It is the trendiest faith around, endorsed by superstars like Madonna, Demi Moore and Britney Spears. As I take my first lesson in Kabbalah, I begin to understand why.
“By the fourth class you will learn to see into the future,” my teacher announces confidently.
I’m in a meeting room in a smart square off Oxford Street for an introductory session in the ancient branch of Jewish mysticism which is enjoying a star-struck resurgence.
From the offset it is easy to see why so many celebrities are attracted to Kabbalah, as I’m promised money, sexual energy, passion and beauty – all for £180.
Madonna is Kabbalah’s most famous devotee; other celebrity students include Elizabeth Taylor, Jerry Hall, Winona Ryder, Jeff Goldblum, Courtney Love and Roseanne Barr.
Now it looks as if Victoria Beckham has become a convert after being spotted wearing a red string knotted around her wrist – a Kabbalah amulet to ward off the “evil eye”.
As well as being able to see the future, other perks of becoming a believer are “money, good relationships, love and happiness,” claims my teacher, Rabbi Chaim Solomon.
As if more reasons were needed, Kabbalists say the “positive flow of energy” can stop the ageing process. More bizarrely, they believe negative energy can be absorbed by swinging a chicken above the head.
The 10-week course will, claims Rabbi Solomon, teach me to tune myself like a TV set to become a better receiver of “rays of light”, the infinite joy for which we’re all searching for and, by no coincidence, the name of Madonna’s 1998 album.
Kabbalah, described as “a divine system of wisdom”, is believed to have been passed by God to Abraham and to Moses.
Rabbi Solomon describes it as the spiritual laws of creation, “like the DNA of the cosmos”, but there’s nothing very mystical or esoteric about Rabbi Solomon’s presentation on his flip-chart.
The word Kabbalah is Hebrew for “receive” and it’s this “gimme gimme” aspect that he decides to focus on: “The creator wants you to have everything you want.”
Later, browsing the Kabbalah Centre’s online store, it’s the same story. One book, The 72 Names Of God, promises that by meditating on the appropriate name, you’ll be able to “bring more money into your life, ignite sexual energy and passion, meet your true soulmate and radiate beauty to all who see you.”
Followers are encouraged to pamper themselves and pursue their own happiness – which may explain why it has attracted so many self-obsessed celebrities.
Even the understanding of the Zohar, the 12th-century manuscript on which modern Kabbalah teaching is based, is surprisingly user-friendly. Rabbis at the Kabbalah Centre insist the Zohar – said to be too complicated for the most eminent scholars – can be “read” merely by running your hands over the text.
Which probably explains why its “unfathomable complexities” have become fully accessible to the likes of Britney Spears, who has also been seen sporting a Kabbalistic red-string wrist band.
“It’s a bigger picture even than the Bible,” she explained. “It’s so interesting to me because I’ve never read stuff like this before.” At the London Kabbalah Centre you can buy a red string bracelet like Britney’s for £27. Also on offer is a “blessed, restoring” face cream at £78.
For £2.80 you can buy a small bottle of Kabbalah water, personally blessed by the movement’s leader, Phillip Berg, and said to possess “centuries of wisdom in every drop”.
The spring water has supposedly been transformed by a process called Quantum Resonance Technology, making it a “spiritual tool”. Madonna claims the water cured husband Guy’s verrucas.
Also on sale is Madonna’s book The English Roses (proceeds donated to the Kabbalah Centre’s Spirituality For Kids Foundation). Her latest book, Mr Peabody, based on an ancient Kabbalah story, nestles alongside Kabbalah texts, videos and DVDs.
You might expect London’s Jewish community to be thrilled that their ancient wisdom is now being marketed to the general public: Jews and non-Jews, pop stars and nobodies alike.
Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.
Rabbi Barry Marcus, a member of the Chief Rabbi’s cabinet and minister at the Central London Synagogue, says: “There’s not a single Rabbinic authority on this planet who endorses what they’re doing; the condemnation of them is universal.”
He points out that the Zohar – on sale at the Kabbalah Centre for £289 – can be bought from any religious bookshop for around £35.
But Rabbi Marcus isn’t surprised Kabbalah has so many celebrity followers. “If I’m being kind, I’ll say that most of them have probably done well in their field and have everything that money can buy.
But they don’t have the one thing money can’t buy and that’s inner peace, serenity and stability. So they go searching and they can afford to.
“But if I’m being unkind, I’d say that the celebrities I’ve come into contact with are the most insecure people I’ve ever met in my life.”
And what of the spiritual properties of the Kabbalah Centre’s magic red string?
Rabbi Marcus snorts. “I can get you the same string in John Lewis for 20p,” he says.
POSH THE KABBALIST
Madonna is known to Kabbalists as Esther. Posh might also adopt a biblical name – Rebecca, maybe?
POSH THE KABBALIST
She would have to drink only Kabbalah water blessed by the movement’s founder Phillip Berg: £2.80 a bottle.
POSH THE KABBALIST
She would pay 10 per cent of her earnings to the religion – £100,000 a year, or £1m if she ropes David in.