The Man Behind Mindfulness and Meditation
How does an electrical engineer, who graduated from Polytechnic Institute of New York in 1980 go from working on radar jammers for the B-52 Bombers to teaching Jewish Mindfulness and Meditation at Yeshiva University? Len Moskowitz, who grew up going to regular Jewish day schools, said that despite being in the top shiurim and having great teachers, he felt like he had never found his calling in Torah in the traditional styles of learning. It wasn’t until he was truly able to explore and learn the more mystical, or Kabbalistic side, of Torah, primarily the Arizal’s teachings, that he felt he had found his portion of Torah.
He started his journey by learning Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s texts in the late 70’s, and in the late 80’s found a shiur in New York, given by Rav Gideon Lipovsky on the teachings of the Arizal. He stayed within the shiur for two and a half years and learnt b’chavrusa with other students of Rav Lipovsky for another 7 years. After receiving permission from Rav Lipovsky to begin teaching along the lines of such mystical topics, Moskowitz looked for a way to gain credentials in order to teach in Orthodox institutions; as he felt it was something they were lacking. “I realized that I had something to teach that nobody was teaching in our community. I had a background and awareness of texts that nobody else in our community could convey. The mitzvah is Lilmod Ulilamed – to learn for yourself, but also to teach others and I took that seriously.” With that mission in mind Moskowitz, then in his mid-50’s applied to the RIETS Semikha program and was accepted for the Fall 2008 semester.
During his time in RIETS, he completed his work on the first English translation of Rav Chaim Volozhin’s Nefesh HaChaim, a sefer which had been introduced to him by a chavrusa in 1991, as the entryway for Litvish Jews into Kaballah. While Moskowitz was in the Semikha program, Rabbi Hershel Reichman’s students approached their rabbi looking for a more mystical class and Rabbi Reichman directed them towards Moskowitz. Subsequently. a Jewish Mindfulness and Meditation group was started in YC and the following year one was started in Stern as well. The next year Moskowitz began co-teaching with Rabbi Ely Allen, (his mentor for his RIETS teaching internship), in the JSS program and the year after began teaching his own class in JSS.
The popularity for this “style” of learning seems to be growing as Moskowitz began teaching this semester in the IBC morning program in addition to JSS. “The choice of asking Rabbi Moskowitz to teach in IBC was a combination of a few factors, but mostly due to his popularity in JSS and our assumption that there would be a number of students in IBC who would also appreciate and gain from his teaching approach,” says Rabbi Yosef Kalinsky, Assistant Dean in RIETS. Rabbi Kalinsky also noted that Moskowitz’s classes in IBC are more textually based using Nefesh HaChaim in order to compliment the meditation aspect of the course.
Professor Moskowitz feels while many are interested in Kabballah, only about 5% of all Jews have the potential to develop a passion for Kabbala and meditation, and then follow through with it. While Moskowitz acknowledges that it is not a mainstream part of Torah, he maintains it is unequivocally a part of it and feels it is a necessary style for some people. “It’s a way of bringing Kedusha into your life and it should be understood as a path of Kedusha”.
While Moskowitz is serious about the importance of such teachings what is possibly even more important he says, is making sure it is done in a Jewish way. Most of the popular culture meditation techniques come from Buddhism or Yoga he says; and most of the mindfulness instructors in the U.S. are Buddhist trained as well. Moskowitz asserts it is important to note that any regular meditation or mindfulness class will incorporate views from the Buddhist world and are not purely secular techniques. He maintains that exposing oneself to such views could cause them to become natural and acceptable ways of thinking, such ideas that would certainly not align with Jewish philosophy. An altogether intriguing man, Moskowitz now teaches in both the JSS and IBC program on the Wilf campus and continues to teach at the Jewish Mindfulness and Meditation Club every Thursday night on the Beren campus. The session is open to both Beren and Wilf campus students.