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September 16: Red Threads and Big Bucks

September 15, 2015

d6ea4214-2213-11e3-_454348kRabbi Philip Berg (Shraiga Feivel Gruberger), founder of the Kabbalah Centre, which combined Jewish mysticism with New Age concepts and captured the imaginations of Madonna, Britney Spears, Demi Moore, Elizabeth Taylor, and several other big-time celebrities, died at 86 on this date in 2013. A former insurance salesman, he established the first Kabbalah Centre in Queens, New York in the early 1980s, and another in Los Angeles in the mid-’80s. Today, there are forty such centers around the world. “Many mainstream Jewish leaders,” wrote Margalit Fox in Berg’s New York Times obituary, “condemned Rabbi Berg as purveying a diluted version of kabbalah, which was historically considered so complex and powerful that only married men 40 and older who already possessed a deep knowledge of the Torah were allowed to study it.... But his admirers praise him as having made kabbalah far more widely accessible than it had ever been — to women, young people and even gentiles.” The Kabbalah Centre has assets in the hundreds of millions, accumulated in part through sale of books, amulets, and red string, worn around the wrist to ward off the “evil eye.”

“He tapped into the fact that modern educated people can still be superstitious and still have insecurities and still have needs that were once filled by people who wrote amulets and gave blessings. And he was willing to do that for people in the modern world.” —Rabbi Art Green