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MAILBAG: There Are Literal Avoda Zara Ceremonies In Our Community And Nobody Is Speaking Up

In the past number of years, frum communities in the United States appear, at least to me, to have taken a decided shift in favor of certain practices that were not common just a few years back. For instance, meditation classes are not hard to find. The problem is that this trend has, in some cases, gone too far.

For instance, a friend of mine who is a very spiritual fellow recently forwarded to me a flyer for planned events involving a “Cacao Ceremony” in very Jewish neighborhoods in the 5 Towns, Crown Heights, Lakewood, and Brooklyn. In fact, there is a well known Jewish singer in the ads. A singer whose songs are sung around the globe. You might be wondering what is wrong with a “Cacao Ceremony” – sounds rather innocent, doesn’t it?

I thought so, too, until I actually looked up what it is. Here’s some of what I found online:

“​​A Cacao Ceremony is a spiritual ritual that involves consuming ceremonial-grade cacao in a group setting to facilitate connection, healing, and self-exploration. It originates from ancient Mayan and Aztec traditions and has gained popularity in modern times for its ability to promote mindfulness and personal growth” 

“The history of Cacao Ceremonies dates back to ancient Mesoamerican civilizations, particularly the Mayan and Aztec cultures, who considered cacao a divine and sacred substance. The Mayans, who lived in present-day Mexico and Central America around 250-900 AD, revered cacao as the ‘Food of the Gods.’ They believed that the cacao tree was a divine gift from the gods and used the beans in various rituals, including religious ceremonies, marriage celebrations, and funerary rites.

“The Aztecs, who rose to power in the 14th century, also held cacao in high esteem. They believed that cacao was a gift from the god Quetzalcoatl and consumed it as a bitter beverage called xocoatl during rituals and as a form of currency… The frothy drink was believed to possess powerful spiritual properties and was consumed by priests, warriors, and nobility to connect with the gods, attain higher states of consciousness, and receive divine guidance.”

Suddenly sounds a lot like Avoda Zara, doesn’t it?

There’s more. The flyer also states that you can “learn how to use Rapé as a daily grounding tool.” So what is this Rapé (pronounced Rah-Pay)? It’s a fine, ground-up shamanic snuff. Here’s what I found online about it:

“Many people believe rapé may date back to the discovery of tobacco’s psychotropic properties. It’s frequently used in spiritual practice by shamans and tribes in Brazil and Peru. The use of tobacco in these cultures tends to be different than around the globe: it’s used in ceremony, rather than in mindless chain-smoking. The frequency and intention of using rapé vary by group or tribe. It’s used before breakfast and dinner by some, in a rapé-only ceremony by others, and many ways in between. We’re seeing it commonly used in America in combination with other spiritual medicines.”

I have no doubt that the organizers of this “Cacao Ceremony” have no intentions of causing their fellow Jews to participate in an Avoda Zara ceremony. And I would like to believe that they have no clue of the origins of their ceremony and probably believe that it’s no more than innocent meditation, grounding work, and breathwork. Unfortunately, it is apparently a lot more than that.

As a community, we have to be more careful when signing up for new-age stuff. Things might sound innocent, but could really have their roots deeply ground in Avoda Zara. It’s a serious problem, and I am stunned that no more is being said about it publicly.



The views expressed in this letter do not necessarily reflect those of YWN. Have an opinion you would like to share? Send it to us for review. 

(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)

35 Responses

  1. All of this type of thing, eastern meditation, “yoga” and cacao ceremony (should be just called caca for what it is) is just witchcraft and occult dressed up in different clothing. It is very insidious and subtly slipped into many so called orthodox Jewish events.

    The Torah warns us very clearly to have nothing to do with necromancers, witchcraft, people that speak to the dead etc. Nor should we allow this into our houses, business or places of worship.

    People are saying, “I am seeing results”, well guess what Pharoah’s magicians saw some results also…think about that.

    We recently had our kids school force our 9 year old to participate in “yoga”, only to have her come ask me one night “daddy, why is the yoga teacher putting stones on my belly, rubbing oils on my head and asking me to repeat strange words”. The school assured me that it was only “stretching exercises” and even had a Rabbi bless the whole thing. I was horrified after my daughter told me what was really going on and threatened to pull her out of the school. The schools response was to sideline her and make her sit in a “time out” while the rest of the kids continued with their yoga.

    This type of thing needs to stop. If you want to do witchcraft then go join a different religion. This has no place in Judaism, and the innocent way it is sold to every community is disgusting.

  2. Personally I think we should add cacao to the menu at three week siyumim. You know, right along side the mega barbecue and wine tasting. It’s all l’shem shamyaim!

  3. Definitely an important call to look further into it, but nothing said here so far indicates it is Avoda Zara. It sounds like a drug which helps one calm and by that connect to his inner Nefesh – Neshama. Naturally in Avoda Zara societies that caused them to attribute that power to Avoda Zara, just like they worshipped anything that had some spectacular power. They worshipped the Sun and the Moon etc. and believed their amazing light is from a separate God ח”ו, does that mean we cannot enjoy the Sun while attributing it to Hashem? – of course not. An expert should look at this further and update.

  4. You sound like the Kanoyim that warn us about being good neighbors & giving out Halloween candy to trick or treaters because the origins are perhaps Avoda Zara. The problem is 99% of the kids & their parents know nothing about the origins of Halloween & are only having fun & getting candy totally disconnected from any religious aspect. This is why several of our Gedolim were known to give out treats (& create goodwill).
    My Ruv/Historian made a very interesting point. We say Nevuah & Avoda Zara amongst Yidden ended at the same time. Think about it, for centuries Jews were constantly pulled into worshipping Avodah Zara of all kinds. But once this era closed Jews were never again interested in Avodah Zara. Since then sadly Yidden have committed terrible Avayros but never A”Z.
    It seems like your looking for problems. Perhaps centuries ago some of these items (seemed to have been used in ceremonies but nothing you wrote says anything about offering it to a “Strange G-d”) had an elevated status used in ceremonies but how is that different than us? We elevate wine using it in most of our rituals (& even giving it its own Bracha to show it’s higher status) but I’m pretty sure no Jew is offering up wine as a present or to appease Hashem.
    These are people looking for connection whether through meditation, breath work, etc.
    “Suddenly sounds a lot like Avoda Zara, doesn’t it?” Actually it doesn’t. You explained why they used it but said nothing about them offering it up to their “Strange G-ds that are not known among the “Children of Israel”

  5. Be careful, sure. Ask your Rabbi, fine.
    But to claim that this is avoda zara without any sources? Is eating chocolate or smoking tobacco avoda zara?
    Just because something is psychoactive and has been used by people in avoda zara settings historically doesn’t automatically mean it is assur when done in a different setting and intention.

  6. There are questionable ads across a lot of Jewish websites and media offering all sorts of “miraculous outcomes” for those willing to make a small “donation” or book a “consultation” with some Rav or askan. Some of these claims appear to be a lot more akin to avodah zorah, new-age scams or machashefah than a yoga or controlled breathing session which at least may provide some real benefits in terms of physical flexibility and stress reduction.

  7. besalel:
    Avoda Zara is a very real problem, about as real as it gets. It’s one of the three sins for which one must give one’s life rather than violate. Even if it’s not widespread, it’s still a very big problem, of course.

  8. Yoga body movements and positions are actually named and called in connection with false deities, and we know to keep away from it and from them, simply because they are a disgrace to Hashem the Creator.
    Exercise if you must by walking, or relax by sitting quietly and thinking of Hashem’s greatness and kindness.

  9. E. C. (Letter writer).
    You seem to me to be a serious person with a serious concern.
    Do you not have a Rov? (If not, that may be worse than your conceived (Shogeg) Avoda Zara ).
    Why take such a monumental issue to an online forum instead of bringing it to the attention of the leaders.
    Unless…you did and they laughed you out of their offices…

  10. I think we should leave this up to our גדולים to direct us.
    We have exceedingly competent Chief Rabbis Moreinu HoRav Lau & Moreinu HoRav Yosef, & whatever determination they arrive at, is what we עם בני ישראל shall adhere to

  11. The anonymous letter writer doesn’t mention whether he spoke about this to any of the rabonim who lead our communities. If the rabonim haven’t spoken out against this, then either they don’t know about it or they don’t consider it a priority. Either way, it would make sense to talk to them before making a tumult on YWN.

  12. (and if they don’t consider it a priority, it’s probably because isn’t not really avoida zora they way that it is being done)

  13. I agree with kuvult. Just because something was used for Avodah Zara doesn’t make using it AZ. Hashem created so many natural items with amazing medicinal qualities. If it’s used for the purpose Hashem intended and is effecting healing and community, then kol hakavod!

  14. It’s such a shame that people are so quick to claim the author doesn’t know anything about what they’re talking about. They must be trying to farenfir their own shortcomings when it comes to these things.

    We have an issue with avoda zora and we have another issue with ובחוקותיהם לא תלכו which is just as bad. Unfortunately far too many people have blinders on their eyes when it comes to these things.

    People need to really start looking into these things and be honest with themselves. If it doesn’t pass the Jewish smell test, then it stinks!

  15. If “yoga” positions and exercises are named after Hindu gods then you have your answer right there …why mess with it ?

    Avoda zara is a grab bag cover all term that people assign to something bad.

    Many of these ceremonies have their roots in witchcraft and occult practices which the Torah also says to keep away from. The conversation should be about that.

    Tehilim 37:27 “flee from evil and do good…”

  16. Well well very interesting, it seems that some MO commenters are fine with possible avodah Zara as long as no dina demalchusa dina is involved and some Charedi commenters are fine with possible avoda zara as long as no giluy arayos, cholov akum or mesira is involved.

  17. @medicineman613 wait until you hear about the days of the week and the months. “Tammuz” is named after an avodah zarah. The names don’t tell you one way or another

  18. It’s not a secret what Avoda Zara means. It if exactly one thing, worshipping a deity other than Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

    Eating something is not Avoda Zara, no matter what people might have done with it. Even witchcraft is not Avoda Zara. It might have its roots in similar ideology, but the punishment of not the same, and it is not יהרג ואל יעבור.

  19. All the ignorant comments here are probably not intentional, and more curious, so I would highly suggest looking at HaRav Y. Belsky’s z”l book ‘alternative medicine’, where he goes into depth regarding many different practices, therapies etc, and actually spoke to different gurus etc that engage in it to find out everything needed to know.
    An amazing enlightening read, and will provide you with a better mature understanding of the severity of these practices.

  20. HaLeiVi:
    Wow. So there was no purpose in multiple chapters of Mishna Avoda Zara and the gemara and rishonim and acharonim and poskim and the rest. Just your one line is enough. Who would have known?

  21. “Yoga body movements and positions are actually named and called in connection with false deities,”

    So are the planets and the days of the week. So what?

    If you use the word “Wednesday”, are you promoting idol worship?

  22. יום רביעי =
    4th day of the week, no connection to idolatry.

    Asking a group of friends to come and enjoy a cup of chocolate is different from a similar setting directed at an unknown ‘spirituality’, it is misleading, deceptive, confusing, and spiritually damaging giving strength to the sitra achra.
    Also in Torah witches were killed, but these days dina malchuso dina, and also no Sanhedrin so no killing.

  23. Even picking up an object from the ground requires an acute awareness of our body position when in front of a house of idol worship, so as not to even give the appearance of idol worship.

  24. Things which are passed down through our mesorah or oral law are perfectly fine, such as names of months and obviously have those names for other reasons. They were long ago approved by the sages. It’s illogical to compare that to entire outside religious worship practices like yoga because yes that’s why yoga was originally designed.

    Outside practices which originated in and have their roots in the worship of hindu gods are evil and should be avoided like the plague. Just as we do not go sample LSD in order to “try everything for fun” so to we should not be sampling from the gentile religious pork buffet in order to see what it’s like, or use arguments like “a little _____ never hurt anyone”. Otherwise do not be surprised with what comes out the other end.

  25. Putting aside the issue of עבודה זרה, i wonder if the activities described are an issue of חוקות עכו”ם.

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