Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Kitschy Kabballah

Harriet Ryan and Kim Christensen report on their investigation of the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles, popular with numerous celebrities, in a two-part series in the Los Angeles Times:

Couple's success spreading kabbalah yields to discord, tax probe 10/16/2011

Celebrities gave Kabbalah Centre cachet, and spurred its growth 10/18/2011

There's a separate sidebar piece on the Centre's finances: Center has multiple revenue streams 10/18/2011

I once read a description of popular New Age/esoteric fads that said something to the effect the New Agers want Zen without Buddhism, Sufi without Islam, and Kabballah without Judaism.

The point of the comment is that mystical disciplines like Zen, Sufi and Kabballah are part of religious traditions and any version of them that tries to treat them as distinct from those traditions is superficial, kitschy or fake.

Kabballah is the Jewish mystical tradition with a long history. The concept is based on discovering hidden truths within the Torah, particularly the Five Books of Moses. It's based on a very Orthodox understanding of Judaism, in which the Hebrew texts are treated in what we now call a "fundamentalist" fashion, with every story, every word, even every letter having special significance and offering clues to higher, mystical understandings.

It would be hard if not impossible to practice Kabballah in anything like the traditional sense without embracing a Jewish religious practice and understanding and without knowing Biblical Hebrew very well. And, as these articles make clear, the Kabbalah Centre's leaders Philip and Karen Berg weren't very insistent on the traditional context.

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