Hasidic Chakra: Couple Introduces Yoga to Israel's Ultra-Orthodox

Tamar Rotem


Jun 2, 2014

The yoga studio that Rachel and Avraham Kolberg run is situated at the end of the street, a useful location for preserving secrecy. And secrecy is vital because the Kolbergs, a couple in their thirties, teach yoga to ultra-Orthodox residents of Ramat Beit Shemesh, where the practice is widely regarded as taboo.

The fact that the Kolbergs are themselves strictly observant members of the Breslav Hasidic sect, and the fact that men and women are taught separately has not softened the opposition to yoga in this Haredi neighborhood of Beit Shemesh.

About two weeks ago a student at a Hasidic seminary (high school for girls) came close to jeopardizing her future when someone tattled to the school administration that she was practicing yoga. She had in fact begun learning yoga upon the advice of her homeroom teacher but when the principal heard she was going to a "place of idol worship," as she said, the girl's parents were warned she would be expelled from the seminary unless she stopped. Expulsion from the seminary could destroy her chances of a good match; the girl gave up yoga.

The seminary administration did not spare Rachel Kolberg either. "They said this is a place of impurity that encourages immodesty," she relays, "and that I stay with the girls after the classes and introduce them to prohibited things." Lately she has been waking up every morning with the fear that derogatory pashkavils [wall posters] with her name on them are plastered around the neighborhood.

The studio, a bright and intimate space paneled in wood from the floor to the high and sloping ceiling under the tile roof, does not look as though it belongs to the ugly street outside. It is on the second floor of the Kolberg home and to reach it, it is necessary to pass through the family's living quarters. Despite the holy books and the pictures of rabbis, there is a personal touch in the apartment and a mysterious and pleasant atmosphere, as the sound of a clarinet playing a Hasidic melody wafts from one of the rooms.