Rabbi combines yoga with Hebrew mantras and teaches that 'God is in each of us'

Founder of nation's first interfaith institution comes to Torrance to demonstrate his latest teaching, a blend of Jewish mysticism and yoga.

Daily Breeze/October 23, 2004
By Sandy Cohen

Forty-five years ago, no word existed to describe what Joseph Gelberman was doing.

He was a Hasidic rabbi who hung out with swamis, priests and ministers, talking about God.

"God only gave part of his wisdom to each of the religions," the rabbi said. "We must come together to understand it completely."

Thus began interfaith studies in America.

At 92, Gelberman is still at it. He came to Torrance recently to demonstrate his latest interfaith lesson: Kabbalah in Motion.

"I've been a Yogi for 45 years and a Kabbalist for 75 years," he said, a touch of an accent revealing his Hungarian roots. "I decided to combine the two sciences into a morning meditation that keeps you alive."

He brought the practice to Congregation Beth Torah in Torrance, where his former student Gary Spero serves as rabbi.

Gelberman is "one of the greatest rabbis of our generation," Spero said.

Gelberman founded the nation's first interfaith institution, New York's New Light Temple, with Sri Swami Satchidananda and the Rev. Jon Mundy in the early 1970s. A decade later, he helped establish The New Seminary, dedicated to training interfaith ministers and spiritual counselors. He ordains rabbis through his Rabbinical Seminary and, at age 87, he opened All-Faiths Seminary International, a source of advanced spiritual education for clergy and professionals.

But the diminutive, white-haired Gelberman is so approachable, so lighthearted, he seems more like an undersized Santa Claus than a revered religious scholar.

He doesn't wear a yarmulke. He eats in nonkosher restaurants. ("I'm vegetarian anyway," he said.) And he thinks any distinction between religions is "an insult to God."

"We have a part of God in each of us," he said.

That belief is the foundation of all Gelberman's teachings, including Kabbalah in Motion.

Simply put,Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism, centers on God as a limitless being that permeates all living things. This theory fuels the rabbi, who considers himself a brother to all who live.

"I'm your brother," Gelberman told a woman in the Torrance congregation. "So will you have me over for dinner tomorrow?"

Kabbalah in Motion is a series of exercises that combine yogic traditions with Hebrew mantras. Movements coordinate with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet and Kabbalistic concepts of gratitude, reverence, willingness and love.

The gentle poses look familiar to anyone who's taken a yoga class. Gelberman performs them each morning -- a source of his good health and spiritual well-being, he said.

But it's more than just an exercise regime. It's an approach to living.

"It's 12 principles that will change your life," he said. "If you're ready to change your life."

It takes more than a 15-minute routine to experience the transformative benefits of Kabbalah in Motion, Gelberman said.

"You will have to be ready to accept a wholesome discipline into your life," he wrote in his introduction to the practice. "Your diet will have to be healthy. You will have to modify unhealthy habits relating to smoking and drinking. And, you will have to be committed to gradually learning to speak the truth."

Little by little, he said, "you will be able to hear more distinctly the still, small voice of your divine soul."

Meditation puts us in touch with God, he said, and Kabbalah in Motion is a moving meditation.

Even those who have never studied the Bible, Torah or Talmud can benefit from Kabbalah in Motion. It begins with a secure knowledge that all are one, Gelberman said.

"It's not how much you know, it's how much you feel," he said. "The mind can be a little bit flaky. Listen to your heart."

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