Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
“Ask the Rabbi” by Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, DATA Rosh HaKollel, is posted on DOJLife.com with the permission of the Texas Jewish Post.
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Ask the Rabbi: Jewish Meditation. By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Dear Rabbi Fried,
I spent years as a devotee of Transcendental Meditation and was recently challenged by an old friend
why I have travelled so distant from our own religion and why don’t I seek my spirituality from the
religion of my ancestors, Judaism. My response was that I’ve been Jewish all my life and attended high
holiday services, etc., and never found anything spiritual about it. My friend’s rebuttal was that I never
checked into it as an adult and have been sidestepping the issue based on my impression as a kid.
Perhaps if I’d look into this as an adult with fresh, new eyes I would find deep spirituality in Judaism.
That’s the nutshell version of our discussion. Since then, I’ve spoken with a number of somewhat
educated Jews, and nobody has pointed me to anything that smacks of meditation or the like within the
framework of Judaism. Before I give up, it was suggested to me that I reach out to you to see if you can
say anything redeeming in this direction, if not, I rest my case.
Your question reminds me of a sobering conversation I had with an old friend in Indianapolis some 45
years ago when I was home for summer break from my Yeshiva studies. I asked my friend, who often
pursued interesting paths, what he’s into these days. His response, he’s gotten involved in Zen
Buddhism. When I asked him what about pursuing spirituality in Judaism, he retorted that he’s been
doing that since he’s a kid and there’s nothing spiritual there.
So, I know that from that conversation and much of what I’ve read and heard from many, that your
question is not an uncommon one. Perhaps if the rich, meaningful spiritual message which pervades
traditional Judaism was made known to young Jews, many more would be happily seeking and finding
deep spiritual experiences within their own heritage and traditions, rather than entering “foreign
Truth be told, traditional Judaism is laden with the deepest, most profound spiritual dimensions. Deep
meditations are part and parcel with many of our prayers and rituals.
Meditation, by and large, consists of thinking in a controlled manor, (a task easier said than done). It is,
at times, work on controlling the conscious and unconscious minds and their inner conflicts, knowing
that at times we seem to have separate, competing minds. This idea is discussed at length in the
classical work of Jewish philosophy, the Tanya, which instructs us how to, through deep mediation,
achieve self-mastery and control. This is the goal of many of the most important schools of meditation
and here we find it deeply imbedded in Judaism.
Another goal of TM and other forms of meditation is “knowledge of the self”. The goal includes self-
knowledge without ego, with a high state of objectivity. This is a key focus of Mussar. Mussar is an area
of study within Judaism which espouses some of the most profound levels of mediation on a particular
Torah thought. The thoughts, or quotes, are chosen with a focus upon self-improvement in a certain
areas which allow one to transcend one’s physical existence and become one with that thought or
We are barely scratching the surface of the spirituality within our tradition. Perhaps we’ll devote the
upcoming columns to investigate your question further, for the benefit of the many readers who,
undoubtedly, share your feelings.