Jan 9, 2003

No business like Kabbalah business

Jeanette Walls
January 9, 2003

Kabbalah is all the rage among celebs these days, but some critics are raising serious questions about the new vogue for the ancient branch of Jewish mysticism. Madonna, Liz Taylor, Mick Jagger, Gwyneth Paltrow, Courtney Love, Sandra Bernhard and Barbra Streisand are among the stars who have been linked to Kabbalah, but some experts are saying that some Kabbalah centers are interested in more than people's spirituality.

"It is not a traditional expression of either Judaism or the historic Kabbalah," says cult critic Rick Ross. "The Kabbalah Center is a highly organized, highly profitable group which I consider to be the Berg family business." Phillip Berg, a former insurance salesman, heads up the Kabbalah Center in the United States, which in addition to giving pricey courses, sells books, tapes, scents and expensive skincare products both at its centers and at Kabbalah.com.

The group also sells bottled Kabbalah water - which Madonna swears by. The water, according to the group's site, is "dynamic 'living' water" with "a highly organized structure, crystalline formations and a fractal design." Kabbalah water, the Center's Yehuda Berg insists, is a tradition dating back centuries. "We charge the water with positive energy," he tells the Scoop. "So that it has healing powers," he says.

But Rabbi Immanuel Shochet, an ultra-Orthodox expert on Kabbalah who has clashed with the Kabbalah center in the past, has told the Jerusalem Post, "There's no such thing as Kabbalah water."

A spokeswoman from the Center dismisses Ross' charges, pointing out that the group is a not-for-profit organization. "We have 50 centers and our objective is to reach as many people as possible," she says, "So being organized is a good thing."