Cult expose on the Kabbalah Center

Radar Magazine has concluded an investigation into the Kabbalah Center, and guess what? They found that it shares characteristics of a cult. Not all of this is news, to be sure, but this is a juicy-ass story in three parts with lots of fun writing. Some of my favorite allegations:

• The Centre’s solicitation of freelance ghostwriters on the website Craigslist, to help the Bergs write “scholarly” books on Kabbalah, some of which the writers are encouraged to model on new-age best-sellers.
• The Bergs’ luxurious lifestyle, in stark contrast to the bleak four-to-a-bedroom conditions and $35-a-month stipend they offer the full-time volunteers who cook and clean for them.
• The bizarre scientific claims made by the Centre’s leaders on behalf of Kabbalah Water, ranging from its ability to cleanse the lakes of Chernobyl of radiation to its power to cure cancer, AIDS, and SARS.
• The Centre’s sponsorship of the Oroz Research Centre, a “23rd century” scientific institution that markets a “liquid compound for the treatment of nuclear waste” that also cures gynecological problems in cows, sheep, and other farm animals.
• The Bergs’ failed attempt to lure Madonna to partner with them in a venture to repackage Kabbalah Water for the mass market.

I’m just pissed that I didn’t find that Craigslist post for writers before all this press broke.
Part One of the story here (c/o Boing Boing)

22 thoughts on “Cult expose on the Kabbalah Center

  1. Not surprising, this shit is all over the place. Its just sad when the most holy and mystical parts of the bible and talmud are warped and used in such a degrading manner……if anybody has links to more info on this please holler.

  2. Not surprising, this shit is all over the place. Its just sad when the most holy and mystical parts of the bible and talmud are warped and used in such a degrading manner……if anybody has links to more info on this please holler.

  3. ahh yes, my next door neighbors. sad to see their white clad minions flocking to the Jonestown headquaters at Robertson and Whitworth each Shabbat. a fool and his money are soon broke and enriching jewish cult leaders….

  4. not only is it sad that some of the most holy and the most mystical part of judaism is degraded, but more so that it indirectly causes (what could be deemed) a chilool Hashem.

  5. I wonder what conclusions they’d come up with if they did some research into Chabad Lubavitch. Good people, warm, welcoming, but there is something very cultish going on there.

  6. Always be sure to keep up with with the good people at the JREF http://www.randi.org to get the latest debunkings of pseudo science crap like Kaballah water. Surprised Madonna didn’t go for it. She was losing lots of points but I guess she just got +1. Insert a comment about bastard scientologists here.

  7. Oh go to hell frank. Read the book, The Rebbes Army. An ausome book if i say so myself(yeah there is some crap there, but so what? Everyone has theire crap). Go read it.

  8. Deep Faith –
    Surely you can come up with a better thought-out, more intelligent response than those two sentences replete with spelling mistakes.


  10. I’ve been going to CHabad for about a year now, and I agree with Frank, there is def. something strange going on over there. I’ve seen them pick up young boys on the street, bring them over to chabad, get them drunk and talk about G-d, and it’s tricky the way they do it. It’s not right.
    I don’t know the exact law, but I don’t think your allowed to say the shema or pray if you’ve had something to drink. They did both.
    Not to say that all of chabad is like that, I still go, I take it, both good and bad, but they do engage in some degree of trickery, not like the Kabballah center but stil… I don’t think Frank really called Chabad a cult, he just said there are some cultish things going on. Me personally, I think they engage in trickery.
    Also, The tree over there is not always so deep. I ask questions and when I get to things they can’t answer they tell me I can’t ask such questions, or questions on those matters. How I beleive you can ask questions about anything, that’s one of the reasons judasim is suppose to be so great. Once someone tells you that you can’t ask questions well then, isan’t that a little cultish?
    Some of my questions get ignored all toghther. The answer is usually, “oh well get to that later” and then they never do.
    This weekend I learned that my cantor thinks the Rebbe is a prophet and the possible Messiah. WHAT !!! I was always told the Messiah has to fufill his role in his lifetime. The Rebbe is dead. I was also told there could be no prophet’s after the second temple was destroyed. I think those are pretty standard beliefs
    Chabad may teach the secular masses a lof about Judasim, but is this exactly the Judasim we want them learning?
    P.S I apologize for any spelling or grammer errors. Also, I am not in the mood for any nasty retorts, so I hope we can keep this discussion civil. I’d like for this to be a real exchange.

  11. I honestly believe that Chabad will splinter into distinct Jewish and non-Jewish factions within the next century (specifically with respect to rebbe as mashiach). It has many of the key features of early christianity or the kabbalah center.
    Ruby, isn’t it interesting that you went from one group with strong authoritarian figures to another? I don’t know– it seems like you have something to examine there. Both these groups are highly problematic… KC’s main problem isn’t that it’s charging for spirituality, but that it’s fabricating spirituality. Chabad does it too, in a more subtle and less expensive way.

  12. i appreciate the well intentioned psycho analysis, and will look into the matter…
    i’ll tell you something, in my days of grazing through the KfnC in NY, i let someone who called himself a rabbi read my palm. i’m a drummer and at the time, my rock band was about to embark on a big european tour when this guy starts telling me to quit drumming or else i’d never find my soul mate. where did i end up finding my beloved? in the bosom of crown heights, finnishing smicha at 770 while i was doing press shots, playing at the bbc and mixing down my new single at Abbey Road…this chabadnik, along with his friends were the most supportive crew when it came to my musical career, and still are.
    CHABAD’s approach in my experience is way more pluralistic than most people assume. again, there are simplistic people everywhere. i got lucky, i suppose, and came accross some of the most brilliant expoundings on jewish teachings, thoughts and practice through CHABAD. i’ve found people who not only answer my questions, but also come up with ones that bend minds and clear uncharted territory like a good syd barrett album, all the while staying loyal and connected to The Arizal’s teachings.
    anyhow, if any of you are in the hollywood area, you and your questions are welcome at our table.

  13. Interesting, sounds like this rabbi I used to take a torah class with. He said the Holocaust happened becuase Jews were assimilating. In fact, if I recall correctly, he basically went on to say that everytime Jews started to assimilate, we got our asses slaughtered. It was a real upbeat Torah class, very spiritual. Way to go NJOP !!!!!!!

  14. Firstly, I am a Chabad rabbi, so I may a bit biased here, but I will try to objectively address some of the issues raised here.
    I think that the main issue here is that Chabadniks are tricky. We’re very friendly and smiley and open and warm but we have an agenda. We want you to get more in touch with traditional Judaism. We want you to put a mezuzah on your door, study Torah more than once a month, send your child to a Jewish school, light Shabbat candles, eat matzah on Pesach, hear the shofar on Rosh hashanah etc. etc. just like your great-grandmother would want you do.
    So we’ll give you free chicken soup, but we’re hoping that we’ll be able to awaken a Jewish spark over there.
    So if it’s cultish to offer something– a smile, a bowl of soup — with the intention of igniting a Jewish spark, so be it.
    I think of it more as good marketing. Auto dealerships do it, Costco does it–they’ll give you something free to get you buy something. They’ll smile and make like their your best friend so you’ll buy the car.
    But what if it’s a good car that you end up loving?
    Here’s the point. A good Chabad rabbi (or any Jewish outreach person offering you a free shabbat meal, for that matter) really is your friend and is happy to give you soup even if he prophetically knows that you will never put a mezuzah on your door or do anything Jewish. A good rabbi loves his fellow Jew just because every Jew is his brother (or sister). And that’s why he wants you to put on teffilin–not because he gets brownie points in heaven or at Chabad headquarters for every Jew he wraps, or because it validates his own beliefs when others do a mitzvah (though i will admit there is always some selfish motivation to everything we do, since nothing in the world is purely good or evil ever since the Tree of Knowledge incident–hope that didn’t sound to cultish bringing in Adam’s sin and all). He does it because he is your brother and feels that you are missing out on something incredible (whoa, that definitely sounded cultish). If he fails, he doesn’t feel bad that he wasted his time and a bowl of soup on you.
    This is really in Pirkei Avot: Be like … Aaron: Love creatures and bring them close to the Torah. Here’s the chassidic interpretation: Firstly, love them, for who they are now, not what you are going to try to make of them. And then, SECONDLY, bring them close to Torah. And bring them close to Torah because you love them, not because you have a religious axe to grind or because you think it’s terrible that this or that Jew is not religious.
    How many Jews out there are eternally grateful to Chabad for reaching out to them with a smile and turning them on to Judaism? Not all of them become card-carrying Chabadniks with a black hat. Would they have preferred that Chabadniks stay in Brooklyn, like the Satmar for example, not look at those heathen non-Orthodox Jews lest they become contaminated by their spiritual impurities? At least no-one would have called them cultish for all those smiles.
    So some people will be turned off by our exuberance and our marketing style. We irritate you. That’s life. But being irritating and offering free things does not equal cultish. Last I checked, Costco was not a cult.
    Cults are evil. There is nothing evil or sinister about Chabad. We don’t trick you into buying things you don’t need or donating your money to us to ward off an evil spell. We don’t try to break up your marriage if your spouse isn’t buying into traditional Judaism. We do fundraise, sometimes agressively, but not as agressively as the Federation. You may not agree with our theology or philosophy…but you don’t have to–you can still eat our soup, or not eat our soup.
    The semantics of cultish vs. a cult I think is very subtle. I respectfully suggest to you that you consider the damage that is done to an organization when people say, “Hey wouldn’t it be interesting if we compared the KC to Chabad? Yeah, that would start a nice thread.” In the meantime, you’ve just slandered about 100, 000 people. Nice job.
    Now to the specific issues posted here:
    To Z,
    A. Your experience with one Chabad rabbi or cantor does not reflect on all of Chabad.
    B. Not every Chabad rabbi has all the answers. If one rabbi ignores you, try another one. Perhaps he didn’t know the answer, or he wasn’t interested in answering it at that time. I don’t see why you would conclude that he is cultish. It is not uncommon for people to avoid questions they can’t answer. I do agree with you that when a rabbi is asked a question he should take it seriosly and answer the question to the best of his ability, or say he does not know (as Rashi does a few times in Chumash) or refer the questioner to some other source. To leave a person hanging does allow the person to make false assumptions, as you did.
    To Elaine: What’s wrong with offering kids incentives to study Torah and do mitzvot? Rambam (Maimonides) speaks specifically about offering walnuts and candies to kids to get them to study Torah.
    In conclusion, if you would like to discuss these issues further, I would be glad to do so. Feel free to email me at [email protected] (or is that cultish to offer people to contact you?)
    Rabbi Yossi Marcus
    Chabad of S. Mateo, CA

  15. i have a friend in K(f)C who swears r. berg is a miracle worker and saint… another friend of mine went in to consult the “rabbi” after losing her only son and he wouldn’t see her cuz she couldn’t afford the almost $200 for an appointment… i’m not exactly an expert on CHABAD, but from what i know the Rebbe would stand for hours giving away money (dollars) every sunday and gave all his time to his followers without ever charging a penny. i sense an enourmous difference in practice. IGNORANCE IS NOT BLISS, IT HURTS PPL!
    and thanx rabbi for explaining (made sense to me)

  16. My Credentials: I am intimately familiar with KC and have recently started to study with a Chabad Rabbi. First KC. I live in LA and have been at KC dozens of times. Yes, i can admit to going on occasion for purely “evil” purposes i.e meeting very attractive, somewhat spiritually inclined women. But as a general rule i went for “enlightment” I went to find meaning in a mostly meanigless world. Suffice it to say that I did not find what i was looking for at KC. I wont slander them because there are some good people there but a general rule, things just dont add up. Most of the people who go there on a regular basis get too caught up in everything but true spiritual pursuit. It becomes more of social club, which again is kewl, but certainly not what it claims to be. I dont know Berg personally, or his agenda etc. but it doesnt take a rocket scientist to figure out that he is a brilliant marketer. However, genuine is not a word i would associate with KC.
    with regard to Chabad. I have purposely kept my distance for some time. After Rabbi Schneersohn passed away i saw a Nightline with Haim Potok. He spoke really positively about the Rabbi but when asked how come he never went and met him personally he answered “i was scared to” and then went on to say something like “I knew that he was really charismatic and genuine and i did not want him to effect me or change my life.” I sorta feel and felt the same way.
    I have met a few Chabad Rabbis. Ive met the students on the street who asked me if i wanted to tefillen. It always struck me as so odd and so unjewish to stand on the street and jump on people like that. And I think this also gets right into the cult question.
    My mixed feeling about Chabad were always “if they are willing to bust their balls like they do, what really motivates them?” “What do they want from me?” “Whats in it for them?” etc. etc. etc. I think the Rabbi here hit it on the head. They have an agenda. no Q about it. They dont hide it either. My one year of contact with one Chabad Rabbi and numerous contacts with the Chabad’s in various cities (i travel often for work) has made a few things clear.
    Almost every Chabad Rabbi i meet has been injected with or drank some kind of or you know what i mean. They have this need to share Judaism with people. Its straight up bizarre and encouraging. I read the Rebbe’s Army. It sheds a lot of light on their dedication and infrastructure etc.
    I’ll get off this page with these final words. Anyone who knows Chabad knows they are not a cult. The Rabbi who posted here was obviously offended by a remark and took it personal. Its not personal. Things that you do are cult like and thats why people who are on that familar with what you do are going to think that. Most people -myself included- have trouble formulating an opinon about your dedication without using the “cult” word. My recent exposure and the few books that ive read have made it abundantly clear that there no cult here. I still havent quite figured out where all the energy and ddedication and non-judgemental love comes from.
    Fianlly to the Rabbi, i apprecaite you guys and so do thousands of other Jews.
    On the outside these Chabad Rabbis are so rigid and conforming and seem to know nothing of our real world. I wonder can they really relate to the literature or culture or art that is so much a part of my life if they are so sheltered.

  17. Waoh…. what a discussion.
    I think Chabad is just fine. These ney-sayers, as with any, had their minds made up before they ever met a chabad rabbi.
    Just for starters, there’s another blog that i recently found that is helpful in finding free kabbalah and its from a chabad rabbi. check out http://www.bloggingrabbi.com.
    Anyway, let’s all get off our fences and learn from chabad to put others before ourselves.

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