Kabbalah Makes Its Way To Chicago

Kabbalah Centers Popping Up In The Midwest

(CBS) CHICAGO Hollywood stars often speak out about their devotion to their religion: Mel Gibson’s Catholicism, Richard Gere’s Buddhism, and Tom Cruise’s Scientology.

Now, Madonna is leading the trend toward Hollywood’s new wisdom, a trend that’s made its way to Chicago. CBS 2’s Antonio Mora reports.

It?s all the rage in Hollywood. Madonna, Britney Spears, Gwyneth Paltrow, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher all say they’ve found religion in the ancient and mystical study of Kabbalah.

“I think because I study it and there’s a few other famous people that do suddenly everyone is focusing on the famous people studying it,” Madonna has said.

Many celebrities are wearing Kabbalistic red strings to ward off evil, and some, including Madonna, reportedly insist on drinking only Kabbalah water.

“How can you talk to the material girl about the spiritual? There’s a contradiction in terms,” said Byron Sherwin with the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies.

Sherwin has studied Kabbalah for 40 years. He’s concerned Hollywood is trivializing Kabbalah into just another of its fads.

“Kabbalah is being presented as a kind of new age philosophy. One of the greatest messages of Kabbalah is that it’s not about you. It’s rather about God and your relationship to God,” Sherwin said.

Helping sell that new-age version of Kabbalah to Jews and non-Jews alike are Kabbalah centers, such as one on Chicago’s North Side. The number of these centers has suddenly soared, but the Chicago center refused to comment on this story.

“It’s absolutely everywhere. The interest is rising by the minute, by the second,” said Alex Khodos with Bnei Baruch of Illinois.

Khodos and his Kabbalah study group meet five days a week in Wheeling. They are instructed by a live videoconference from Israel.

“I wanted to find out why am I here on earth. What am I doing here?” said Roxanna Gadjieva.

Kabbalah does seek the answers to the great mysteries of human existence, mostly based on the Zohar – a mystical multivolume commentary on the Torah. Kabbalah is so complex that historically, its study was limited to Jewish male scholars over 40.

The celebrity driven interest has expanded Kabbalah’s appeal, but is what’s being taught at the New Center truly the mystical tradition of Jewish theology?

“I think it’s a misrepresented, distorted form of what they think Kabbalah is,” Sherwin said.

Yet students say they are inspired by it,” Khodos said.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
CBS News Chicago, USA
Mar. 20, 2006
Atonio Mora

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