Originally created 08/08/06

Celebrities take faith out of ancient Kabbalah



The world is filled with capitalistic undertakings, from cars to electronic gizmos, relationships (online dating sites) and anything else you could think of. Unfortunately, religion also is on this list.

We could talk all day about televangelists selling their faiths, but one of the most apparent examples of religion for sale is the new wave of Kabbalah followers in Hollywood.

Many of the most well-known Kabbalists are celebrities with deep, deep pockets. Madonna, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton are all apparently counted among the faithful. The Kabbalah Centre, one of the purveyors of this glamorized version of Jewish spiritualism, has effectively marketed itself to some of the richest and most self-serving people in the world.

What began and exists today in Israel as a very serious practice for older Jewish men with an extensive history in the study of Judaism, Kabbalah has essentially been excised of its religious background and transformed into a "moneymaking venture," according to Rabbi Robert Klensin, of Congregation Children of Israel of Augusta Temple.

In the view of Rabbi Klensin, the Kabbalah Centre is "taking something profound and ... trying to simplify it."

Instead of Kabbalah dealing with mystical teachings that concern ideas of creation and concepts of a spiritual nature and humans' roles, we get a feel-good practice.

"It's a fad for most of them. They aren't really involved ... they're just doing it for the money. Their lives are so shallow and materialistic, they need spiritual depth," Rabbi Klensin said.

One of the Kabbalah Centre's central tenets is giving up one's materialistic nature. Madonna, the organization's most famous member, continues to tour on glitzy concerts and advertise on MTV, a network known for its tactless materialistic nature (think My Super Sweet 16 and Pimp My Ride).

Another famous Kabbalah Centre attendee, Gwyneth Paltrow, has made headlines for the names she bestowed upon her children: Apple and Moses.

The actress has mentioned that she gave her children their names not because they had any real significance to her, but because they sounded good (and also likely because historical names, especially Hebrew, have become a fad in Hollywood).

Such actions show how little spiritual connection these celebrity followers have to the practice of Kabbalah, which is deeply interrelated to Judaic tradition, and instead reveal that they might be more on a bandwagon than a spiritual quest.

Alex Thurmond, 19, is a 2006 graduate from Evans High School. Lauren Ellis, 15, is a home-schooled freshman.