But for those who have devoted their lives to this form of Jewish mysticism, the Kabbalah goes far deeper than something to brag about to your celebrity friends.
The Kabbalah is a 2,000-year-old system of thought that was originally included in Jewish theosophy, philosophy, science and magic.
It speculates on the nature of divinity, the creation, the origin and fate of the soul, and the role of human beings. It consists of meditative, devotional, mystical and magical practices that for centuries were taught only to a select few.
Traditionally, the Kabbalah was not even taught to people until the age of 40, when they had completed their education in Torah and Talmud.
It was studied in closed circles under a litany of restrictions as to who could participate. But modern times have seen the discipline co-opted by high-profile personalities.
“Kabbalah has become fashionable,” said Michael Laitman, founder of the International Academy of Kabbalah, an organization dedicated to studying Kabbalah according to its scientific basis.
“Those who aren’t serious about the study focus on ways to make your life better, to heal yourself if you are sick,” he said.
“People want to believe in such mystical things, but in reality there is no such magic in our world.”
Laitman, based in Israel, is the first person to successfully defend a dissertation on Kabbalah in Russia. He recently received his doctorate from the Institute of Philosophy at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
The International Academy of Kabbalah is represented around the world in more than 30 countries. A tremendous growth has taken place within the past few years, overwhelming the academy as it strives to fill demand for knowledgeable instructors.
Russia is no exception, and in fact has been one of the most active regions for study.
Laitman said that Russia is well prepared for the study of Kabbalah, since the country has a rich history of spirituality and a disposition for scientific disciplines.
Four years ago, Leonid Elizarov, a Moscow businessman and doctor of philosophy, took the first steps toward establishing a Kabbalah center in Russia, making an initial fact-finding trip to the World Academy of Kabbalah in Israel.
“I saw that what they were doing was very positive, and the people involved were really enjoying themselves and learning,” Elizarov said. “When I came back to Moscow, I began working on creating something similar in Russia.”
Elizarov recognized that the study could catch on locally, and shortly thereafter, he helped found the Moscow affiliate of the International Academy of Kabbalah, which helps to educate newcomers to the study. Modern-day Kabbalah experts agree that the ancient study has nothing to do with religious practice.
The study is a practical science, one that relies heavily on mathematical formulas, graphs and rigid scientific formulas.
Through these formulas, students of Kabbalah believe that some of life’s most difficult questions can be answered.
Kabbalah is Hebrew for “that which is received,” and refers to a secret oral tradition of teaching that extends from teacher to pupil. Kabbalah strives to teach a way to get the maximum amount of enjoyment from life by coming to an understanding of the world.
“We live in a world that we don’t understand, one where we can’t predict what will happen in the next few moments,” Laitman said.
“We assume that our world is governed by certain laws, but we don’t know what those laws are,” he said. “We need to do something to understand this world, so Kabbalah is that which opens the world we live in.”
According to Laitman, we are limited by our five senses, which prevent us from grasping the greater spiritual world.
“The actual world is a lot richer and more complex than what we are able to absorb,” he said. “Kabbalah says that we can enrich our experience in this world by developing a sixth sense.”
Laitman added that there are, of course, no quick solutions and no easy ways to achieve results.
He said that patience and devotion are required before a person can begin to understand and utilize the newfound abilities.
Several hundred people currently study Kabbalah on an active basis in Moscow, and the numbers are growing.
There are classes in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Samara, as well as in Kiev and Minsk.
Kabbalah is open to people of any age, sex, or religious or ethnic background.
The only prerequisite, Laitman said, is a genuine desire to answer life’s toughest questions about ourselves and the world we live in.