Rabbi Philip Berg, the founder of the Kabbalah Center in Los Angeles, died on Monday aged 86, according to a statement by the institute.
The center founded by Berg became a magnet for celebrities drawn to the mysticism and other-worldliness of Kabbala, the tradition of Jewish esoteric wisdom.
Madonna, Britney Spears, Demi Moore, Paris Hilton and others passed through the doors of Berg’s Kabbalah Center, which amassed assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“The Kabbalah Center is deeply saddened to announce the passing of our teacher, Rav Berg,” the institute said in a statement to the press on Tuesday.
“Throughout the Rav’s 86 years, he created a path for millions to learn and live Kabbalah. The Rav has left us with incredible knowledge through thousands of hours of teaching, examples of courage that we will never forget, and the comfort of a Kabbalah Center that we can all call home.”
The center and the path taken by Berg were controversial, however, with much criticism from the Orthodox world leveled at the popularization of Kabbala, which is a field of Jewish thought usually studied only by more learned scholars.
Orthodox critics also accused the center of teaching Kabbala in a superficial manner and promoting it as a form of new-age lifestyle.
Berg is known to have been unwell since 2004, when he suffered a stroke. Ever since, his wife Karen and two sons have run the center and brought it to international prominence with its celebrity student body.
The rabbi was born in New York City and was ordained as a rabbi at Torah VaDaat in Brooklyn.
He established the Kabbalah Center in 1969 and opened the Los Angeles headquarters in 1993.
Berg’s body was brought to Israel for burial on Tuesday in the city of Safed, renowned for being the home of the most important scholars and authors of Kabbala in the 16th century.
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