to a Guru, etc. Since the aspects of idol worship are not publicized, there are those who have not raised their voices in protest. They don’t know if such a protest would be successful and since no one has asked them, why should they enter a questionable situation.

Two conditions must be taken into consideration: 1) meditation should only be used by those who need it. A healthy person doesn’t need meditation. On the contrary, if he begins to meditate he will hurt his psychological health. The only meditation that all should carry out is one which is part of one’s service to G-d, for the Shulchan Aruch states that before each prayer one must meditate on “the greatness of G-d and the humble state of man.” However, that meditation is done with a fixed time and a fixed intent. Its goal is not to calm one’s nerves. 2) The meditation must be based on a Kosher idea or a Torah concept e.g. Shema Yisroel, the meanings of the prayers. Thus, this will bring one to an awareness of the greatness of G-d and the humble nature of man.

Also, since as in all treatments, the healer gains a certain amount of control over his patient, we must take care that the professional who is leading the meditation have a clear and well defined knowledge of what is permitted according to the Shulchan Aruch, what leads to Avodah Zorah, etc.

Even in Yerushalayim, the holy city, such a center has been established. I, myself, received a brochure from such an institution. It was professionally produced, containing pictures and a description of how in Yerushalayim, a center for meditation has been set up. They purchase American addresses, and send them this brochure. It makes a powerful impression and arouses curiosity. Thus, we can see how serious the situation is.

In view of this situation, psychologists, psychoanalysts, etc. have a holy duty to advance their knowledge of meditation, and work to develop a Kosher program. Furthermore, since we live in a country in which publicity plays a large role, efforts must be made to publicize the treatment in the broadest means possible.

Furthermore, this treatment should not be connected with any side issues. There are those who maintain that meditation must be connected with the secrets of Torah. Meditation on the secrets of Torah is very important, particularly in the present age when the Wellsprings of Chassidus must be spread outwards. However, the subject at hand is different. There are Jews who are involved in “Avodah Zorah,” worship of false gods, who must be saved. This is the first priority. If one begins by teaching the secrets of Torah, it is extremely likely that the majority of them will not respond. Even the few who might show an interest should be separated from “Avodah Zorah” first.

We cannot sit and wait practically until someone asks to be helped. We have to approach those who are afflicted and speak their language, without mixing in any other Mitzvos. Our object should be merely the Mitzvah of healing their troubled psyches.

Each one of us knows such a doctor. We can interest a doctor in such activities, and he will find a way to attract those who have fallen into these snares.

In all the other exiles, the redemption did not involve the entire Jewish people. However, the Messianic redemption will reach every Jew. The prophet Isaiah (27:12) declares: “You will be collected one by one” from even the furthest extremes of Golus. These efforts to draw Jews away from the Golus of “Avodah Zorah” will help hasten the fulfillment of the prophecy. The Talmud states that all the appointed times for Moshiach’s coming have passed, and everything depends on Teshuvah. When the Jewish people do Teshuvah, they will immediately be redeemed.

In 1979, The Rebbe had a yehidus with a couple from Australia, where he said the same thing.

Already in the prior year in 1978, the Rebbe turned to a doctor to help him with this request to develop meditation without idolatry. It gets reprinted around the web as if the Rebbe was answering a question from the doctor rather, in fact, the Rebbe was seeking out the doctor. Notice the Rebbe’s citation of  the Federal Court case.and his assumption that much of this is already part of medical practice. I did include parts that are similar to the Sicha- full version here, and here. We can see the Rebbe’s thought in formation

By the Grace of G-d Teveth, 5738
In as much as these movements involve certain rites and rituals, they have been rightly regarded by Rabbinic authorities as cults bordering on, and in some respects actual, Avodah Zarah (idolatry). Accordingly Rabbinic authorities everywhere, and particularly in Eretz Yisroel, ruled that these cults come under all the strictures associated with Avodah Zarah, so that also their appurtenances come under strict prohibition.

Moreover, the United States Federal Court also ruled recently that such movements, by virtue of embracing such rites and rituals, must be classifies as cultic and religious movements. (Of. Malnak V. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, U.S.D.C. of N.J. 76-341, esp. pp. 36-50, 78)On the other hand, certain aspects of the said movements, which are entirely irrelevant to religious worship or practices, have a therapeutic value, particularly in the area of relieving mental stress.

It follows that if these therapeutic methods – insofar as they are utterly devoid of any ritual implications – would be adopted by doctors specializing in the field of mental illness, it would have two-pronged salutary effect: Firstly, in the view of the fact that these methods are therapeutically effective, while there are, regretfully, many who could benefit from such treatment, this is a matter of healing of the highest order, since it has to do with mental illness. It would, therefore, be very wrong to deny such treatment to those who need it, when it could be given by a practicing doctor.

Secondly, and this too is not less important, since there are many Jewish sufferers who continue to avail themselves of these methods though the said cults despite the Rabbinic prohibition, it can be assumed with certainty that many of them, if not all, who are drawn to these cults by the promise of mental relief, would prefer to receive the same treatment from the medical profession – if they had a choice of getting it the kosher way. It would thus be possible to save many Jews from getting involved with the said cults.

It is also known, though not widely, that there are individual doctors who practice the same or similar methods at T.M. and the like. However, it seems that these methods occupy a secondary or subordinate role in their procedures. More importantly, there is almost a complete lack of publicity regarding the application of these methods by doctors, and since the main practice of these doctors is linked with the conventional neurological and psychiatric approach, it is generally assumed that whatever success they achieve is not connected with results obtained from methods relating to T.M. and the like; results which the cults acclaim with such fanfare.

In light of the above, it is suggested and strongly urged that:

Appropriate action be undertaken to enlist the cooperation of a group of doctors specializing in neurology and psychiatry who would research the said methods with a view to perfecting them and adopting them in their practice on a wider scale.

All due publicity be given about the availability of such methods from practicing doctors.

This should be done most expeditiously, without waiting for this vital information to be disseminated through medical journals, where research and findings usually take a long time before they come to the attention of practicing physicians. This would all the sooner counteract the untold harm done to so many Jews who are attracted daily to the said cults, as mentioned in the opening paragraph.

In conclusion: This memo is intended for all Rabbis, doctors, and layman who are in a position to advance the cause espoused herein, the importance of which needs no further elaboration.

31 responses to “The Lubavitcher Rebbe on Transcendental Meditation

  1. Let’s not forget that the TM mantras are mantras of Hindu goddesses and therefore TM violates the basic mitvah of taking other God before Adonoi…in addition to the Hindu puja or religious ceremony where one must bow down.

    Therefore Transcendental Meditation should be off limits for all Judeo-Christians.

  2. I find it odd that the Rebbe made no reference to the long tradition of Chabad meditation.

    Was he trying to supress Chabad practices? Or did he wish to completely disconnect “Meditiation” from traditional Chassidic practices?

  3. Yes, he was, and Yes he did.
    Most of the Chabad meditation material was not reprinted in his lifetime. When I first read the material I had to use copies from the 1940’s. The Chabad meditation material was only reprinted in the 1990’s. There is even a letter from the Rebbe snapping at someone who asked to reprint the Chabad meditation classics- he Rebbe said he knows better what needs to be printed.

    • Ner Mitzvah veTorah Or (incorporating Shaar haYichud, the main text on hitbonenut) was reprinted thrice during the last Rebbe’s tenure, in 1974 (Brooklyn & Kfar Chabad) and 1979. It wasn’t retypeset until 1995; the 1949, 1974 and 1979 editions were all reprints from Lemberg 1858 and Chernovitz 1860..

      The long drought I wonder about is from 1860 to 1949 – 89 years, no new edition, right through the period when the fifth Rebbe was trying to revive the meditative thread. I guess he was writing his own material.

      Bibliography: http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=16054&st=&pgnum=534

  4. Dr. Natan Ophir

    Thanks Alan for this important research.
    Might you publicize the Chabad meditative techniques that you found? That would certainly be greeted with enthusiasm by the Chabad emmisaries some of whom are trying to teach some form of Jewish Meditation…

    I have collected several additional letters of the Rebbe from the years 1978-1982 addressed to Dr. Yehuda Landes and to Dr. Chaim Rosen to develop JM (Jewish Meditation) as an alternative to TM. The Rebbe asked to be presented with a specific budget and then he actually sent money. Thus for example, on July 14, 1979, he sent Dr. Landes a check for $500 to as a grant to Dr. Chaim Rosen to prepare a handbook on Jewish Meditation.

    Two more people mentioned in a letter of the Rebbe from Aug. 18, 1978 as people with whom he and/or his Secretariat has communicated with about JM are Dr. Seymour Applebaum “formerly of LA and presently in Kew Gardens, N.Y. who is also in this field” and Rabbi Avrohom Shemtov in Philadelphia, Pa..
    I am collecting information on this as part of my project in developing Jewish Meditation in the light of neuropsychology. For now, please see my websites.
    Dr. Natan Ophir

  5. Dr. Natan Ophir

    Dear Alan,

    You might also like to refer to the “Letter on ‘Meditation'”, based on Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn,
    http://www.rzlp.org The Reb Zalman Legacy Project Spectrum: A Journal of Renewal Spirituality — Volume 1, Number 1, Fall, 2005
    This “letter” on hitbonnenut meditation is based on several letters written by Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, which were later culled from his Iggeret HaKodesh and translated by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. (N. Miles-Yepez Editor).

  6. Nathan,
    Thanks I had some of that ready for a sequel post.
    Do not send links – One of your messages was in the Spam filter- anything with more than one link is caught- so they are edited without the links.
    As clinicians, they had little to contribute to meditation -they were overtaken by both standard clinical mediation and new age. There is also the Aryeh Kaplan connections- he started a group for psychologists in his living room.

  7. Dr. Natan Ophir

    Yes, I know that on pg. x of his introduction to Jewish Meditation, Aryeh Kaplan lists several members of the exploratory group and it includes Seymour Applebaum. but I don’t know if Applebaum did anything further. In any case, it seems the Rebbe wasn’t interested in Aryeh Kaplan’s type of direction.

    About Dr. Chaim Rosen, he is currently living here in Efrat, and even came by to visit one of my classes in Jewish Meditation, and he indeed tried to develop a meditative guide…

    • I dont know it is page x but as part of the NYC cast of characters. Sy has come to my classes decades ago and now I think lives with his daughter’s family in Teaneck.
      “develop a meditative guide” – what does that mean? to write up a Tm manual with divrei Torah instead of hinduism to be rexographed. Most people quickly switched over to Jon Kabat Zinn and other books on meditation for stress reduction. And then people went to vipassana. Very quickly, there was little audience for a meditation produced on $500!!

  8. Dr. Natan Ophir

    I think that the Rebbe as an insightful observer of what was happening, knew from his various conversations that TM-Sidhis of 1978-1979 was offering simultaneously both exoteric and esoteric meditative structures. On the one hand, MMY (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi) had TM presented with several hundred scientific studies as an empirically verifiable way of quieting the mind, developing pure awareness and experiencing a fourth state of consciousness. But at the same time, MMY’s Sidhis programme was involved in invoking Devas and a stream of Soma via Rig Veda, Sama Veda and the Bhagavad Gita. The Rebbe was looking for an alternative for the first, the exoteric, as he knew that Hasidic teachings are the correct alternative to the second. You are right that today thousands of Jews prefer Vipassanā and Jon Kabat-Zinn, but then in 1978-1979, it was TM. Thousands of Jews including some serious professionals had been initiated and were practicing TM.
    The question still remains, do you think that in the broader perspective the Rebbe was correct in asking for JM, and that today it would be to replace the au courante in vogue Vipassana BUJUS type offerings? It would mean studying the more detailed neuropsychological aspects of meditation, transcending, and yes even, “experiencing God” in what Michael Persinger and company call neurotheology…

  9. The rebbe seems to be looking for a band aid to heal the sick. A few doctors giving a few lectures and coming to speak to the BT’s. There was nothing he proposed that could complete with those who have had years of meditation experience. He did not ask for a serious engagement. He even wrote in 1981 (in the context of meditation) that Judiasm is action, commitment, doing and not meditation. Jews touch the Divine through action- so he really did not advocate it. He was against the printing and teaching of Chabad techniques. He never never advocated a meditative approach to mizvot or a meditative lifestyle. And some of those Bu-Ju’s left orthodoxy, specifically becuase the exposure to the “circa 1980 rebbe blessed meditation” was either inadequate or made them look for the real thing in Hinduism and Buddhism based on years of training, serious jnana, and real tradition.

    • Dr. Natan Ophir

      Well, if you are correct, and I am not yet convinced, then you might like to read the following letter that I received from Mike Tabor Oct. 25, 2009:

      Hi! In 1970 I was in USA playing at a WUJS conference in Philadelphia.I spent time in Crown Heights and had the merit to have a 25 minute yechidus with the Lubavitcher rebbe.Much of it was about music/nigun.Coming from a Gateshead Yeshiva background this was a most amazing liberating refreshing inspiring experience.I’ll tell you more another time. Just for now let me share with you the following: the rebbe asked whether I had read the introduction to the chabad sefer nigunim.
      There are 2 essays .The first is about nigun beyahadus.The second was and is for me a most inspiring intellectual spiritual treat..The contents are seminal. It details what the neseya Chabad have said about the very nature of nigun; about emotions and intellect ,of windows in the soul and kavanah etc ….

      Alan, Might you have a copy of these two essays? Perhaps Shlomo Carlebach was right after all?

      • emotions are not jnana, nigun and song is indeed what Jews are into. A little meditation is good for people to still their emotions and to make them feel oriented to talking about the soul.
        But the message is emotional and not jnana. in the pamphlets, niggun was elevated over hisbonnenus- in clear contrast to the Baal hatnya or Rebbe Rashab.
        I do not have a pdf of the kuntres tpo send you but is available- check online on the chbad.org website.

  10. Every time I read about Jewish meditation and Chabad hitbonanut I get sad and frustrated. Sad because I spent years asking Chabad Rabbis for advice in a pratical sense on how to pratice hitbonanut. All I got was “learn a maamar from the Rebbe and memorize (or think about) it.” I never got the sense when I asked further that any of these people practiced mediation.
    Jewish meditation is a whole other bag. I live in Berkeley and tho there is a lot that passes as meditation there is nothing in my humble opinion that has substance. Oh yes I grw up in Monsey so there to I go no sense this was important to being a Jew. I am sure there are Jewish meditation teachers in Isreal or maybe even in New York but I have yet to get a clear answer and sense that the people I ask practice what they preach. There ar a few people making major strides. one is R’ Avraham Sutton. Not being mathamatically inclined, R Yitzchak Ginsburgh makes little sense when he throws in his math equations. I studied Vipassana and having practiced Tai chi and chi gung for 20 odd years that is what I do. Mediation cannot be learned on You Tube or via a 10 minute video on the web. It is sad and I often feel being in minyans and futively searching for teachers that Judaism does not have a meditative tradition. If it did it would be accessible. It is not. I should be able to approach a Rabbi or Jewish teacher and be able to get instruction or guidance. I can’t Until I do I will sit vipasaana w/out the dogma thatgoes along w/ it, daven and practice mitzvot.

    • To: Shalom Spencer
      Dear Shalom,

      Effective meditation techniques need not be the monopoly of the Far East. The various descriptions in Jewish sources are gradually becoming more accessible. For example, recently R. Hayyim Vital’s collection of a dozen techniques in the 4th section of Shaarei Kedusha have been published from the manuscripts. My personal opinion is that it is important to study these techniques using insights from modern research in the neuropsychology of meditation.

      There are many people like yourself, scattered around the globe, who have practiced Vipassana, TM or explored other meditative traditions. Maybe the time is ripe to pool our knowledge and experience in rediscovering and enlivening the applicable Jewish Meditation techniques from our tradition? Aryeh Kaplan’s books were the first major attempt at this rediscovery and the various Jewish Lights (JL) books have continued these. Matlin’s JL series includes diverse works such as Alan Lew (One God Clapping), Nan Fink Gefen (Discovering Jewish Meditation), David Cooper (the Handbook of Jewish Meditation Practices, as well as his other books), Jeff Roth (Jewish Meditation Practices for Everyday Life), Avram Davis (The Way of the Flame), Rifat Sonsino (6 Jewish Spiritual Paths) and the anthology edited by Davis (Meditation from the heart of Judaism).

      Our host here on this blog, Rabbi Prof. Alan Brill, has made significant contributions. See for example his article “The Hierarchy of Jewish Meditation” in Meditation from the Heart of Judaism: Today’s Teachers Share their Practices, Techniques and Faith, 1997 Ed. Avram Davis, Woodstock, VT, Jewish Lights Publishing, pp. 89-95 but with many additions at magdelene wordpress com

      And in Israel much is being done. Please see my two websites on Jewish Meditation.
      If you like, I can send you my studies in applying the practical meditative techniques of the Rambam, RaMaK, R. Hayim Vital, R. Nahman of Bretzlav, the Admor of Piacezna, R. Kook and others. If you are interested please write to Natan@JewishMeditation.org.il.

  11. Nathan,

    I am not sure you understood Shalom Spensor, little of the Jewish material is being cultivated the way vipassana is being cultivated. I tend to agree with his frustration. he is not looking for worksheets or 8 week classes, but a living tradition of daily practice that is as committed as we currently are to Torah study. You kept using the word “study” and he kept using the word “practice”

  12. Alan,

    I certainly do understand his “frustration”.
    R. Elazar Azikri did state in the name of the Ari that “Hitbodedut” using “Divine Light Visualization” Meditation is 7 times more powerful than Torah study.

    Weekly, I teach practical Jewish meditative techniques to dozens of students and find that only a minority utilize the techniques on a regular basis as a daily practice. Some however, do integrate the techniques into their tefilah, Shabbat or mitzvoth. For example, this past week I have taught the Hanukah Light & Fire meditation, and many of my students plan to use it when they light the candles.

    Can you reproduce the Hebrew reference/documentation here:
    ר’ אלעזר אזכרי: החסידים הראשונים דימו “אור שכינה שעל ראשיהן כאילו נתפשט סביבם, והם בתוך האור יושבים… ואז הם רועדים בטבע, ושמחים על אותה רעדה כדבר שנאמר, (תהילים ב,יא), “עִבְדוּ אֶת ה’ בְּיִרְאָה וְגִילוּ בִּרְעָדָה”. ר’ אלעזר מסתמך על האר”י לקבוע שהתבודדות זו מועילה “לנפש שבעתיים מהלמוד”.
    “ספר חרדים”, דף סה, ע”ב וראו אצל ורבלובסקי, ר”י קארו, עמ’ 74. פסוק זה מתפרש בדיון בסוגיה בברכות ל ע”ב.
    ספר חרדים דף סו ע”ב. אין צורך בסיגופים כדי לשוב בתושבה כי עבור מי “שתורתו אומנתו ויודע דעת ויראת ה'”, יש “תקנה אחרת” והיא ההתבודדות. ר’ אלעזר מצא תקנה זו “בתוך ספרי המקובל האלוהי חסידא קדישא הרב ר’ יצחק לוריא אשכנזי ז”ל בספר אחד כתיבת יד נקרא בית מדות …”. ראו שלום, דבקות, עמ’ 329 שמדובר בהסתמכות על האר”י.

  13. Nathan you mentioned Shaarei Kedusha chelek 4. These are advanced kabbalstic meditations requiring a high level of kedusha, a level I cannot say I am at. The same goes for the Abulafian techniques (BTW David Cooper teaches them in CD form over Sounds True audio!). Most of the Jewish Lights books are vipassana in Jewish clothing. I live in the Bay area where most of the authors reside so I am very familar w/ them. R” Lew z”l was my teacher. At least he studied at JTS and was both a Rabbi who was committed to Jewish practice (not improvisation such as is practiced in Jewish renewal) and learned texts and encouraged his students to engage in Mitzvot. That being said he was honest saying he practiced Shikantaza i.e. Zen meditation. Jeff Roth (who is a very generous and jond person) teaches vipassana and the so called Jewish meditation is a watered down version even ignoring tefillah for ‘chants’ .
    R’ Nachman advocactes Hitbodadut which is far from silent meditation tho it may somehow lead to that. The Paetzner’s meditation is a short diary excerpt and a small section in Derech Hamelech.
    I would gladly welcome any practical teachings you have on Jewish meditation tho.

  14. Dear Shalom, My point in the example of Shaarei Kedusha is that meditative experimentation was part of the quest for Devekut in 16th century Tzefat. This hitbodedut meditation documented in the diaries of the Tzefat Kabbalists, R. Hayyim Vital, R. Elazar Azikri and RaMaK is basically a hypnagogic technique to receive Divine Inspiration. My purpose in mentioning R. Elazar Azikri is that this circle of kabbalists assumed that they are dealing with a living meditation tradition – he states that he heard from his teacher R. Yosef Seansi who practiced hitbodedut meditation and similarly he found the case to be with leading Spanish Kabbalists from the 12th-14th centuries. ספר חרדים, מהדורת שווארץ, פרק ז, דף צ”ב,ע”ב (עמ’ 184): “כך שמעתי מפי מורי ורבי החסיד הקדוש כבוד ר’ יוסף סאניס זלה”ה וכך היה הוא עושה וכן מצאתי לרבינו יצחק דמן עכו שכמה חסידים היו עושים כן בימיו, ודוק ותשכח כן בדברי רמב”ם ורמב”ן וחובות הלבבות והר”ר יונה ז”ל.
    In principle I agree that Jewish tradition has not developed meditation the way it was done in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. However, my working thesis is that there is a universal underpinning of meditative techniques. My premise is that insights from neuro-psychological research of meditation can be used to interpret and expand basic techniques found in our sources. Thus for example, I recommend adapting the Piacezna’s quieting technique. In various academic forums, such as the World Congress of Jewish Studies I have tried to explain the Piacezna’s Quieting technique by comparing some specific idiosyncrasies to the teachings of his contemporaries Gurdjieff and Ouspansky. Similarly, I have tried to understand Rambam, Rav Kook, Gerona Kabbalists and other descriptions of meditative experience by combining an academic approach, a Torah understanding and practical meditation. The more people like yourself share insights, the more we can begin to rejuvenate practical Jewish meditation to be integrated into daily life and religious practice.
    To date, I have published 18 (Hebrew) booklets dealing with the various Jewish Meditation techniques. The instructions draw upon feedback from participants in workshops that I have been teaching in Jerusalem since 1993. Currently, the booklets are available in Hebrew, and if you visit Jerusalem, you are welcome to join the classes. Please write to me on my regular email for a list of publications. Also I have some audio-visual classes which include practical meditative techniques recorded from my teachings at Shorashim.
    Please write to me directly at Natan@JewishMeditation.org.il

  15. I found the following quote on a Chabad website chabad.info/chabadpedia
    for the first day of Hanukah – as if someone here is recommending sitting for half an hour besides the candles in some form of meditative contemplation?
    הפתגם היומי –
    What is this all about? Was this indeed meditation or contemplation for half an hour next to the Hanukah candles?
    אבי אדמו”ר היה מדליק נרות חנוכה בין מנחה למעריב…
    והיה יושב בסמוך להנרות חצי שעה

  16. Dr Ophir:

    It’s entirely likely. The diary is that of the Previous Rebbe, so “my father the Admor” is the Rebbe Rashab, who tried to revive the meditative program of early Chabad, particularly through founding the yeshiva Tomchei Temimim, with limited success. Naftali Loewenthal, in an article in Ada Rapoport-Albert’s “Hasidism Reconsidered,” estimates about 10% of Chabad actually engaged in the real avodas hatefilla.

    One can hear contemporary Chabadniks talk about their grandfathers, who used to spend hours in prayer each day, but nobody today can do that any more.

    As mv”r R’ Brill says, here and elsewhere, the Seventh Rebbe consciously removed meditation from the Chabad program. I’ve seen this in internal publications, too.

    In an article by, I think, R’ Levi Yitzchak Ginsburg (one of the big messianists) in Beis Moshiach a few years ago, he talked about the avodah (service, mission) of each generation being different, in response to someone asking about the old avodas hatefilla, and why we don’t do it any more. The Seventh Generation’s mission was different from the Sixth, the Sixth from the Fifth, and the “recent Seventh Generation” (post-1994) is different from the Seventh, including more messianism.

  17. The only inroads for those aspiring to connect to Hitbonanut maybe whatI have tried and think may work. Sit in silence and allow silence to permate one’s consciousness to be totallly still . AT THAT POINT one can then use the ideas the Reshab suggets in Kuntres HaAVOdah, Tefillah, Etz CHaim and themes in Tanya (especaily Shaare Yihcud V Emmunah). WhenI have preseneted this to Habad Rabbis they dismiss it as not Habad so in respect I gave up. To me a new pathway needs to be tried. One will not get advice from Habad SHlichim and even Rabbis. Silence is like the ground that is made fertile. The avodah and meditative content is what we plant. The flowers and fruit are up to Hashem.

  18. Dear Shalom [Spencer],

    Good to see you here.

    I recall that we’ve discussed these themes before.

    As you know, hoshkahta (coming to internal silence) is the ground from which meditation (both Jewish and non-Jewish) grows.

    It can be used before t’filla along with d’veikut practices. It can be used after t’filla along with ho-rahdaht ha-sheffa practices.

    And it can be used apart from the context of t’filla to prepare for the meditation practices described in the sources cited in previous posts, that lead to hitgalut/ruakh ha-kodesh.

    The main thing is to have a regular meditation practice, and to connect that meditation practice to the way of life that the Torah defines for us, to live a life of k’dusha. Meditation alone is not enough for a Jew, though it may be enough for non-Jews.

    Although he first encountered hoshkahta in the context of Zen, once he returned to Judaism R. Alan Lew (z”l) connected his quiet sitting practice to t’filla, talmud Torah and Shabbat. That’s what he taught — it worked.

    My friend R. Alan Brill wrote: “I tend to agree with his frustration. he is not looking for worksheets or 8 week classes, but a living tradition of daily practice that is as committed as we currently are to Torah study.”

    I’d add that we already know what a steady Jewish meditation practice is. Anyone who wants to can do it. All it takes is the commitment.

    As Khaz”al said, if someone tells you there’s khokhma among the non-Jews, you can believe them. But if they say there’s Torah there, don’t believe them. The Zen/Vipassana khokhma is sitting to arrive at internal silence. As a result of it, they eventually experience an opening.

    I have no doubt that Zen practitioners, Christian meditators, and many others get to the point of experiencing the very edge of hitgalut/ruakh ha-kodesh in what the Zen Buddhist folks call Kensho. After all, Tana D’vay Eliyahu and the Rambam say that ruakh ha-kodesh is potentially available to all. But without a practice that leads to a state of k’dusha, and without embodying the midot that Rav Avraham ben Ha-Rambam and the Ramkhal describe in the Ha-maspik and M’sillat Y-sharim, it’s unlikely that they’ll get beyond the entrance.

    (Sorry to diverge from the Lubavich theme.)_

  19. Len I agree w/ you 100% and don’t get me wrong I sit everyday. I miss R’ Lew a great deal and try to follow what he taught. My main point is that sitting before davening in silence and stillness is not something most Jews do. I attend an orthodox minyan which I love dearly. I love the davening and the beauty of a minyan but Orthodox Judaism in my opinion does not embrace meditation (at least the kind we do) as an integral part of Jewish daily life. Remember R’ Lew was a conservative Rabbi. I am not knocking anyone or anybody but my journey of meditation w/in Judaism has been a lonely one w/ many gifts and challenges from Hashem. But I have experiened many frustrations w/in Judaism and especially from Rabbis when I broached the subject (Yiddish joke- Why did G-d create Rabbis? To confuse People!)
    I have had to look outside Judaism to find a “technique”. In the end it brought me closer to Judaism and davening and learning and mitzvot. I do not know what R’ Abraham taught as the Maspik does not explain WHAT he did but it implies he meditated. I am sure the Ramchal practiced Hitbodadut but most likely Yichudim. Yes a holy life is essential…but there are many Jews who as you know feel a yearning and search and search and become frustrated. I was oneof them. Jewish history to me is filled w/ people who meditated for sure (as R’ Kaplan z”l points out) but meditation as part of mainstream Jewish practice in my eyes has not been central to what an integral part of our pathway. Davening? Ideally meditation and prayer should go together but every minyan I have gone to has the feel of what most people experience, beautiful and powerfull but it is not a “meditative ” expereince (at least to me). SO in the end I just feel I am not going to find a Jewish meditation technique so I sit in silence, learn, daven, try to be mensch and do mitzvot.

    • You say, “I love the davening and the beauty of a minyan but Orthodox Judaism in my opinion does not embrace meditation (at least the kind we do) as an integral part of Jewish daily life.”

      I find great keys to mindfulness and powerful meditations of compassion everywhere in my davening. You just have to forget all of what you were taught about davening, and look again.

  20. Dr. Natan Ophir

    Len and Shalom,
    I have been meditating since 1975 and teaching Jewish Meditation (JM) in the light of neuropsychology since 1994, and I am becoming more and more convinced that it is possible, and indeed a desired goal, to revive a practical tradition of JM no less valuable than the Zen Buddhist meditative practices.
    I just returned from a Vipassana retreat organized here by the New School of Psychology at the Interdisciplinary Institute of Herzliya for neuroscientists and psychologists. This was the first such gathering in Israel of scientists and practical meditation with dozens of neuropsychologists (professors and doctoral students) sitting in silence for several days. One major difference between JM (Jewish Meditation) is what to do after you Quiet the Mind (QM) and Focus the Awareness (FA). I presented a poster session at the scientific part of this conference where I tried to use neuropsychological understandings of meditation to explain the various JM techniques available today. One of my contentions is that after QM and FA, the next step in JM is II (Intuitive Inspiration). One can find this in a wide variety of JM techniques from Rambam to R. Yitzchak Sagi Nahor, Spanish and Tzefat Kabbalists and Hasidic masters. What I trying to research is to what extent these practices reflect the surrounding cultural meditative influences – e.g. as I mentioned above Gurdjieff, Ouspanski and the Admor of Piascezna. To that I would the Sufi influences on RaMaK, R. Shlomo Aklabetz and R. Hayyim Vital as well as Ibn Tufayl and Al-Ghazzali on the Rambam’s meditative mindfulness devekut directives. Bottom line, if we pool our efforts, would you agree that perhaps we can begin to revive the Jewish Meditative tradition??? Then we can have meditative retreats that are more synchronous with Jewish tradition.

  21. “we can begin to revive the Jewish Meditative tradition…” i know what you mean and appreciate your searching. it’s unfortunate that we lost our understanding of the essential meditative contents of the core of judaic practice, all of the berakhot and the birkat hamazon, to single out the most obvious. as i explain in a chapter in my forthcoming book on the jewish prayers, that is the message of the jewish meditator archetype.

  22. Rav Ophir wrote:

    “Bottom line, if we pool our efforts, would you agree that perhaps we can begin to revive the Jewish Meditative tradition??? Then we can have meditative retreats that are more synchronous with Jewish tradition.”

    Yes, and I hope that we’ll see that begin to happen over the next few years.

    tzvee wrote:

    “it’s unfortunate that we lost our understanding of the essential meditative contents of the core of judaic practice, all of the berakhot and the birkat hamazon, to single out the most obvious.”

    If we consider the Ariza”l’s approach to be authentic (as the Gr”a and Rav Khayyim Volozhiner seem to have thought), then we haven’t lost it at all. We just need to make it more familiar and available to our fellow Jews.

    Shalom wrote:

    “Jewish history to me is filled w/ people who meditated for sure (as R’ Kaplan z”l points out) but meditation as part of mainstream Jewish practice in my eyes has not been central to what an integral part of our pathway.”

    It has never been mainstream in the sense of it being practiced by the majority of Jews, and probably never will be. But there will always be a small number of people for whom meditation will be an important aspect of their avoda and their avdut.

    “SO in the end I just feel I am not going to find a Jewish meditation technique so I sit in silence, learn, daven, try to be mensch and do mitzvot.”

    Isn’t what you do “Jewish meditation”? What more do you want or need?

  23. I have practiced the Transcendental Meditation Technique for almost 40 years and have found that my relationship with G-d is even stronger and my Jewish roots are deeper than before. Transcendental Meditation is not a religion, it is a technique that allows one to become aware of the source of all creation. Every religion has a different name for the source of all creation.
    However, as Shakespeare reminded us,… ‘ that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.’
    I have also come to respect the fact that everyone has their own path to G-d.
    So, we share what we know with others and if they hear us, good. If not, we wish them well and send them on their way. G-d knows what is best for all of his creation.
    Here is an interview with an Orthodox Rabbi that offers a different perspective. Other opinions should also be respected.

    Orthodox Rabbi speaks on his 9-year TM practice
    by BOB ROTH on SEPTEMBER 8, 2010

    Rabbi Abraham Shainberg is the son of Holocaust survivors. His parents were from Warsaw, Poland, and they immigrated to America through different routes before raising their family the Lower East Side of New York. His father served as Rabbi of the First Warshauer Congregation for 27 years. With the urging of his father, Abraham studied at the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School on Henry Street in the Lower East Side from kindergarten through high school, and then attended Brooklyn College at the Flatbush campus.
    “A lot of my friends went there,” he recalls. “We studied the Torah, and the more you study the Torah the more you live the Torah. Sixty of us started the three-year program to become an ordained Rabbi (Semicha) but only seventeen of us completed the program. A few of us became rabbis, but most became professionals or businessmen. We were always cognizant of our rabbinical training because it dwells in your soul. It never leaves you.”
    Ten years ago, Rabbi Shainberg heard about the Transcendental Meditation technique from a friend. As a practicing Orthodox Jew, he was cautious but intrigued. “I wanted to know more, so I watched some videotapes of Maharishi’s lectures. Obviously, Maharishi is not my rabbi, but every tape I listened to, everything Maharishi said, was exactly on par with the Torah. I couldn’t believe it. Not a word was off. This wasn’t ‘new age;’ this is the wisdom of the ages. Maharishi came to the same conclusion arrived at by the greatest rabbis.”
    Soon after, Rabbi Shainberg learned the Transcendental Meditation technique, and has been meditating 20 minutes twice a day ever since.
    “Looking back over all these years, I can say TM has led me to better prayer, better service, and to be a better Jew. I’m more on my path to God than ever.”
    “Transcendental Meditation is not a religion,” says Rabbi Shainberg, “and it doesn’t profess to ever be one or take the place of one. It is a technique for you to go inwards and find your soul, find your silence, find your bliss as a human being—and become the person God truly wants you to be.”

  24. rabbielimallon

    In fact, a program very much like the Rebbe, z”l, requested was instituted in America in the 1920’s by several rabbis, most prominently Rabbi Morris Lichtenstein. He was offering something from Jewish tradition to those Jews who had become involved in Christian Science (very popular at that time). His techniques included “affirmative prayer” and “visualized prayer” — both of which have since received serious clinical attention, in addition to their inspirational value. I’ve posted several times on my blog about this.

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