HOLLYWOOD STYLE OF KABBALAH IS A CULT -- SAY EXPERTS
Kabbalah is the hot new craze sweeping Hollywood, fueled by celebrity devotees like Madonna and Demi Moore.
But an ENQUIRER investigation has discovered that Jewish leaders and cult experts consider this new brand of Kabbalah a dangerous cult designed to separate the vulnerable from their money.
And they say that followers' common beliefs that drinking Kabbalah water can cure cancer or that wearing the red string Kabbalah bracelet protects against the evil eye are superstitious hogwash.
"I'm concerned that the Kabbalah Centers are exploiting people's legitimate concern for spirituality for their own financial gain," Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet, an expert on traditional Kabbalah, told The ENQUIRER.
"I advise not only my congregants, but all people to stay away from the Kabbalah Centers. And if you see Madonna coming run the other way."
Kabbalah in its original form is an ancient practice of Bible study rooted in Jewish mysticism, but the Madonna-style Kabbalah, adopted by Britney Spears, Ashton Kutcher, Winona Ryder, Roseanne Barr, Paris Hilton and other stars, has been openly condemned by the Jewish Federation worldwide.
Rabbi Schochet said the Kabbalah red string that Madonna and pals wear is superstition, not a religion.
"The red string is derived from an ancient pagan practice," explained the rabbi. "And the so-called Kabbalah water has no more value than tap water.
"When the Kabbalah Centers say you can glean the Kabbalah by merely running your hands over the text without reading, it is nonsense.
"And claims that Kabbalah can make you rich, cure illness and make your sex life better reduces Kabbalah to superstition."
Cult buster Rick Ross, head of the nonprofit Rick A. Ross Institute of New Jersey, has serious questions about the Kabbalah Centers' financial practices.
The Centers are controlled by the movement's founder, Rabbi Philip Berg, and his family.
"There is no independently audited financial statement of the Kabbalah Centers to explain the compensation paid to Berg, his wife Karen and their two sons and Karen's daughter from a previous marriage," Ross told The ENQUIRER.
He claims Kabbalah Centers are run like a cult. "Rabbi Berg -- who Kabbalists call 'the Rav' -- is looked upon by many of his followers, including Madonna, as the living conduit between the light (or a higher power) and the creator," he said.
"At the top of the membership are people like Madonna, Roseanne, Elizabeth Taylor, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher and Britney Spears who are treated royally.
"But then there are the regular middle-class people who find it financially demanding to buy tickets for Kabbalah events costing hundreds of dollars. People tell me they are being asked to tithe over 10 percent."
Rabbi Ariel Bar Tzadok, a sanctioned Kabbalah teacher and head of the KosherTorah.com Web site, told The ENQUIRER he also has a problem with the Kabbalah Centers' profits.
"There is a difference between making a living and taking advantage," he said.
"I have received numerous complaints from people who believe they have been inappropriately pressured to donate large sums to the Kabbalah Centers.
"They told me that they have been given exorbitant promises if they do, and threatened with horrible things if they do not comply.
"And merchandise at the Kabbalah Center is priced way beyond market value. Books selling for $430 are available in Jewish bookstores for less than $100. I believe markups like that are immoral.
"True Kabbalah has a price which money can't buy. It's the surrender of your soul to God -- and that is priceless."
But one religious scholar who defends the Kabbalah Centers' practices is Rabbi Pinchas Giller, professor of Kabbalah at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. "This is America, and we have freedom of religion here. As a scholar of Kabbalah, I admire that the Bergs have brought esoteric Kabbalah to the mainstream public." -- PATRICIA TOWLE