Under the guise of revealing hidden secrets to the meaning of life, The Kabbalah Center engages in soft-cult activities. Let's expose them for who they are— anti-Judaism, selfish, money hungry, exploitationalists. We welcome your comments. [We have no connection to a string of centers around that world that called the Kabbalah Center](YSVZ"A)
Monday, January 17, 2005
The great Kabbalah con exposed
What is Kabbalah and who believes in it?
Using a secret camera, cancer patient Tony Donnelly went inside the Kabbalah Centre in London to reveal an organisation that charges £860 for dinner, 'healing' water and some books in Aramaic
The surgeon at the Royal Marsden Hospital had warned me after I went under the knife for bladder cancer that the third month after the operation would be the most frustrating. I had got through the chemotherapy course and the good news was that I was still alive and kicking. But, while nowhere near my original fitness, I was desperate for something exciting, anything, to break me out of the boredom of convalescence.
John Sweeney, the BBC reporter, who knows me of old, had visited me at the hospital and knew that I had done covert camera work before. His call was like a tonic. This job, he explained, concerned a curious religious outfit called the Kabbalah Centre, which claimed, among other things, that its Kabbalah water was blessed with "miraculous powers of restoration and healing" and that its Zohar books, the core texts of Kabbalah which they marketed, did you good, too.
They operated from a £3.65 million property off Bond Street in central London, and names such as Madonna and Britney Spears were mentioned as supporters. Some people said the centre helped people to understand ancient Jewish mysticism, but others who had been inside it called it a cult.
My task was to test its claim that the water and the books could help cure cancer. I was to play the wealthy businessman stricken with cancer, which was at least half true.
After picking up my secret camera, I headed off to the London Kabbalah Centre. On hearing of my cancer and that money was no problem, Miriam at reception filled me in: "We have the Kabbalah water, that has very strong healing powers."
Would it help my cells?
"It's a very good possibility," she said. "We have one girl, who works here, her mother used to have cancer and she doesn't have it any more… Because she drank the water. She comes here for Shabbat [the Sabbath]. There are a lot of connections you can do. The water is very, very good because it affects the cells, it cleanses the cells."
She arranged a meeting that day for me with Chagai Shouster, a senior figure in the centre. He told me he lived there and explained that his possessions would fit into one suitcase. He didn't have money to buy clothes, but received gifts. He also said that, for the last nine years, he had only been given what he needed. He struck me as an intelligent man who, but for his devotion to the Kabbalah Centre, would be holding down a worthwhile career in the outside world.
We talked about my cancer. Shouster was very careful to stress that he wasn't promising miracles, but he said there were tools that could help, including the water and the Zohar - the Kabbalah books in Aramaic and Hebrew.
"You need to let go of what the doctors told you," he said. "Drinking the water while meditating on the places that we have a problem with - the bladder, you say? - will clean and strengthen those places. Also, you can put the water on your stomach as well."
"How much water will I need?"
"In your situation right now? About three bottles a day to drink… and to meditate and to scan the Zohar… There are a few items that I'd like you to get right now in the bookstore, that I'd like you to have, if you want."
Down the drain: followers pay high prices for 'healing' water
Expecting money might raise its ugly head, I asked: "The water is not a gift?"
"No, nothing is a gift, the water is not a gift, the Zohar is not a gift, as you know… There is the water cost. A case of 12 boxes costs £45 and the Zohar is £289. And the Shabbat meal is £26."
Shouster explained the importance of the Zohar books. No matter that they were written in Aramaic and, to me, indecipherable, I was told that I only had to run my fingers over the pages and scan the words for the "tools" to start working. Their tools, however, weren't cheap - the bill was £860, including dinner that night. And guess who was coming to dinner? Madonna!
Why does the material girl need Kabbalah?
"She wants to understand how she works with her kids better," Shouster told me. "She wants to understand how to control her mood better, how to be more happy. How to be more tolerant with her husband and to maintain the relationship."
That evening, I was back at the centre, complete with hidden camera. Looking forward to dinner, I was welcomed by Shouster. My first blunder was the dress code. Everyone else was dressed in white; I was dressed in black. Spot the undercover BBC investigator…
People were friendly, touchy-feely, shaking hands and cuddling each other. Shouster took my hand to shake it and embraced me, and, in doing so, touched the camera.
"What's that?" he asked. I fended him off by telling him that it was an electronic device delivering the chemotherapy drug. He looked embarrassed and nothing more was said.
Throughout the evening, I was introduced to people who told me how their lives had been changed by Kabbalah, the water and the Zohar.
I was seated at a table with a charming lady who told me that she'd had breast and lung cancer. She had undergone surgery at the Royal Brompton Hospital but, she told me, she had recovered from the operation quickly because of the Kabbalah water.
At one point, I noticed a striking blonde enter, in a trilby hat - Madonna. She was seated with her husband, Guy Ritchie, and their children on the next table. They seemed like a nice family, with Madonna a normal mum.
But then things turned crazy. A weird religious service started with prayer readings and chanting that culminated in everyone turning to the east, pushing the air with their hands, and crying out "Cher-er-er-er-nobyl" at the top of their voices. They thought they were curing Chernobyl of radiation, using the power of Kabbalah to drive away the evil - and one of the biggest rock stars on the planet was joining in the chanting.
The issue of how to pay the £860 came up a couple of days later. I didn't want to hand over a credit card, so I invented a cock-and-bull story about offshore riches and promised to deliver cash - £860 in total for the Kabbalah water and the Zohar books. I counted out the cash, then Shouster counted it out again.
Having paid £860, I was next offered a trip to celebrate a Kabbalah religious festival in Israel. Rabbi Philip Berg, the leader of the Kabbalah Centre movement, would be present. I was presented with an invoice for $6,232 (£3,331); flights were to be extra.
Then I had a session with Rabbi Eliyahu Yardeni, a Kabbalah Centre teacher. He told me about the meaning of life and the secrets of the universe, and volunteered a staggering piece of information: "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."
It sounded as though he was blaming the Holocaust on its victims. Then he made a vitriolic attack on mainstream rabbis, labelling them the enemy of the Kabbalah Centre. I'm not Jewish, but his unprovoked rantings about Hitler's victims left me questioning his sanity.
My encounter with the Kabbalah people still makes me angry. On the one hand, I have experienced first-class surgery and care at the Royal Marsden Hospital which has, at the very least, extended my life. Yet that hospital is struggling to raise money for essential equipment that saves lives.
On the other hand, you've got the Kabbalah Centre, this wacky outfit, where, for £860, I bought a few bottles of water and some books I can't read. The Kabbalah Centre is attracting the weak and those who are most vulnerable. I know, because I've been through cancer.
Recently, I saw on the Kabbalah Centre website pictures of a tsunami victim - a little boy with a red string around his wrist and a book in his hand - and I thought: how could they? The idea that they are sending their over-priced water and books you can't read to the tsunami victims makes me very angry indeed.
Sweeney Investigates: The Kabbalah Centre is on BBC2, Thursday, January 13, at 9.50pm. If you wish to donate money to the Royal Marsden, you can do so by contacting them at www.royalmarsden.org
What is Kabbalah and who believes in it?
Kabbalah is a branch of Jewish mysticism, which is thought to have originated in the 13th century. Its teachings come from an ancient 23-volume book called the Zohar, which offers interpretations of the inner meaning of the Torah. Traditionally, its practices were reserved for a select number of Jewish scholars who already had an advanced understanding of Jewish law, but for the past 500 years it has been followed more widely.
In 1969, a former insurance salesman, Rabbi Philip Berg, established the Kabbalah Centre International and appointed himself its leader. The centre markets Kabbalah as a "universal system for self-improvement" and attracts more than 3.5 million followers. Berg claims that Kabbalah answers the ultimate questions of human existence: who we are, where we come from and why we're here. Its followers claim that it can purify the soul and banish disease, depression and discontent using the spiritual light of the Zohar.
The Kabbalah Centre sells copies of its sacred texts and other "spiritual tools", such as Kabbalah Water. Among the best-selling items is the red string bracelet, said to protect the wearer from the evil eye. The Beckhams, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Demi Moore and Madonna have all been seen sporting one.
Thursday, December 18, 2003
By Marina Hyde
It's never nice to hear of a religious sect being frustrated in its business expansion plans, and it comes as a special blow to learn that Kabbala, the "ancient Jewish mystic faith" beloved of celebrities as diverse as Madonna and Guy Ritchie, has been foiled by the US Patent and Trademark Office.
The whole business is profoundly spiritual, of course, and therefore resists categorisation, but basically it centres on the pieces of red string tied round devotees' left wrists.
The bracelets, for those yet to finish such key Kabbala texts as The 72 Names of God (cover quote from Madonna: "No hocus-pocus here") protect the wearers from bad karma. Michael Jackson's been wearing one for a couple of years.
Naturally, then, the sect's leaders decided it would be madness not to shore up their brand, and in their trademark application expressed their "bona fide intention to use the mark in commerce on or in connection with the above-identified goods/services" - ie the bracelets.
And yet this week Henry S Zak, the patent office examining attorney, seemed bent on crushing their idealism. "If the 'religious articles' are in the nature of red string," begins his marvellously sparse judgment (viewable on the Smoking Gun website), "registration is refused... The proposed mark merely describes the goods/services."
Perhaps I'm being cynical, but it seems to me that - within the strict limitations of the legal reply - Henry is suggesting the application indicates an attempt to extract money for old rope. Or red string, if you will.
And perhaps he's right. Heaven knows Jerry Hall severed her ties with the sect when it asked for 10% of her income. But, when the initial kneejerk has subsided, is this really the flagrant piece of piss-taking it seems?
Granted, neither the Pope nor the Archbishop of Canterbury has ever attempted to trademark the crucifix (a decision that would actually have posed a problem for Madonna's video stylists for much of the 80s and early 90s).
But what are these Johnnies-come-lately (because we're not seriously going to get into a debate about profound links with ancient Judaism) to do to protect their place in what we might diplomatically refer to as today's bullish religious marketplace?
Surely they must do as churches have often done, and rely on their wiles and rich benefactors? Humorous as Madonna's decision to part with £3.5m to build a Kabbala temple in London may seem, it's not wildly different to the behaviour of the Medicis. In fact, one could while away many happy minutes transposing the same debate about dromedary needlework that was used to tap up her Renaissance predecessors, on to Ms Ciccone herself.
I think it was, er, Eliyahu Yardeni, of the London Kabbala Centre, who said: "Ethics exist to be good for society. That's great. But sometimes you don't want to think about the world, you want to think about yourself. When you learn the Kabbala you will learn that your real agenda - to do what you want - is actually not contradicting what is good for others."
Baffling as it is to see what might draw a "strong-willed" star to such a creed, it's not the first time the lines between business and religion have been blurred. Whatever one thinks of the spiritual reasons, there's no earthly one why the Kabbala faith shouldn't trademark their little bracelets.
As Madonna says of the suspicion-arousing, "imbued with healing through meditation" Kabbala water (£4 a bottle), "it works for me, and it's gotten rid of my husband's verrucas". And isn't that, in a sense, its point? Where would we be if the benefits to be derived from religion and its accoutrements weren't inherently ineffable?
So reconsider, Henry S Zak. It's only a bit of indulgence.
To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.
After hearing of the latest attempt of the Kabbalah center to microsoftize Jewish mysticism and spirituality, I felt the great need to create a blog to expose on a regular basis this charade. It is no accident that "kabbalah" in modern Hebrew means "receipt". That is the bottom line of this soft cult. MONEY. Acquisition of huge sums of money. And lets face it, they have been hugely successful. They have created a world-wide web of centers dedicated to a cult-like obsession with Mr. Berg and his supposed enlightened revelation of kabbalah to the masses. It really frightens me that this is passes as spirituality and Jewish. The Kabbalah Center is neither. Stay tuned for more…