Controversy Surrounds Scientology and Kabbalah

WCCO-TV, Minneapolis/November 21, 2005
By Dennis Douda

Both Scientology and Kabbalah have seen an increase in followers since Hollywood stars started talking about religion.

Scientologist Tom Cruise was criticized when he bashed Brook Shields after she used prescription drugs for post-partum depression.

Madonna has been criticized by the Jewish community for her affiliation with the Kabbalah Centre, a place many Orthodox Jews said is more interested in making money than teaching traditional Jewish mysticism.

From Hollywood to Nicollet Mall, people across the nation are showing more interest in what followers of both Scientology and Kabbalah believe.

"Scientology is perhaps unique among religions in that we don't have a specific pattern or doctrine of worship," said Minister Brian Fesler with the Church of Scientology.

Fesler said science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard founded Scientology in 1954. You can be of any faith and still practice Scientology and apply its principles.

The goal of Scientology is to become "clear", meaning to erase the part of your mind that stores painful experiences of your past so that those memories don't influence your future decisions.

To become "clear", a person undergoes counseling sessions called "Auditing."

Fesler explains "Auditing" as, "I ask you questions, in order for you to answer, you look back earlier in your life and discover things about yourself that you hadn't thought about."

An auditor uses a device, called an e-meter, which claims to measure people's painful experiences.

When WCCO-TV tried it, it did not work. The auditor told WCCO-TV the device may not have worked because it was cold out and also that tight clothing and other things can affect the meter.

In addition to running the e-meters, the church's staff helps people with courses to become "clear".

"They claim it may cost someone, to progress though all the levels as they are established now, that it may cost them $300,000 or more," WCCO-TV's Dennis Douda told Fesler.

"Yep, um ... I don't know the exact number, it could be that high, I just don't know," said Fesler.

The issue of charging fees for enlightenment is also one of the chief criticisms of another religious institution: the Kabbalah Centre.

"They have capitalized on something that is very intriguing to Jews and non-Jews alone and they know it," said Rabbi Simeon Glaser with Temple Israel, where he teaches traditional Kabbalah courses.

Kabbalists study the hidden meaning in things like the Hebrew alphabet on a search through the Torah to find God's true essence. Traditional Kabbalah courses can be far different from what is taught at the Kabbalah Centre.

"You may commune with something that is bigger than yourself, but it isn't going to get you the full essence of what the Kabbalah can teach," Glaser said.

Aside from charging what some say are shockingly high fees for courses, the root of the controversy surrounding the Kabbalah Centre is whether someone, like Madonna who is not Jewish, can effectively study the Kabbalah.

"She's limited in what she can take from it, as are many people who find their way to it, the Hollywood types," Glaser said.

Glaser said Kabbalah is about more than the now-fashionable red string bracelets.

"The red thread is related to a thread that was wrapped around Rachel's tomb and had mystical significance and it's supposed to protect us, but that's a talisman, a superstition, that is maybe meaningful to some people, but it really doesn't have anything to do with what the essence of Kabbalah is all about," said Glaser.

The Kabbalah Centre has no local branch, but offers classes online. Traditional Kabbalah courses are taught at the Temple Israel.

The Church of Scientology holds regular services at its Minneapolis church.

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