With the news today of Leonard Cohen (z"l), I was surprised to find out he was ordained as a Zen monk as well as seeing Judaism as his religion. I read:

He’s carried his Jewish faith with him throughout his life, regularly observing the Sabbath.3 Even after he started studying Zen Buddhism he said,

I’m not looking for a new religion. I’m quite happy with the old one, with Judaism.4

And Cohen’s study of Zen wasn’t just a weekend project. He lived at a Buddhist monastery for five years5 and became a fully ordained monk in 1996.6

About reconciling Buddhism and Judaism, Cohen said,

Well, for one thing, in the tradition of Zen that I’ve practiced, there is no prayerful worship and there is no affirmation of a deity. So theologically there is no challenge to any Jewish belief.7

Personally I am of the view that we have to decide for ourselves what G!d requires of us, but I was curious what the halachic position would be on this situation.

  • I think a better question to ask, is which elements of Zen Buddhism, if any, would be forbidden for a Jew to subscribe to or practice. That way we can avoid the True-Scotsman situation of who the real Buddhists are.
    – mevaqesh
    Nov 11, 2016 at 16:58
  • I don't know enough about buddhism to know for sure but this might be a dupe judaism.stackexchange.com/q/40845/759
    – Double AA
    Nov 11, 2016 at 17:28

1 Answer 1


One ritual performed in Zen sanghas after a sit has concluded involves bowing down, optionally making full prostration, in the direction of a statue of the Buddha. The Zen description of this ritual is that they are not bowing to an external entity, but to the Buddha within. Whether this means bowing down to an idol could be open for debate.

Before a Zen sit begins, the doan lights a stick of incense below the statue. It's said that the incense is a sacred offering to the Buddha. It seems plausible to interpret this activity as offering incense to an idol if one sees the Buddha statue at the front of every sangha as an idol.

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