As befits a spiritual leader, he cuts a humble, self-effacing figure.
But to his many detractors Philip Berg, the man behind the Kabbalah Learning Centre, is more profiteer than prophet, a multimillionaire who lives ‘like a king’ in a Beverly Hills mansion waited on by devoted followers known as ‘chevras’ who toil for just room and board.
Thanks in no small part to its A-list celebrity supporters such as Madonna and Jerry Hall, Kabbalah is big business. It has millions of pounds in assets, owns expensive properties all over the world and pulls in millions of pounds annually from the sale of Zohar, the Kabbalist text, videos, audio tapes and Kaballah products.
On top of that there are plentiful donations. As well as Madonna’s 3.65million, one of its wealthy directors, Gladys Obadiah, who lives in Hampstead, North London, gave 44,000 to the Kabbalah Centre in London in 1999-2000.
The group gained a foothold in Britain, where its critics have been less harsh than those in the United States, a few years ago. It is understood that two men, one of Berg’s sons, Yahudah, and Rabbi Eliyahu Yardeni, set up the British arm. Mr Yardeni has remained in Britain but The Mail on Sunday could find no trace of him on the electoral roll and neither is he listed as a director of the company set up to promote Kabbalah‘s teachings.
In America, Berg and his followers have been labelled ‘spiritual thugs’ and accused of using cult-like methods to split up families charges they deny.
Los Angeles-based cult expert Rick Ross revealed that Berg once paid himself 1.5million through the Kabbalah Learning Centre for the intellectual property rights to his book and words. He said: ‘Berg was virtually unknown back in 1992 so who on Earth would be interested in his books except his own centre? That made him a millionaire overnight.’ Asked about the critics’ denouncement of the Kabbalah Centre, Berg’s son Michael insisted that his father lives a frugal existence on a 350,000 annual salary. He added: ‘How can they be so negative if they haven’t met Rabbi Berg?’