The recent visit of singer Madonna to Israel for a Kabbalah conference has highlighted the wide-reach and popularity of the L.A. based Kabbalah Center, which is now reported to operate 50 centers worldwide.
Orthodox Jews are not pleased with this success and regularly denounce the center, founded in the 1970s by Rabbi Yehuda Berg and numbering several celebrity devotees beside Madonna, as “just a cult” rather than authentic Jewish mysticism, reports the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (Sept. 26).
The recent initiative of the Kabbalah Center to launch an after school Kabbalah program for elementary school children has generated renewed criticism, since the Kabbalah is traditionally understood by Jews as being only suited for well-learned Torah scholars. In contrast, the Kabbalah Center promotes it as a tool for self-improvement. Another issue for concern is the spread of the movement in Britain, where it is said to be growing quickly, although Orthodox Jews suggest it is just a fad which will soon pass away. In Israel itself, the Kabbalah Center is not widely popular.
But there are similar trends for people other than elite students of the Torah to study the mystic tradition and the “secrets of the inner Torah,” Matti Friedman writes in the October 4 issue of the news magazineJerusalem Report. Those range from ultra-Orthodox to neo-hippie or popular devotional practices, as evidenced by visits to four different Kabbalah-oriented groups around the country.
For instance, the Galile community “Or Haganuz” (“the hidden light”) attracts primarily people of a secular background who have found their way to ultra-Orthodoxy through the kabbalistic teachings of a Jerusalem scholar. In contrast, the commune of “Hamakom” (“the place”), located in the Judean desert, attracts a typical audience of seekers, attracted by the study of the Kabbalah outside the strictures of Orthodoxy and aspiring to create an interreligious peace village where participants will tap into the mystic traditions of their own religions.
There is no doubt that the Kabbalah’s attraction is possibly stronger than ever, but its interpretations are many and sometimes now even go beyond the borders of Judaism.
— By Jean-François Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)
(The Jerusalem Report, PO Box 1805, Jerusalem 91017, Israel; www.jrep.com)