Kabbalah is a mystical branch of the Jewish faith, offering additional insight and understanding of God and the universe within the context of Judaism. However, non-Jews are studying Kabbalah in increasing numbers, and some Jews take exception to this trend. The Kabbalah Centre, headquartered in California and popularized by such celebrities as Britney Spears and Madonna, has attracted the most vehement and widespread objections and controversies.
Objections About Separating Kabbalah from JudaismFor objectors, Kabbalah is inherently Jewish and to remove it from its Jewish context makes no sense. Some objectors aren't particularly offended by non-Jews studying Kabbalah, but they cannot see the logic of it. Objectors also often suspect such practitioners are not taking Kabbalah seriously, because if they were serious they would be aware of the obvious contradiction.
Other objections are issues of cultural insensitivity. Just as Native Americans object to their spiritual practices being commercialized and sold to people largely uninterested in Native American culture, so too do Jews. The mere fact that Westerners think that religion and culture can be so easily divorced from each other can be highly offensive.
Worse, Westerners often embrace these religious ideas almost as a fad, convincing themselves that they can be enlightened by a weekend seminar, hanging a trinket on their rearview mirror, or tying strings around their wrists.
Objections to the Kabbalah CentreThe Kabbalah Centre causes particular offense to many Jews who consider it a commercialization of their faith, generating substantial profits through unrealistic promises of success and happiness to be gained from their practices. They also sell a variety of accouterments promising miraculous effect, such as red string bracelets to ward off the evil eye and blessed water they have claimed can cure cancer.
The Centre describes their practices as "technology for the soul," rather than as religion. As such, it is approachable by people of any religion or no religion. Kabbalah, for Jews, is intensely and inherently religious.
The Center's Non-Intellectual Approach to an Intellectual SubjectThe Centre puts forth a decidedly non-academic and non-intellectual approach to Kabbalah. Jewish Kabbalists are highly educated, commonly having intrinsic knowledge of the Torah and other Jewish literature before even attempting to study Kabbalah. Study of Kabbalah can be so time consuming and intense that at one time it was recommended only for men over the age of forty who had already established their families.
The Centre, on the other hand, insists that merely owning a copy of the Zohar can impart protective powers, even if the owner never opens it. Reading the text, which was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic, is effective even when one can't comprehend the language. "I have no idea what it says. But anyway, that doesn't matter. This is powerful stuff," says one follower.
Karen Berg, wife of Kabbalah Centre leader Philip Berg, explains that the human brain can subconsciously comprehend the language and compares it with a scanner reading a bar code. (What's Behind Hollywood's Fascination with Kabbalah?)
Offensive Kabbalistic BehaviorThe practices of some students of the Kabbalah Centre (and other new-Jewish versions of Kabbalah) have warranted specific objections from the Jewish community.
The mere fact that they describe themselves as Kabbalists offends many, as many practitioners do not come close to traditional Jewish definitions of the word, which includes living modestly and righteously and being well versed in the Torah and the Zohar.
Britney Spears and Madonna have both sported tattoos of one of the names of God in Hebrew. Tattoos are considered a form of self-mutilation in traditional Judaism and forbidden. The idea that a tattoo of a name of God would somehow grant one greater spirituality or power is therefore absurd to a Jew.
Madonna makes a visual reference to strapping on tefillin straps in her "Die Another Day" video. According to Rabbi Ariel Zbar Tzadok, such a practice is reserved only for men, and for a woman to do so violates "the very essence of Kabbalah and Torah." (Madonna's Kabbalah Not Kosher)
In 2005, a senior official for the Kabbalah Centre, Eliyahu Yardeni, essentially blamed the Jews for the Holocaust when he said: "Just to tell you another thing about the six million Jews that were killed in the Holocaust: the question was that the Light was blocked. They didn't use Kabbalah." (Kabbalah Leader's Holocaust 'Slur')