What is Kabbalah?

JS writes: “Friends of mine are getting involved in Kabbalah. What can you tell me about this religion?” 

Kabbalah is an extremely complicated belief system with many different variations so it’s not possible to give a truly accurate “synopsis” in a blog. The best I can do is provide some basic information.

According to the late Walter Martin, Ph.D., in his book, Kingdom of the Occult, Kabbalah is based on the idea that the Torah, which is the name for the Hebrew Bible, is the Divine revelation of God. Kabbalah is the occult, or secret interpretation, of this revelation. Known as the “secret Torah”, it is said to teach the meaning behind the words of the Torah – the so-called inner Torah – in order to contemplate the many aspects of God and the nature of man as well as the truth about creation and other key questions in life.

This “secret Torah” has been passed down through the centuries orally until the 12th century when it was finally put into writing in a book known as the Zohar.

As Dr. Martin summarizes: “The heart of Kabbalah, the driving force behind all Kabbalistic teaching down through the centuries, is the quest for secret supernatural power; the belief that it is possible for people to access the power of God and use it to transform themselves and the world around them.”

While there are many different kinds of Kabbalah (which explains the various spellings of the name), Dr. Martin separates the majority of followers into one of three groups – Judaic Kabbalah, Hermetic Qabalah, and Hollywood Kabbalah.

Judaic Kabbalah is Jewish mysticism which students learn by reading commentaries on the Torah written by respected Kabalists down through the centuries. Kabalists believe that “there was always Ein Sof (meaning without end, or infinite); God as It not He…God is literally in all things so He cannot be described. He has no limitations, and He only intermingles with the universe through the channels of the Ten Sefirot.”

The Ten Sefirot or Tree of Life are the known qualities of God which are usually represented by a diagram of some kind, such as the Tree of Life, which is an upside-down tree with the roots facing upward. (This was the same tree analogy used to describe the nature of God by the biblical sorcerer Simon Magus.)

Hermetic Qabalah attaches a magical/occult interpretation to these beliefs.

One of the more interesting versions of Kabbalah is the Hollywood variety which is espoused by so many movie stars (according to social media) such as Madonna, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Ariana Grande.

According to Dr. Martin, Hollywood Kabbalah is the creation of a former insurance salesman named Shraga Feivel Gruberger, who changed his name to Philip Berg after leaving his wife and eight children to marry an ex-secretary named Karen. The new Rabbi Berg took the essence of traditional Kabbalah and combined it with his own thoughts and ideas to produce a New Age version of the religion which became popular among Hollywood’s stars.

The Bergs and their two sons, Michael and Yehuda, now run the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles along with fifty other centers around the world. Some of the stars associated with the Los Angeles center are Brittany Spears, Mick Jagger, Lindsay Lohan, Elizabeth Taylor, and Paris Hilton.

John Lawrence Reynolds, author of the book, Secret Societies, calls Berg’s Kabbalah enterprise “a Wal-Mart of fashion-of-the-day spiritual trinkets and treatises. . . . With titles like God Wears Lipstick and a twenty-two volume version of the Zohar, the collection represented at best a successful marketing exploitation of gullible dilettantes and at worst a mockery of an ancient tradition.”

Berg, who has never been able to prove himself to be a legitimate Kabbalah instructor, teaches that people are responsible for everything that happens to them. He even went so far as to say that the Jews died in the Holocaust because they failed to study Kabbalah.

His Centre teaches bizarre ideas such as the “technology of the soul” which is a belief that just looking at one of the 72 Hebrew names for God can cause actual changes in the structure of the cells. It also claims one can scan the Zohar with the fingertips in order to magically gain something from it. You don’t have to read it – you just have to scan it to get something from it.

“Berg apparently wants his students to ‘think’ Kabbalah, and the power and energy will come to them. And, in the end, he may not be so far off the mark,” Dr. Martin writes, “for what the philosophy of Berg cannot supply, the kingdom of the occult stands ready and willing to provide.

“Berg’s teaching method contains a well-known hallmark of the occult: the constant mantra of open your heart and reach for the light. The only catch is that what may come to the Kabbalah searcher is not the light of Yahweh Elohim, but the false light of Lucifer, son of the morning. It is real, but it is far from right.”

The fact that Hollywood Kabbalah has an even darker side is evident in many reports of abuse connected with Berg and his Centre. One case occurred in 1992 and concerned Rabbi Abraham Union who tried to warn the Jewish community about what the Bergs were doing in their Centre. The day after he alerted the Rabbinical Council of California to the goings-on, he found a severed sheep’s head on his doorstep. That evening, several young men appeared at his home and asked in Hebrew, “Did you get our message?”

Cult expert Rick Ross reports that former members of the Centre describe how they were controlled and manipulated by the Bergs, saying that the couple controlled “everything connected to the lives of the crew, who marries who, who separates, who leaves the country and goes to another branch, and when he is to be transferred even from there. [Berg] is asked whether it is permissible to become pregnant, and Karen [Berg] is asked how to have sexual relations.”

Another former follower admitted: “I felt it was a great mitzvah [meritorious act] for me to clean Karen’s washrooms. I used to clean her slippers with a toothbrush.” Another says “If the Rav [Philip Berg] would have told me to jump off the roof, I would have done it and with great pleasure.”

This and other information caused Ross to conclude to CBS News in 2008: “The Kabbalah Center is really not recognized within the organized Jewish community. It’s really more of a family business, run by Philip Berg, his second wife Karen, and their two sons. In my opinion, the Kabbalah center can be seen as a cult.”

In summary, while some version of Kabbalah are cult-like and others are mixed with occult practices, all are associated with the practice of acquiring power and divining secret knowledge, otherwise known as divination.

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