Don’t Let The JuBu’s Fool Ya…Buddhism is Treif

Recently the Forward published at article called “The Buddha From Brooklyn,” about Jeff Miller, AKA Surya Das. The article’s author wrote: “In a way, Surya Das’s Buddhist teaching is actually very Jewish.â€? And with that, I had to break my silence about Buddhism.

In discussions about the nature of Jewish life at the turn of this century, the Jubu phenomenon, deserves our attention. But don’t believe the hype, as it offers no solutions, only deeper problems.

Jews in large numbers have studied and adopted Buddhist practices. Some have become leading practitioners. In mainstream Jewish life, among Reform and Conservative congregations, one can hear references to Buddhism or Buddhists in sermons. Even my mother, from a traditional home, has offered to send me books that meld Jewish and Buddhist teachings, that tell Jews how many positive lessons Buddhism has for Jews to learn from.

Who are the JuBu’s?
Most Jews who do Buddhism— Buddhist meditation, tantras and other stuff —know next to nothing about the faith and law of their ancestors. As Jeff Miller said “Judaism never really answered my questions when I was growing up. I asked questions, they said: “Be quiet. Stop with the questions. What’s wrong with you?” So I sought elsewhere.â€? The Judaism they encountered in horrific after-school programs vaccinated them against continued Jewish knowledge as they encountered adulthood. Justifiably uninspired by what they saw, Jews searched elsewhere to find peace, answers, and spirituality. No one can blame them for pursuing spirituality elsewhere, when their Jewish upbringing was based on material pursuits and juvenile explanations. The generations of Jews that annihilated tradition, knowledge, and meaning, bear responsibility for Jews today who are totally ignorant of their own culture and heritage.

So while we cannot condemn, we still cannot condone. Buddhism is antithetical to Jewish practice and belief. A basic understanding of the Torah’s prohibitions of idolatry, deism, and asceticism rule out any kosher involvement with Buddhism, its teachers, proponents, and practice. Those practitioners that claim no inherent conflict are simply ignorant.

What attracts Jews to Buddhism are kernels of wisdom that G-d planted there. Why did G-d do this? Hashem planted those kernels in order to test us. The popularity of Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, and Buddhist tchachkes, challenge each and every Jew to learn about their own heritage. Torah, Kabbalah, ancient Jewish prayer and meditation, represent the most unbelievably deep wisdom. Torah teaches how to engage life, the Godly sparks in each person, the nobility of each breath, and the humility to know our place in creation.

Though tempting, and seemingly benign, we must avoid Buddhist idols, symbols, altars, incense, offerings of food and water that are placed for ritual purposes. And since the main thrust of Buddhist teachings in North American are intertwined with meditation techniques, the conflicts inherent are not self-evident. Nonetheless, we must turn away from Buddhism, its JuBu practitioners, and return to Jewish practices and belief.

In words that are best known by the poet John Donne, “No man is an island, entire of itself…â€?. What a Jew does anywhere in the world has a powerful effect on the rest of the Jewish people. Each Jew is part of a great web of souls with a common root. Every sanctification of Hashem, ever

y Shma Yisrael, every Sabbath candle, resonates in the life of the Jewish people.

We did not survive through history by chance or by fluke. We are here to carry on a crucial mission, Tikkun Olam. Repairing the world, bringing holiness into the world, bringing blessing to the world.

Don’t let the light go out, it has shined for so many years.

Rabbi Yonah can be reached at

4 replies
  1. Rabbi Yonah
    Rabbi Yonah says:

    I believe with perfect faith that the universe, life, and all dimensions are contained and perpetuated by Hashem. This is a fundamental Jewish teaching, and it took me many years to arrive at its doorstep. I was not born within the frum community, far from it. It is so reassuring to believe that there is no higher power, because then you have life without conscience and without guilt.

    G-d does not deceive. By placing kernels of truth in Buddhism, it is my humble opinion, we can retain free will. Otherwise there are no choices to make, and we are not independent beings. Without independence, what point can life have other than to march to a programmed tune? So free will is essential. Your life is not an accident. Life has meaning, though you may not be able to face it.

    To the defenders of Buddha, Buddhism, and Jubuology:
    The Torah (and not “fencesâ€? or “rabbisâ€?) clearly explains that Jews must distance themselves from idolatry, not just not practice it. It is not my idea. It is unhealthy, like transfats, second hand smoking, and anonymous sex. Buddhism is idolatrous, maintains an idolatrous system, and even has its own country, homeland, in Bhutan. [note: it is an authoritarian regime that permits few outsiders, nestled in the Himalayas. Not very peaceful and serene …]

    Those who arrive at an observant Jewish life certainly gained along the path from a wide range of beliefs, practices, communities, and ideologies. That does not mean that they are necessarily good, or good for you. Chemotherapy kills, but it also allows us to heal. Many transformative experiences in our lives we don’t want to repeat, though they were ultimately beneficial for us.

    There are people who love and are good at debating on if there is God and proofs for God. I don’t get into this. It doesn’t turn me on. Believing in God, now that turns me on. I suggest that you read Lawrence Kellman “Permission to Believe,â€? which does a great job at proving Gods existence.

    There is a large body of work which describes in details what is and is not forbidden in dealing with idolatry and idolaters. For example, if you know that idolaters are holding a idolatrous ceremony on a Monday, can you lend them something, that they may use in the celebration? I would be happy to discuss with you in detail, should you have anymore questions about what is treif about Buddhism, if you care or are interested. Idolatry is wrong, because it is a denial of God. Meditation is not wrong, but using techniques that idolaters developed may be wrong. Incense is not bad to use, but incense that was used for Temple and shrine offerings are forbidden for us to use and so on.

    I myself claim no authority. What am I, but bones and flesh? What am I but a flash in time and history? No I have no authority. But what I do have is a deep devotion to the Torah and studying Jewish law. That gives me credentials to say what is treif and what is kosher within the bounds of Jewish law. In secular life, most follow the rule of law, laid out and enforced by society. You accept that your doctor has authority in their field, at least the good ones, and that they can tell you what is good or not good for you.

  2. Andrew Mellion
    Andrew Mellion says:

    Do you have photopraphs of loved ones? A statue of the Buddha is the same. Buddha was a man ,not a god,not to be an object of worship.He is only to be respected for what he taught.

  3. Daniel T
    Daniel T says:

    Dear rabbiyonah,

    while there may well be conflicts between Judaism and Buddhism, what you’ve mentioned is not correct.

    You say:

    “A basic understanding of the Torah’s prohibitions of idolatry, deism, and asceticism rule out any kosher involvement with Buddhism, its teachers, proponents, and practice. Those practitioners that claim no inherent conflict are simply ignorant.”

    There is no idolatry in the Buddha’s teachings. In fact he explicitly forbade any worship of him and the makings of statues for that purpose. This started several centuries after the Buddha’s passing.

    Deism is defined as “a religious and philosophical belief that a supreme god created the universe, and that this and other religious truth can be determined using reason and observation of the natural world alone, without the need for faith” in Wikipedia. Again Buddhists don’t generally believe that a supreme god created the universe, so it doesn’t apply. Not sure what you were getting at there.

    Ascetism was explicitly rejected by the Buddha, who instead advocated the Middle Path – not being attached to sensual pleasures and not putting one’s body through unnecessary hardships.

    As for your other points, I am glad many Jews continue to plumb the spiritual depths of Judaism and find great treasures therein. At the same time, many find their spiritual home in Buddhism and you will do well to respect this fact and accept the possibility (like Rabbi Jonathan Sacks) that a true spiritual path may also be found elsewhere.

    Thank you for your article and all the best!


  4. Kalyana Mitra
    Kalyana Mitra says:

    The article is written from quite an exclusivist standpoint that doesn’t really (I feel) reflect the variety and complexity of Jewish attitudes and responses to other religions (including Hinduism and Buddhism). Whether some forms of Buddhism consitute ‘avodah zara’ or ‘shituf’ is a complex matter.
    Although it is not entirely accurate to say that Buddhism is non-theistic; as many Mahayana and Vajrayana schools have vast pantheons of deities and numerous devotional liturgies. Emerging Western Buddhisms (which are commonly a form of Western Buddhist modernism) are commonly atheistic and appears to be a secular spirituality.
    Then again the act of bowing cannot be understood outside a social/cultural/historical context. In Judaism it implies worship; in Indian and Chinese (old China, with Confucian norms) one may bow to a parent, a teacher an elder etc. merely to denote respect.
    All I’m saying is it’s complex.
    Since most JuBus end up returning to Judaism enriched and enlivened (if not entirely enlightened) I don’t think Judaism has anything to fear. Besides “Ben (the son of) Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from all people” (Pirket Avot Chapter 4, Mishnah 1a)
    I would recommend Rabbi/Professor Alan Brill’s (2010) new book ‘Judaism and other religions’ and the soon to follow ‘Judaism and world religions’

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