It is famous for attracting celebrities such as Madonna and Demi Moore, but now the controversial religious movement Kabbalah, whose teachings are based on the mystical interpretation of Jewish law, is looking to attract a new kind of British devotee.
The US Kabbalah Centre, the movement’s most powerful body, wants to open a dedicated Kabbalah school near London. In October it will start a 10-week pilot programme involving 30 pupils at an unnamed non-Jewish school in Hertfordshire.
The organisers believe the Spirituality for Kids initiative will pave the way for opening the dedicated school within five years. The US Kabbalah Centre already has schools in Los Angeles and New York.
Michael Berg, the centre’s co-director, told the paper Jewish News: ‘I am very excited about opening Spirituality for Kids in London. Any time we can offer young people the tools to take control of their destiny and reach their ultimate potential is a great thing..’
But the project is alarming Jewish leaders. London rabbi Yitzchak Schochet said: ‘The fact that they are now peddling their gibberish to children only compounds the tragedy of how the good name of Judaism is being brought into ill repute.’
There is concern about a number of Kabbalah practices. Some recruits have told how they were pressured to hand over large sums of money to the movement. Others said they were told to sever their ties with friends and family who expressed scepticism about the faith.
Critics have queried the prices charged for merchandise at the London centre, including £300 for copies of the Zohar, the movement’s ancient text, red string bracelets for £15 each and ‘blessed bottled water’ at £2.80.
A recruitment drive could prove popular with British children, however. Britney Spears and David Beckham have both been seen wearing the red bracelets while Naomi Campbell is a recent convert.