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Kabbalah Center


Kabbalah Center follower wins sexual-misconduct suit

On November 24, 2015, a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury found Yehuda Berg, 43 (“rabbi to the stars”), liable for inflicting emotional distress on former follower Jena Scaccetti. Berg is a former codirector of the Kabbalah Center, which was founded by his late father, Philip. Scaccetti claimed that Berg gave her alcohol and pain pills, and then groped and attempted to overpower her in an apartment to which he had invited her. The jury awarded her $177,500 in damages. (Reuters, 11/25/15) [IT 7.1 2016]

Two California business owners have sued the Kabbalah Centre, alleging that the spiritual organization has defrauded them by misusing money they contributed to a building fund and charitable causes. Real-estate broker Carolyn Cohen, who is the president of the Solana Beach Chamber of Commerce, says she lost $810,000 in contributions and interest on loans she secured to cover her giving. Charles Wax’s suit claims he lost $326,000, and both say that Kabbalah Centre employees pressured them “to give money until it hurts” in order to receive the “light” and gain favor with the Centre’s leaders, Karen Berg and her sons Yehuda and Michael. The suits, which seek a total of $40 million in damages, allege that the Centre has a history of raising money for projects it never carries out. (Los Angeles Times, 12/3/13) [IT 5.1 2014]

On the advice of Kabbalah Centre devotee and money manager John Larkin, 87-year-old widow Susan Strong Davis of Palo Verdes, California, a former socialite apparently suffering from dementia, has donated at least $600,000 to the Centre, an arm of which the IRS is investigating. Larkin, also a trustee of Davis’s money, is alleged by some to have committed conflicts of interest by selling a property to Davis for a price much beyond market value and borrowing $2.65 million from her trust. Asked by a reporter if Davis was available to speak by phone, a health aide said no, “She has a trustee that takes care of that sort of thing.” (Los Angeles Times, 4/9/12) [IT 3.1 2012]

Los Angeles-based Kabbalah Center’s leader, Rabbi Philip Berg, is bringing religion into public education. In one instance, the teacher of “Spirituality for Kids”—which aims to teach children how to make wise choices—tells the students that their reward for figuring out the rules of a game is “greater satisfaction,” which brings “spiritual power” from one’s “inner light,” which is found “in your heart.” The head of elementary school counselors for the Los Angeles Unified School District says the classes are not religious, and she recommends them. A 2008 Kabbalah Center-financed Rand Corporation study found that the class improved children’s social and study skills as well as leadership and communications, and helped with behavioral problems. The mother of a child in one of the classes says: “It was really teaching a belief system as opposed to teaching situational ethics or ethics in general. It was a way of approaching life, which I just didn’t feel was appropriate for a public school.”[csr 8.2, 2009)

Leading Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Batzri condemned the warm welcome given Madonna by Israeli government officials when she visited the country in September. Commenting on the Roman Catholic singing star’s study of Kabbalah in America, the rabbi said, “No one can study Torah unless he or she is converting to Judaism,” and, “There is no connection between what the singer learns and true Kabbalah . . . No one can learn [Kabbalah] without abstention” (referring to the sexual innuendos that infuse Madonna’s performances). He said stars are interested in Kabbalah because their sordid lifestyle makes them “naturally attracted to the holiness of Kabbalah” as they seek a purer way of life. [csr 8.2, 2009) 

Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez’s estranged wife says Madonna lured her husband into an affair when the pop star introduced him to the mystical teachings of Kabbalah [Jewish mysticism]. Cult expert Rick Ross says that the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles, headquarters of the organization, “breaks up marriages and couples. If one person does not want to go along with the program, they are described as ‘not in the light’ or ‘not your soul mate.’ ” Ross believes that the age-old study of kabbalah, as opposed to the Kabbalah Center’s teaching, is an area for legitimate religious discussion. [csr 8.1, 2009) 

Gilla Mogilevsky, the Kabbalah leader in Australia, was arrested in July for growing cannabis inside three luxury apartments she owns on the Australian Gold Coast. [csr 5.3 2006]

Group “Controlled” Her
Phiona Davis, who is accused of stabbing her lover Keith Fernandez 58 times and then killing her great-grandmother, said in court that the Kabbalah group “controlled” her. A witness testified that Davis chased Fernandez into the street and killed him, with an “evil grin on her face.” She next reportedly stood outside her grandmother’s house, which she had set on fire, and shrieked: “I am the Messiah” and “burn the demons.” [csr 4.1 2005]

The prosecutor said her doctor in 2003 noted Davis, unquestionably a schizophrenic, felt the church controlled her. Professor Nigel Eastmen said Davis was one of the sickest people he has ever examined. A jury found her not guilty by reason of insanity and she has been returned to Broadmoor special hospital where she is being treated. (Alex Peake, Online Sun [UK], Internet, 9/14/04; Shenai Raif, The Scotsman, Internet, 9/14/04) [csr 4.1 2005]

Explaining Kabbalah
Scholar Daniel Matt describes Kabbalah as the philosophy of Jewish mysticism. The word means “receiving, literally. I think it implies a receptivity, being open to new insights about God or the nature of reality.” Matt recently completed volume two of a projected 12-volume translation of Kabbalah’s chief text, the Zohar, a mystical commentary on the first five books of the Bible.[csr 4.1 2005]

As to the important Kabbalah concept of Shekinah, Matt says: “If we are going to say something about God, then we should balance the traditional, patriarchal, masculine description with a feminine aspect of God. So Kabbalah would insist that God is equally male and female. The name they use for the feminine presence of God is Shekinah.”[csr 4.1 2005]

Asked what he thinks of Madonna’s embrace of Kabbalah, Matt said: “I really think the study has changed Madonna, it has made her aware that there is something beyond the material world. When you make it to the height of success, it’s natural to ask what else is there.” Perhaps, he adds, some people are choosing Kabbalah, rather than Zen spiritualism, because it does not reject the physical world. It also combines the exotic and familiar in an appealing way: the exotic aspect is the feminine nature of God; the familiar aspect is the idea of commentaries on the Bible.[csr 4.1 2005]

Matt warned that studying mysticism can be dangerous, sometimes leading to great psychological turmoil, and even madness. “The other kind of danger is a social danger. You don’t fit into what’s going on around you. You might think you have your own pipeline to the divine. Those dangers are real and one should approach (the study) with a guide or teacher to ground you in the world — to be in a relationship with someone, to care and love other people and not sink into the abyss.” (Daniel Matt [sic], San Francisco Chronicle, Internet, 10/3/04) [csr 4.1 2005]

Leader Suffers Stroke
Rabbi Philip Berg, leader of the Beverly Hills Kabbalah Center and Madonna’s personal guru, has suffered a stroke and is now wheelchair bound. An assistant said: “He’s doing OK right now, but we’ll see in time.” (Marianne Garvey, New York Post, Internet, 10/17/04) [csr 4.1 2005]

Madonna Proselytizing
Rapper Missy Elliott has reportedly refused her friend Madonna’s invitation to become involved in Kabbalah. “I love Madonna,” said Elliott. “We became friends after the Gap advert. She introduced me to Kabbalah and gave me a red bracelet [of the kind worn by some other Hollywood adepts of Kabbalah]. I’m Christian, so I didn’t join. But we’re still close.” (New Karela News [India], Internet, 10/22/04) [csr 4.1 2005]

Madonna Studying with “Sinister Cult”
Madonna, who credits study of Kabbalah with changing her life, has become a mouthpiece, recruiter, and financial backer for an international “cult” promoting the Jewish mystic teachings, according to Rick Ross, head of the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of Destructive Cults. [csr 3.3 2004]

Ross says Madonna and other celebrities — including Elizabeth Taylor, Roseanne Barr, Goldie Hawn, Naomi Campbell, and Madonna’s husband, Guy Ritchie — are “cocooned” by the organization because “their money and fame is useful to the leaders.” But many ordinary adepts, he adds, have been brainwashed and financially exploited. [csr 3.3 2004]

Jewish scholars and leaders call the group’s use of Kabbalah a perversion, and Britain’s chief rabbi has publicly disassociated Judaism from the London Kabbalah Center because of claims of abuse and profiteering against it.[csr 3.3 2004]

The founder and leader of the organization, Rabbi Philip Berg, born Feivel Gruberger, in Brooklyn, is a former insurance salesman who left his wife and children to become a spiritual leader. (Daily Mail, Internet, 5/1/04) [csr 3.3 2004]

Madonna Studying with “Sinister Cult”
Madonna, who credits study of Kabbalah with changing her life, has become a mouthpiece, recruiter, and financial backer for an international “cult” promoting the Jewish mystic teachings, according to Rick Ross, head of the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of Destructive Cults. [csr 3.2 2004]

Ross says Madonna and other celebrities — including Elizabeth Taylor, Roseanne Barr, Goldie Hawn, Naomi Campbell, and Madonna’s husband, Guy Ritchie — are “cocooned” by the organization because “their money and fame is useful to the leaders.” But many ordinary adepts, he adds, have been brainwashed and financially exploited. [csr 3.2 2004]

Jewish scholars and leaders call the group’s use of Kabbalah a perversion, and Britain’s chief rabbi has publicly disassociated Judaism from the London Kabbalah Center because of claims of abuse and profiteering against it.[csr 3.2 2004]

The founder and leader of the organization, Rabbi Philip Berg, born Feivel Gruberger, in Brooklyn, is a former insurance salesman who left his wife and children to become a spiritual leader. (Daily Mail, Internet, 5/1/04) [csr 3.2 2004 2004]

Called Authoritarian
The Kabbalah Centre, which popularizes the Jewish mystical discipline of kabbalah, and includes among its adepts a number of well-known entertainers and Hollywood personalities, is being accused by critics of high-pressure solicitations, ostracizing members who fall out of favor, and even undermining personal relationships. [csr 2.3 2003]

The singer Madonna says that kabbalah — which purports to teach anyone how the spiritual and physical laws of the universe work so that “you will achieve greater harmony and balance, and ultimately gain more control over what happens to you — is “very punk rock. It teaches that you are responsible for everything.” [csr 2.3 2003]

Marsha Tantros, 60, a retired mortgage broker from Media, PA, tells how she meditated on the names of God in kabbalah's mystical book, the Zohar, for insight into her bad feelings about an acquaintance. “I was able to be detached,” she said, “and get an ‘aha’ moment, and release [the feelings]. I really feel that the [Hebrew] letters [in the Zohar] are alive.” Another student told how her business improved when she took a Centre course on “increasing prosperity.” Berg claims that kabbalah study can ensure good health.[csr 2.3 2003]

The latest book by Rabbi Yehuda Berg, who leads the worldwide operation with his two sons, is titled, The 72 names of God: Technology for the Soul. Joel Hecker, a professor of mysticism at a Jewish college, observes that scanning and meditating on God’s names have precedents in classic kabbalah practice, but he finds the Centre’s self-empowerment approach “utilitarian” and “troubling.” “There were many checks and balances in the classic [kabbalah] system to prevent one from thinking you could manipulate divine energies to do your bidding,” said Hecker.[csr 2.3 2003] 

Former practitioner Gary Wilson, of Mount Airy, PA, who like Tantros attended the Ardmore Centre in suburban Philadelphia, said that he was shunned, like others he knows, when he criticized the “autocratic style” of the local leader. And Rick Ross, of the Institute for the Study of Destructive Cults, in New Jersey, says that some Kabbalah Centre staffers had advised students to leave a spouse or partner who resists its teachings, counseling that the critic is “a negative spiritual influence.” A rabbi for Jews for Judaism, which monitors missionary groups and cults, said he had received complaints about the Centre’s “high-pressure fundraising tactics,” in which people are told “good things only come to them if money goes to the Centre.” (Jim Remsen, Philadelphia Inquirer, Internet, 7/31/03) [csr 2.3 2003]

Center Said to Be Cultic
An Evening Standard investigation says that there is “growing international concern” about the “fundraising methods, extraordinary mystical claims,” and “cult-like ability to split up families and undermine marriages” of Rabbi Philip Berg’s Kabbalah organization.[csr 1.3 2002]

Berg’s interpretation of Jewish mysticism, based on the Kabbalah and Zohar, medieval Jewish texts, has made him the spiritual guru of numerous entertainment personalities, including Madonna, Jeff Goldblum, Roseanne Barr, and Elizabeth Taylor, who says that his teachings offer “a light to lead me through the darkness.”[csr 1.3 2002]

Some 2,500 people worldwide, both Jews and non-Jews, have so far signed up for Berg’s life-improvement courses to learn how to make them rich, cure serious illness, and find a “perfect mate.” Berg himself has become rich, charging fees such as $75 for “energizing” necklaces, $1,800 for prayer accessories, $120 for “restoring night cream,” and $135 for eye cream.[csr 1.3 2002]

Berg, who is in his seventies, was an insurance salesman from Brooklyn before he left his first wife and children and did, in fact, study with a renowned kabbalist in Jerusalem. But he is scorned by traditional kabbalists for claiming, for example, that anyone can read the mystical books’ Aramaic texts by running their fingers across the page, and that Jews died in the Holocaust because they failed to read the Zohar.[csr 1.3 2002]

Some former students and their relatives tell how they were sold “blessed” mineral water to cure cancer and warned that their children might get sick it they did not donate money. Others were told that the “dark forces” would cause them personal tragedy if they left. A London woman said that she was asked for post-dated checks when, after spending $6,000 on classes and merchandise, she told the local Kabbalah center that she could not afford certain other items. Another woman told how her businessman boyfriend was urged to leave her in favor of the group’s choice of “soulmate.” She says: “I am trying to get him out, but he sees them as friends. They break up relationships to get what they want.” The London Kabbalah center organizers responded to this charge by saying: “We are about bringing people together, not splitting families.”[csr 1.3 2002]

Yet another woman’s experience exemplifies what allegedly happens to people who do not have a lot of money. She left her medical studies on the Berg organization’s advice and moved from her home in Florida to live in the Los Angeles Kabbalah center as a “chevra,” one of 40 full-time volunteers. She says that she stayed in a filthy apartment with four other women and worked from 9:00 am to 1:00 am for $35 a month for the “privilege” of serving Berg and his wife. The couple was very loving towards her at first, she reports. “I was having a bad relationship with my parents, and they comforted me. They said these weren’t my spiritual parents.” When her mother came to Los Angeles to urge her to leave the group, “they told me my mother was a destructive environment [sic] and was standing in my way.”[csr 1.3 2002]

She began doubting Berg when he advised her ill father to drink Kabbalah water as a cure, when in fact he needed heart surgery. (The center says that the water is a “spiritual tool” — still undergoing scientific research — that cannot replace medical treatment.) When the woman said that she was leaving, “I was told that my father would get worse. . . then they simply stopped talking to me.” In retrospect she said, “They change your behavior, control your emotions and thoughts, cut you off from friends and family. It’s been a terrible experience.”[csr 1.3 2002]

The mother of a man in his early twenties who has been a chevra for two years says: “I thought, 'If Jeff Goldblum and Liz Taylor are involved, then it can’t be so bad.’ But these celebrities are just the lamplight [sic]. They’re treated completely differently.” When she contacted the center with her concern about her son’s poor health and failure to answer her calls, they told her that her other child might become ill if she made trouble.[csr 1.3 2002]

Berg responds to critics by saying that the forces of Satan “are adopting the tactic of discrediting us. Of spreading rumors that the people involved in the center are brainwashed.” (David Rowan, London Evening Standard, Internet, 10/3/02) [csr 1.3 2002]