Sect to the stars exposed

Reuters/January 14, 2005

A documentary about a branch of Kabbalah, the mystical form of Judaism that counts pop idol Madonna among its devotees, will show a senior figure saying Jews died in the Holocaust because they did not follow the sect.

The program also reveals the sect sells $64 strips of string to keep away the "Evil Eye" and $1000-plus bottles of water it claims helps cure cancer.

The program, to be aired by the BBC today, investigates the London Kabbalah Centre.

John Sweeney, who made the film with the help of three undercover "moles", said it would throw an unflattering light on the Kabbalah Centre in London, part of an international network led by Philip Berg, who is based in Los Angeles.

"It's a devastating indictment," said Sweeney.

"The perceived view is that this (the Kabbalah Centre) is a Hollywood craze, fluffy, a bit silly. But we found a score or more ex-members all of whom said it was a dangerous cult."

According to the BBC, the program will show a senior figure at the Kabbalah Centre saying: "Just to tell you another thing about the six million Jews that were killed in the Holocaust: the question was that the Light was blocked. They didn't use Kabbalah."

The centre declined to comment on the documentary before it was aired, but added in a statement: "For millennia, Kabbalah has been misrepresented by some members of the community trying to discourage others from studying its wisdom."

It said the centre welcomed people of all creeds to join, and invited them to find out more at an open house next week.

But leaks from the Kabbalah Centre, which has attracted some of the biggest names in showbusiness, have angered Jewish leaders, who argue that the organisation is distorting the movement's teaching.

Many distinguish between Kabbalah, a branch of ancient Jewish mysticism, and the Kabbalah Centre which has attracted fashionable supporters like Madonna and actress Demi Moore.

"This centre is trading on the name Kabbalah and duping people into thinking it is a legitimate source of study," said Rabbi Barry Marcus of the Central Synagogue in London.

Commenting on the remarks made in the program, he added: "It's preposterous. It is insulting to the memory of people who died in the Holocaust. This is arrogance I can only condemn in the strongest terms."

Sweeney said that one of the undercover reporters, who was suffering from cancer, was offered a package of remedies for the disease costing more than $2000.

They included nearly $1000 for 10 cases of Kabbalah water, nearly $400 for "extra-strength" water and more than $600 for Zohar books, the Kabbalah "bible".

On the Kabbalah Centre International's Web site, a 23-volume edition of the Zohar is on sale for $1,025. Also featured is a length of red string costing $64 which, it claims, protects people from the "Evil Eye... a very powerful negative force."

Kabbalah shot to prominence in the late 1990s, helped by Madonna's keen interest.

In June last year, the Catholic-bred singer said she had adopted the Hebrew name of Esther, and in September she went on a spritual pilgrimage to Israel to practise her newfound faith.

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