Madonna's Mystics Called a Cult

The New York Post/December 4, 1997
By Richard Johnson with Jeane MacIntosh and Sean Gannon

Despite all the positive media hoopla about Madonna's newfound spirituality, some prominent Jewish leaders have raised serious questions about her affiliation with Rabbi Phillip Berg's controversial Kabbalah Learning Center. And Rick Ross, possibly the best known cult watcher in the U.S., earlier this week posted an Internet warning to the effect that the Berg group, which has outposts in New York, London, and Israel, is a cult. "This seems to be a deeply troubling group. I don't think that Madonna has any idea what she's getting into," Ross said.

Kabbalah, defined in the New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia as "the mystical religious stream in Judaism" that seeks fundamental truths about man, God, and creation, is based on the Zohar, a nearly 2000-year-old text which supposedly unlocks the "Bible code." It's the latest rage in Hollywood, where converts include Liz Taylor, Roseanne and talent manager Sandy Gallin.

But Ross, a longtime student of the Berg group, is concerned. On his website - which plays "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" in the background - is a translation of a 1995 article from "Tel Aviv," an Israeli magazine. It portrays the group as a "personality cult" revolving around Berg and his wife Karen. "The methodology is divide and rule," said someone formerly involved. "Karen decides everything. If, for example, she sees that there is too great a love between a couple, and this threatens her, she knows how to separate the couple, and she always wins."

"We've heard this stuff before," Bataya Solomon, spokesman for the Kabbalah Learning Center in Los Angeles, said. "I could call up somebody and say Karen told me to hang myself in the bathroom and they would put it on the Internet."

Phillip Abramowitz of the Task Force on Missionaries & Cults, a project of the JewishCommunity Relations Council of New York, said he has talked with people who claimed their marriages had ended because of Kabbalah pressure.

"We never get involved in people's marriages," countered Solomon. She suggested that people sometimes wrongly blame the center for divorces.

Several rabbis have become embroiled in bitter disputes with the group. One is Los Angeles Rabbi Bentzioni Kravitz of Jews for Judaism, a group opposed to missionary work among Jews. Kravitz said one woman told him that Kabbalah members had convinced her she was possessed by an evil spirit. Kravitz urged the woman to return books she had acquired from the center and wash her hands of the organization. Shortly after this, he ran into several Kabbalah members. "I was spat on by them," he told PAGE SIX's Charlotte Hays. "They surrounded me and yelled at me."

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