A matter of faith for Clark

What's going on with Wesley Clark, Madonna and the Kabbala? And should the Democratic presidential candidate beware of falling in with a cult?

Daily News/January 9, 2004

Self-styled "cult buster" Rick Ross yesterday raised these concerns in an interview about the Kabbalah Centre, which puts a New Age gloss on the study of a mystical Hebrew text known as the Zohar.

Last month, in a speech to Florida Democrats, the retired four-star general - apparently drawing on an cozy dinner in L.A. with Kabbala devotee Madge and her husband, Guy Ritchie - listed "Kabbalism" among the world's great religions.

"Let me tell you something," declared Clark, who received the aging pop star's effusive endorsement this week. "There's one common principle to every faith that I've ever studied, whether it's Catholicism, Protestantism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Kabbalism or every other, and it's this: that those who are the most fortunate help those who are less fortunate."

Kaballah Centre founder Philip Berg, his son Yehuda and wife, Karen, have managed to start facilities from Los Angeles to Israel, as well as in New York, attracting thousands of followers who wear "Kaballah strings," a version of magical amulets, and drink special "Kaballah water."

The L.A. center is a celeb-friendly retreat where Madonna, Roseanne, Sandra Bernhard, Elizabeth Taylor, Laura Dern and Barbra Streisand have been known to study under the watchful eye of the Berg family.

"Clark might be getting involved in something that he probably doesn't understand," said Ross, a longtime critic of the Kabbalah Centre and of Berg, who Ross claims has grown rich off his unorthodox interpretations.

"He claims he's a Jewish scholar, but what he really is is a businessman. He has more in common with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi than with the mainstream Jewish community."

Ross, who runs the New Jersey-based Ross Institute, which he describes as "a nonprofit public education and research" center that studies cults, cautioned:

"Clark should keep in mind that John Travolta used to be very friendly with Bill Clinton, and that was to the benefit of the Church of Scientology. It seems like Madonna might see herself as being to a Clark White House what Travolta was to the Clinton White House for Scientology."

I received no response yesterday to detailed messages and repeated phone calls to the Kaballah Centre in L.A.

And the Clark campaign's communications director, Matt Bennett, told me: "Madonna has endorsed Gen. Clark. Gen. Clark has not endorsed Madonna. It is a one-way endorsement. We don't know much about Madonna's religious beliefs, and they are not relevant to the general's campaign."

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