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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Shuckle

Shuckling is an art. A number of years ago, I was part of a movement to introduce competitive shuckling in Shuls world-wide. Unfortunately, it never caught on and even our local Shuckle club disbanded (our corporate sponsor backed out). The playbooks are now reduced to collector’s items.

Shuckling remains one of the greatest fusions of mind, body and spirit for the Orthodox male (there is very little literature on female Shucklers). I had a friend from Toldos Aharon with a legendary Pesukai D’zimra. He would assume pitcher stance, alternately lifting his left and right legs as he shuckled. His nose would graze the table but never make impact, he was always on the right page and, amazingly, his eyes were always closed.

Professional Shuckling can be intimidating to the outsider (I’m told that the average male can shuckle at 60-70 SPM). I have always encouraged beginners to start slow and not jump straight into “Scissor Action” or “Backward Bends”. Some beginners will actually “warm up” with a few exploratory shuckles in the privacy of their own home before sitting on or near the Extreme Shuckler bench at their local shul. Synchronized Team Shuckelers would do well to wear a fiberglass helmet during practice.

I consider myself a fairly accomplished Shuckler. I have Shuckled on three continents and in dozens of cities. I have Shuckled at the Kosel and at Shea Stadium. I have Shuckled in the Land Down Under and on a 747 enroute to Louisville (Well, not Louisville). I’ve Shuckled on the Monsey Bus, on the Major Deegan, on a sleeping volcano and, yes, on the back of a Harley. Though I shuckled with the best, I never fully understood the depth of The Shuckle until I attended my first Yoga session, compliments of an amazing friend of mine.

The compatibility of Yoga and Judaism has been the basis of many scholarly articles. For our purposes, I will ignore the scholars and stick to a few uneducated first-impressions on Yoga as they relate to the general tefila experience:

Never eat tomatoes before Yoga. I did and suffered terribly.  Those incongruously overpowering Amino acids have the ability to make you leave an uplifting experience with a sour taste in your mouth. More about this later.

Absolute Concentration. Everyone knows that Yoga requires complete undivided focus. This should be obvious in Tefila as well.

Pacing. Yoga practitioners are encouraged to pace themselves. There an almost circadian rhythm that should guide a person in his stretches, shuckles and, most importantly, the words that he says. Shluchan Aruch calls this Mispallel L’ito.

Posture. The first thing that struck me was the instruction to keep my gaze lowered and my heart high. The Shulchan Aruch recommends this (OC 2), but it never really resonated with me until I understood it in the context of external actions influencing internal attitudes. According to Halacha, we should consciously lift our hearts and pull in our ribcages as we walk down the street, even as we lower our gaze and assume poses of humility. Unlike other disciplines (e.g. the Alexander Technique) where a Stiff Neck is mandatory, Yoga seems comfortable with the lazy, loose and lowered neck (hence, the popular Forward-Dog position).

Toe Positioning. Keeping my feet together for certain exercises was natural and it made me think about the angels who are paused in their growth, yet appreciate the moment. 

Bowing. Although the bows weren’t very meaningful (maybe because they were called “Forward-Dog”), I found that Stacking my Vertebrae and Rounding my Shoulders Back on the way up was an accurate reflection of the sentiment that we should straighten our backs into a Koma Zekufah before considering the name of Hashem. (People often concentrate on the bows and don’t realize that there is a significance to straightening up as well.)

Hands. I was a little uncomfortable with the “Prayer Pose” but it did reflect the words of the Mekubalim who suggest that we daven with our hands clasped above our waist. This brings the forces of Right and Left a la fois au-dessus de gartel.

Body Core. Like any physical activity, the trick is to find your center and get into a mode. Done properly, and from a yoga perspective, it is easy to see how finding the body core, building it, and then shuckling would enhance a Tefila experience. Once you’ve found your core you will find that you can slip naturally into the Shuckling techniquethat best expresses your personality and mood.

All in all, I felt that Yoga enhanced my Tefila experience and helped lend some extra meaning to actions in Tefila that can seem foreign in our western world.

Of course, the use of a foreign culture to understand Judaism is a tricky business. When we start trying to incorporate other belief systems in the worship of our G-d we are treading in delicate territory. That’s why I’m avoiding interpretation and innovation and trying to use Yoga to explain communal and Halachic practices of Tefila that already exist.

My only nagging thought is the tomatoes. If Tefila incorporates Yoga-like activities, maybe it would be commendable to refrain from indulging in tomatoes before Tefila. Look for it at a Chumra club near you (They usually sit right in front of the Shucklers).

Now, please excuse me as I return to Peaceful Warrior pose.

(If you were hoping for something on Parshas Yisro - Try this.)

Posted on 02/02 at 12:10 PM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Sender Haber

Rabbi Sender Haber is the Rabbi of the B'nai Israel Congregation in Norfolk, VA. He is well known throughout Hampton Roads, having arrived over twelve years ago as one of the original four members of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel. In that capacity, Rabbi Haber was involved in community wide programming, teaching, and outreach. He has inspired many Jews to expand their Jewish identity and increase their love of Torah and commitment to its observance. Everyone who knows Rabbi Haber is touched by his breadth of Torah knowledge and his ability to convey the wisdom of the ages in such a way as to make those esoteric writings accessible to persons of all levels of experience and a variety of backgrounds.

Rabbi Haber has served in a number of capacities during his years in Norfolk. Since 2003 Rabbi Haber has been a teacher of Jewish Studies at Toras Chaim Day School in Portsmouth, teaching boys and girls of all ages, with a focus on Gemara, Halacha, and Chumash. He has also taught at Yeshivas Aish Kodesh and Bina High School in Norfolk, and served as Assistant Rabbi of B’nai Israel for 6 years. He also serves as the Rabbi of the “Lost Tribe,” Tidewater’s Jewish Motorcycle group! While handling all of these responsibilities, he has continued to participate in numerous Chavrusos (one-on-one learning partnerships) covering a wide range of topics and writings.

Rabbi Haber and his wife Chamie have been married for thirteen years. They have four children, Minna (9), Moshe (6), Ely (4), and Akiva Meir, born in August of 2012. They both come from rabbinic families steeped in Torah, Kiruv and Chesed. Rabbi Haber received his Rabbinic Ordination (Yoreh Yoreh) from Rabbi Sender Rosenbloom and Rabbi Mordechai Freidlander of the Jerusalem Beth Din. He was awarded a Teaching Certificate by Torah Umesorah Association for Jewish Day Schools in 2004 and again in 2009. In addition, Rabbi Haber has spent over a decade studying Talmud, Jewish Law, and ethics in some of the world’s most prestigious Yeshivos including Beth Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, NJ and Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted through the Synagogue office at 757-627-7358, or through e-mail at