Radar Online is starting an “in-depth investigation into the history, teaching, and practices” of Kabbalah — Hollywood’s latest hot religion — and the family that is responsible for introducing Kabbalah to the world. Philip Berg is the man spreading the word since 1971, and as Mim Udovitch puts it, he has “created a multimillion-dollar brand out of a bastardization of an arcane branch of Judaism, larding it with pricey accessories and bold-faced names.”
Of course, the Bergs are unhappy about this, possibly fearing some sort of Operation Clambake.
I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I believe that Kabbalah is simply wrong, as in false. That’s just my personal belief. However, Radar seems more interested in exploring the personal history of the Bergs. While that may be instructive, as it certainly is in the case of L. Ron Hubbard’s story in Bare-Faced Messiah, it isn’t what I would focus on were I devoting time to Kabbalah. After all, Berg could be a horrible person and Kabbalah still true — or so the thinking goes. On the other hand, it can hardly be a bad thing to focus attention on Kabbalah, since I think that when people pay close attention to it rather than just having it dance around the periphery of one’s attention, most people will recognize it as silly.
In any case, be sure to follow Radar Online’s series as it explores:
- The false claims the Centre has made about its distinguished origins.
- The Centre’s solicitation of freelance ghostwriters on the website Craigslist, to help the Bergs write “scholarly” books on Kabbalah, some of which the writers are encouraged to model on new-age best-sellers.
- The previously unreported lawsuit that charged Philip Berg with copyright infringement and plagiarism.
- The Centre’s penchant for lending money to companies owned by close friends and associates of the Bergs, including more than $2 million in loans to a company with a P.O. Box address that flips investment properties in such Los Angeles neighborhoods as Compton and Watts.
- The Bergs’ luxurious lifestyle, in stark contrast to the bleak four-to-a-bedroom conditions and $35-a-month stipend they offer the full-time volunteers who cook and clean for them.
- The Centre’s use of cultlike techniques to control members, including sleep deprivation, alienation from friends and family, and Kabbalah-dictated matchmaking.
- The bizarre scientific claims made by the Centre’s leaders on behalf of Kabbalah Water, ranging from its ability to cleanse the lakes of Chernobyl of radiation to its power to cure cancer, AIDS, and SARS.
- The Centre’s sponsorship of the Oroz Research Centre, a “23rd century” scientific institution that markets a “liquid compound for the treatment of nuclear waste” that also cures gynecological problems in cows, sheep, and other farm animals.
- The Bergs’ plan to leverage celebrity congregants to expand the scope of their merchandising, and their failed attempt to lure Madonna to partner with them in a venture to repackage Kabbalah Water for the mass market.
- The Bergs’ explicit strategy of steering Kabbalah away from its Jewish roots in order to appeal to a wider global market, and their plans to brand both the Centre and family members for maximum popular appeal.
Update: Part Two is now online, and focuses on the enormous amount of money flowing through the Kabbalah center, as well as the murky history of Philip Berg’s association with Kabbalah. One interesting tidbit: letters provided by the Kabbalah center to bolster Berg’s claim of being the rightful heir of a Kabbalah guru in fact state quite clearly that only Jews can receive Kabbalah’s wisdom. Perhaps nobody at the center reads Hebrew?
I’ll keep the series links updated below.
Inside Hollywood’s Hottest Cult
The Kabbalah Chronicles from Radar Online
Part One: Red String Theory
A four-month Radar investigation reveals how a renegade rabbi and his striver wife ended up atop a multi-million-dollar empire built on bracelets, bottled water, and Madonna.
Part Two: In the Beginning
Radar’s investigation of the Kabbalah Centre continues, focusing on founder Philip Berg, insurance salesman-turned- guru, and his second wife, who conceived the idea of dumbing down Jewish mysticism and selling it to the masses.
Part Three: Madonna’s Magical Mystical Tour
Demi! Ashton! Marla! Roseanne! When it comes to attracting celebrities, the Bergs have given Scientology a run for its money. But their lucky star is an aging pop icon who has funded the Centre to the tune of $18 million… and counting.
Part Four: There’s No Profit Like Non-Profit
How did a family of middle class mystics end up with matching mansions in Beverly Hills? Our final installment examines how the Kabbalah Centre is pouring millions into a network of businesses controlled by the Bergs and their minions.