For the week ending 6 August 2005 / 1 Av 5765


by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: L. Froehlich in Gaithersburg, MD

Dear Rabbi,

Several years ago, I took a class in Aikido, one of the eastern martial arts. Like its counterparts, Aikido is premised on the concept that a "force"-- in this case known as "ki" or "chi"-- flows through the universe and the body and can be focused by a person to use, for example, in personal defense. Is this concept of "ki" (or "chi") inconsistent with mainstream Jewish belief? In other words, can a Jew believe in one G-d and also accept the idea that there is an unseen energy flowing in the universe and through one's body that can be tapped with proper training? (After all, there are other unseen forces and things in the universe that do not seem to conflict with Jewish belief, e.g., gravity, electromagnetic energy, cosmic rays.) Is there any analogous concept in Judaism?

Dear L. Froehlich,

While I'm not an expert in Aikido, I do have a black belt (and coat) in Judo-ism, maybe that will help.

The idea there can exist such a force as you have described is not inconsistent with mainstream Jewish belief, as long as you believe that this force, like all forces, is created by and controlled by G-d. I think your analogy to gravity is a good one.

Is there an analogous concept in Judaism? There are positive forces of Divine energy permeating all of Creation. One of them is referred to as "ruach Elokim," a Divine "wind" or spirit, which gives a person extra-human powers, strengths and abilities. This is the power to which the Bible attributes Samson's source of strength.

But Judaism also has a concept of "ruach tumah," an impure spirit. This force also lets a person tap into powers, but is detrimental to one's spiritual state.

Another point to consider is that some Eastern disciplines involve what we consider idolatrous practices. For example, using certain names or words, bowing to the room, bowing to the force, or "talking to" the force. We are not allowed to direct requests to spiritual forces, only to G-d.

In conclusion, believing in the existence of such a force can be okay, while the way one relates to that force can border on idol worship if done incorrectly. We must avoid turning to impure forces, but rather tap into and reveal the positive Divine energy pulsating through all existence, including within ourselves.

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