Monday, January 03, 2005

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Yet More on Fad Kabbalah - An Expose' on the 'Centre'

AmbivaBlog has an extensive expose' on the Kabbalah Centre, doing an excellent job of contrasting traditional Kabbalah versus the Fad Kabbalists, here's an excerpt, but I highly recommend reading the whole thing...

My new Publishers Weekly arrived yesterday. The front cover, inside front cover, and first three pages are entirely devoted to an extended advertisement for a book called TRUE PROSPERITY: Success Without Side Effects, by Yehuda Berg. It's published by Kabbalah Publishing, which is an arm of the Kabbalah Centre, a self-described "educational organization" that has fifty locations and many celebrity enthusiasts. It's where Madonna got the knotted red string around her wrist. (Yehuda Berg described this in an online interview as "an old technology used to ward off jealousy and negativity from other people." You can see how that might come in handy if you were Madonna.)

...Kabbalah Centre asserts that Kabbalah is for "people of all faiths and no faiths." The message, however, is similar: spirituality is both a technology for acquiring prosperity and the prosperous person's ultimate acquisition, the crowning gem without which all the wealth and luxury in the world won't bring satisfaction. "SUCCESS PLUS!" trumpets the cover of PW. Here's a bit of the cold-blooded ad copy for TRUE PROSPERITY. It's this relentless new "spirituality" of success that gives me the creeps:

Kabbalah is first and foremost a highly practical set of tools and techniques for improving people's lives in the contemporary world. . . . Yehuda Berg describes True Prosperity as a solution-oriented guidebook. Its purpose is meeting the financial needs of the successful young trend setters who are driving the Kabbalah phenomenon. "They're looking for financial success without the emotional and spiritual downside that seems to come with wealth," says the author. True Prosperity focuses on hard core career topics like negotiation, goal setting, and compensation, all of which are an intrinsic part of authentic Kabbalah.

Oh, really? I just helped my brother, David Gottlieb, edit a book of letters he exchanged with an eminent scholar of Torah, Talmud, and medical ethics (he's an M.D. too), Rabbi Akiva Tatz. Here's Rabbi Tatz in an excerpt from their book, Letters to a Buddhist Jew, forthcoming from Targum Press:
Search for the masters. They are rare and retiring, but they can be found. . . .

To find mastery in Torah today you have to search for it as you would for treasure; it may be buried deep. You will have to exert yourself; you may have to travel. You will have to seek out that narrow niche where the real Torah is found. If you find it too openly on the street or calling to you from a seductive doorway, look away; if it is selling itself cheaply it is not Torah. Torah must be sought; but when you find it, you will know it. . . .

In this generation, look to those dedicated to Torah learning. These days, they are often to be found in enclaves of poverty, not wealth. In fact, in the modern yeshiva world poverty happens to be more or less the standard; I personally know many families in that world who live on less than you probably waste. A Buddhist monk who lives on the alms that provide him his one daily meal would feel right at home there. . . .

Rabbi Shach, Talmudic and halachic luminary, until his recent passing the Torah leader of this generation, used to sleep without a blanket. He did not own a blanket. A blanket, David. He used his coat; his wife used their only blanket. . . . [T]he only way the students in his yeshiva could get him finally to accept a blanket was when a Swiss student returned home and left his blanket behind ownerless; only when the other students assured Rav Shach that no-one else needed it did the Rosh Yeshiva acquire a blanket. This is not far-fetched; I had the privilege of visiting Rav Shach at his apartment . . . and I can tell you that it was bare.

You may know that the Chafetz Chaim, Torah leader of the pre-war generation, had virtually no possessions. A well-known anecdote tells of the surprise of a wealthy Western European Jew who visited the Chafetz Chaim at his home in Radin; the man expressed his amazement at the spartan emptiness of the home. The Chafetz Chaim asked him: “Where is all your wealth? You do not seem to have much, either.” The visitor replied: “Rabbi, I am only passing through. Where I am going, I have plenty.” The Chafetz Chaim replied: “I am also only passing through...”

But these great Torah minds were rich in another way. Their heads were in another place entirely, and in that place they were drunk with the richness and joy of Torah. . . . They live in the Talmud . . . That is the locus of their consciousness, that is where they live. . . .

To be sure, we need to live in the world, and when we engage the world we need to do that fully and responsibly. But that is not where we live; we live in that other place, on that higher plane.
You've noticed that Kabbalah is not mentioned in this passage. It is mentioned, sparingly but rivetingly, in Letters to a Buddhist Jew. As Rabbi Reuven Bulka, who "chairs the religious and inter-religious affairs committee for the Canadian Jewish Congress," told Toronto Star writer Leslie Scrivener, "Serious students of Kabbalah don't identify themselves as Kabbalists. Those who do, don't say."

There's quite a bit more, I highly recommend reading it all.


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