Reiki, “universal life energy” in Japanese, is more popular in Israel now than it was five years ago, says Eli Navon, Reiki teacher at the Israel Holyland Reiki Center and the School for Alternative Medicine in Kfar Saba.
“More people come to study- all kinds of people, including doctors,” said Navon.
As Japanese culture and healing are exported in the global village, Jewish practitioners face the challenge of integrating the foreign belief system into the Jewish domain.
The Japanese tradition of Reiki teaches mental and spiritual harmony, but it is perhaps best-known as “the laying on of hands” healing system where a practitioner channels the energy in the surrounding environment through his/her hands to the person in need of healing. To strengthen the channeled energy and increase the power of healing, the practitioner mentally focuses on ancient Japanese symbols.
Even though Reiki was received by founder Dr. Mikao Usui while practicing Buddhist meditation, practitioners tout Reiki as non-sectarian.
“Reiki can be practiced by anyone and the Reiki energy and philosophy is compatible with all other energy and beliefs. It’s a cosmic and universal language. It bonds everyone no matter belief or tradition or origin,” Navon said.
Because there is uncertainty as to the origins of the ancient Japanese symbols, however, some Jews question whether or not Reiki is an acceptable practice for Jews.
Jocheved Branigan, a former Reiki practitioner and teacher, cut her ties with the practice partly because she wanted no part if there was any doubt “at all” that it is outside the boundaries of Jewish law.
“Its questionable what Judaism says about using the Japanese element. I haven’t heard of any rabbis that say it’s ok.”
Branigan believes that Jews should not practice Reiki and that, as Jews, we must embrace our own traditions.
“Our connection is through Hebrew to Torah, and if we’re using any kind of symbology, we should be using symbology that is using our sort of code,” Branigan said.
Even though Navon sees no contradiction in practicing Reiki as a Jew, he conceded that there are those in the orthodox communities that consider Reiki as “avodah zara (foreign belief), and prefer not to touch it.”
Like Navon, Moshe Bush also practices and teaches Reiki with a free conscience. In fact, Bush was introduced to Reiki when his hasidic rebbe sent him to a practitioner for healing.
“Judaism and Reiki are totally compatible. Reiki came from the same source [as Judaism], from Hashem,” Bush said.
Bush adds a Jewish element to Reiki by pairing each Japanese symbol with a Jewish symbol, like the magen david, to further strengthen healing.
“With the more religious people you often have to use [only] Jewish symbols. For the very fanatic Jews, the rabbanim prohibit Reiki. They say it’s not good for Judaism because they don’t know the history of the traditional Usui symbols.”
Bush conducted extensive research into the origins of the Japanese symbols used in Reiki and says he found nothing that contradicts Judaism. He explained that the Japanese characters are simply letters that are not innately charged with energy – they acquired the power to heal only as a result of Dr. Usui’s meditation.
Bush’s practice of adding Jewish symbols to a traditionally Japanese system and practitioners who promote another healing method called Kabbalistic Reiki raise eyebrows among traditional Reiki practitioners who discourage melding belief systems.
Bush chooses to use the Jewish symbols concurrently with the Japanese symbols because he says he gets better healing results with the combination.
“When you are going to help someone, it’s better if you have a lot of tools. For me, using the Jewish symbols is another powerful tool to help someone,” Bush said.
On the other hand, Navon underscores the importance of maintaining the purity of Reiki and not mixing it with any other healing methods, Jewish or otherwise.
Navon, who serves on the board of the Israel Reiki Unity, stresses the need for “realignment and regathering of the mainstream [Reiki] in Israel and in the western world.”