The Chief Rabbi has issued an unprecedented public warning about the Kabbalah Centre, the mystical religious organisation favoured by celebrities including Madonna and Elizabeth Taylor, amid growing concern over its allegedly "cult-like" practices.
The intervention of Dr. Jonathan Sacks comes as the centre prepares an intensive recruitment campaign from its new £3.65 million base in London, and follows serious complaints received by other Jewish bodies in Britain.
Former recruits have alleged that they were put under pressure to donate large sums of money to the centre, and to sever ties with unsupportive partners or families, with warnings that "bad things would happen" if they left.
One London businesswoman, in her early 30s, described how ten weeks ago a Kabbalah Centre rabbi urged her to donate £65,000 on the spot to cleanse her late parents' souls.
Such a gift, the woman claims she was told, would free her from the negative energy that prevented her from having children or a successful relationship. When she explained that she could not immediately raise the cash, she says that she was urged instead to sign over to the centre a property that she owns.
Dr. Sacks is so concerned about the claims being made about the centre that his office has issued a statement to be sent to synagogues in Britain.
It reads: "In the light of issues which have been brought to our attention relating to the Kabbalah Centre in the UK, we wish it to be known this organisation does not fall within the remit of the Chief Rabbinate or any other authority in the UK recognised by us." It is jointly signed by the London Beth Din, the main rabbinical court, and the United Synagogue movement, and is intended to echo similar warnings from rabbinic authorities in other countries where the group operates.
The centre, whose classes are open to non-Jews and Jews, claims to have reached 3.5 million people around the world with its teachings, based on a mystical interpretation of Jewish law. Its founder, Rabbi Philip Berg, a former New York insurance salesman, reinvented himself in the 1960s as "the world¹s foremost authority on the Kabbalah."
The Kabbalah Centre declined to answer questions detailing allegations made in a series of interviews conducted by The Times. Instead, Yehuda Berg, Philip Berg¹s son, said they had, in the most part "excellent relations" with the organised Jewish religion. He blamed the complaints on "the jealous and the sceptical."