Friday, January 30, 2004

HERE'S MORE FROM DAVID KLINGHOFFER on Daniel Matt's Zohar and on the Kabbalah Centre. Klinghoffer thinks, or at least hopes, that the first may provide something of an antidote in popular culture to the second. He is quite critical of the Kabbalah Centre but he also makes an effort to put it in a fair historical context. The article, "Into the Mystic," (Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles) is worth a read and it's difficult to excerpt. Here's just one passage:

Matt also has mixed feelings about the Kabbalah Centre. While deploring accounts of people being fleeced, urged to buy $415 Zohar sets in order to ward off dangers, he puts the center in the historical context of Jewish mysticism.

"You have to admit that there are phenomena like this in earlier stages. It's not unheard of."

He points out the long-established popularity of amulets, said to give the same protections that the Kabbalah Centre claims for its strings and Zohars.

It?s not the price of the Zohar set that's troubling. A standard Aramaic/Hebrew edition costs around $345. Matt?s Zohar, when its projected 12 volumes are completed, will run about $540. Rather, what rankles is that most of the people buying it from the Kabbalah Centre can't make head or tails of it, or put it to any real use at all.

Professor Pinchas Giller at the University of Judaism serves on Matt's academic advisory committee. He too puts the Kabbalah Centre in context, pointing out that it's not as if the enterprise was invented by Berg out of thin air.

"It began about 70 years ago in Jerusalem. Their 'mission to the gentiles' goes back as early as the writings of the founder, Yehudah Ashlag. So they have a long history and have generally been true to themselves." Berg claims he received his mission in 1969 from Rabbi Yehuda Brandwein, Ashlag's successor as head of the original Kabbalah Learning Centre in Israel � a claim Brandwein's family denies.

"Unfortunately," Giller allows, "their present business model has been adapted from Scientology," which is also known for its hard sell.

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