Stars see their future is wisdom of old-- Kabbalah is new religion of Hollywood

The Daily London Telegraph/December 4, 1997
By John Hiscock

An obscure spiritual movement called the Kabbalah has become a major force in Hollywood, where it has been embraced by many of the town's rich and famous as the answer to their constant search for wisdom, truth and a new guru.

So fervent are the followers of the Kabbalah that it is poised to supplant Buddhism and the Dalai Lama as the celebrities' spiritual cause celebre.

The complex branch of Judaism that emphasizes the link between self and the universe has attracted Madonna, Elizabeth Taylor Roseanne Barr and Jeff Goldblum among its followers, and has become so popular that there are not enough instructors to satisfy the demand for enlightenment.

Until recently, the Kabbalah—from the Hebrew term for "received tradition" — and its principal text, the Zohar, were so esoteric that they were studied only by rabbis and religious scholars.Now, with the millennium approaching and many celebrities searching for a new spiritual source, the Kabbalah has become a mainstream movement.

"I guess you could say it has hit the market," said Rabbi Chaim Solomon, an instructor at the Kabbalah Learning Centre in Los Angeles. "There is an upsurge in spiritualism because we are entering a new cosmic age and the Kabbalah is particularly popular with celebrities because they have realized the age-old truth that money and stardom don't buy happiness. People who have everything and have been everywhere still don't have peace of mind and they are looking for answers. A lot of celebrities come to the centre for private lessons."

One of the movement's most devout followers is Madonna, who recently hosted a Kabbalah party at her home to spread the word. According to one guest, she told the gathering that nothing had ever spoken to her like the Kabbalah and that only now could she take responsibility for her life.

She also sought advice from her instructor, Eitan Yardani, on when to deliver her child. Yardani suggested the day of the Full Moon, which was when Madonna delivered.

Roseanne has a row of seats reserved at the centre for herself and her entourage. The actress Laura Dern, her mother Diane Ladd, the rock singer Courtney Love, Sandra Bernhard and Barbara Streisand are among others who attend regularly.

Traditionally, the Kabbalah involved rabbis reading the Scriptures, resulting in an understanding of the relationships between humans and God and life and death. In the new, popular version, students are fed the lessons without actually having to read the original texts.

"I think it appeals because people are fascinated by the mysticism and symbolism, " said the filmmaker Arnold Schwartzman, chairman of the Los Angeles Bafta branch, who won an Oscar for his Holocaust film Genocide. "I worked with a British film editor recently who talked about nothing else. He was besotted by it."

Not everyone is a devotee.

Robert Eshman, who has investigated the rise in the Kabbalah's popularity for the Jewish Journal says: "It has just boomed. Thousands of people go through the centre but it is like multi-level marketing. They are supposed to recruit other people and there is a lot of proselytizing.

"People think that it is going to bring them all the answers, but there is a lot of resentment in the Jewish community."

Rabbi Robert Kirschner, the projects director at the Skirball Jewish Cultural Centre in Los Angeles, says: "My view of this is quite negative I believe it is a faddist species of superficial expression of a very significant strain of Jewish religious conviction.

"It is meant for people who want simplistic answers to the world's problems. There is a real element of escapism and exploitation to it because it exploits people's credulity.

"People believe if they plug into this system they will have all the answers. I am not into that scene at all, so I have no sympathy for it."

The two-year-old, £1 million Kabbalah Learning Centre is already too small to cope with the vast crowds that flock there and the instructors are looking for bigger and better premises.

"It is like a seed growing in the soil that is breaking through," said Rabbi Solomon, who brushes aside some rabbis' criticisms that the centre is teaching a light, New Age form of the Kabbalah.

"We don't teach the deepest secrets of creation, we are teaching the basics of the Kabbalah. It is a practical system to apply to everyday life, and people who have experienced it realize it works.

"Some rabbis think you should not teach the Kabbalah until after you are grounded in Jewish studies, but Moses said even children should be learning the Kabbalah.

"There are always people who will criticise something they see as new and revolutionary, but all we are doing is showing people how to achieve happiness and fulfillment. How can that be bad?"

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