Is tai chi considered avodah zara? It might have some roots in buddhism and/or taoism, but is it still avodah zara if I am only interested in the physical benefits of tai chi?

I checked out the three links below, and it seems to me that nobody knows for sure tai chi's origins, and in addition the modern form of tai chi is, for the most part, a secularized phyiscal sport.



  • Do a google search of Rabbi Gustman Locks try and contact him,this is(was) his area of expertise.
    – sam
    May 10, 2017 at 14:41
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    Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/8713
    – msh210
    May 10, 2017 at 16:44
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    here's rabbi zev leff on "Reiki" rabbileff.net/shiurim/answers/0250-0499/0315.mp3 and rabbileff.net/shiurim/answers/1750-1999/1779.mp3
    – ray
    May 11, 2017 at 5:09
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    I heard a shiur once from Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz where he said he cannot find a hetter to allow this, but at the same time he doesn't go around saying it is assur. If you are interested, try to contact him.
    – user6591
    Jun 11, 2017 at 2:48
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    One might also look at Taiji (philosophy) - Wikipedia, which while not a religion does contain spiritual elements. Then determine whether the physical exercise is taught with or without this semi-religious aspect. ("T'ai Chi" and "Tàijí" are the same word, but using different Chinese/Roman transliteration.) Dec 15, 2019 at 14:26

3 Answers 3


Rabb Gutman Locks who he himself studied in India under gurus, eventually becoming a guru himself with many followers discusses the dangers of these practices.

His story : https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/959313/jewish/The-Guru-Jew.htm

From Mystical Paths - Rabbi Gutman Locks:

Chi Kung and Tai Chi are more than simple movement meditation techniques. For instance, Tai Chi is almost always associated with Taoism. Taoism is an Eastern religion, which from its earliest roots writes of "ghosts, and deities, and wives of deities…immortals [i] "and of 'god.'" [ii] Taoism is a "reinterpretation of an ancient unnamed tradition of nature worship, divination[iii], and magic." [iv]

Can these practices be taught in a kosher way?

Even if your student only touches his toes and dances, if you tell him that he is practicing Chi Kung, or Tai Chi - or any other practice that is rooted in a religion other than the Torah - you are endangering his soul.

Beside the immediate spiritual intrusion that automatically occurs from practicing these aspects of foreign religions, students will often want to learn more about their new exercise system. They then buy books, visit Web sites, and put pictures on their walls. Then, when they move to another town, they find an "authentic" Oriental teacher. The result is that that Jewish student will soon believe in the spiritual teachings that accompany the exercises. Those names and roots are taken from Buddhism, and the Tao, and on and on.

Again, and to reiterate most clearly, any practice that is entirely physical with absolutely no association with other religions is assumed to be perfectly alright. However, the minute you include even a slight reference or association to those other religions, you are endangering your spiritual life.

Remember, there are many perfectly fine, non-spiritual systems available. There is no reason to look to the ways of the East.

  • Looking to clarify: is this the technical issur of chukas akum, or just a slippery slope argument?
    – Mordechai
    Dec 16, 2019 at 20:00
  • He is saying that if you get involved then it's very difficult to ignore the origins of it,and then when practicing using their terminology and philosophy is already a real issue
    – sam
    Dec 16, 2019 at 20:05
  • Sounds like only slippery slope. Although, to me, the practice sounds like a perfect example of chukas akum. I wonder how objective the practical benefits are. Maybe any exercise would do just as good? If so, this is exactly chukas akum.
    – Mordechai
    Dec 16, 2019 at 20:14
  • That's not convincing without saying HOW tai-chi is associated with Taoism. Dec 17, 2019 at 12:15

Tai chi is not a form of worship and cannot in any way be categorized as such. Therefore your problem with the Avodah Zarah aspect is simply solved.

However, there is a prohibition of וּבְחֻקֹּתֵיהֶם לֹא תֵלֵכוּ which includes all kinds of rituals the pagans practice. But this does not include rituals (chukim) that people do for a good reason, the rituals are only prohibited if they have no rhyme or reason (see Tos. Avodh zara 11b. see also Ran). In this case, even if tai chi is an old pagan ritual, you want the benefits of tai chi and therefore should be permitted.

The problem of Nichush should not apply here, since the one practicing it is deriving physical benefits from it and is permitted in such a case (even if some of the other benefits might be categorized as Nichush).

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    "Tai chi is not a form of worship and cannot in any way be categorized as such." How do you know this??
    – Double AA
    May 11, 2017 at 14:00
  • Even if it was at one point a form of worship, it is not anymore viewed by the majority as such. It is categorized as martial arts in wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tai_chi). In such a case the practice cannot be categorized as Avodah zara, at most it may be classified as Chukei A"z....which i already dealt with in the second paragraph.
    – Bach
    May 11, 2017 at 16:12
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    How do you know that? And why does Wikipedia matter? And why does how it's viewed by a majority of people matter?
    – Double AA
    May 11, 2017 at 16:13
  • if he is not using it as a form of worship, and the majority does not view it that way, why would you say that it is Avodah zara? if you want to say otherwise the onus proof is on you!
    – Bach
    May 11, 2017 at 16:21
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    No, you posted an answer so the onus is on you!
    – Double AA
    May 11, 2017 at 16:22

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu says it's permitted.

Also Grand-master Nir Malchi who is an observant Jew, says that a leading Rabbi told him not to close his dojo.

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