Berg, Philip

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BERG, PHILIP (Gruberger ; 1929– ), founder and director of The Kabbalah Center, a controversial organization dedicated to the popular dissemination of a modern synthesis of Kabbalah and New Age religion. Berg was born in Williamsburg, New York, studied at Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, New Jersey, and was ordained at Torah Va Daat in Williamsburg. During the 1960s, Berg studied Kabbalah with disciples of kabbalist Yehudah *Ashlag (1886–1955), such as Levi Isaac Krakovsky (1891–1966) and Yehudah Ẓevi *Brandwein (1903–1969). Berg claims to have been appointed by Brandwein to carry on Ashlag's mission, namely, to spread kabbalistic knowledge to a wide audience and to assume the leadership of Kol Yehudah, Ashlag's kabbalistic yeshivah. Inspired by his wife karen (1945– ), Berg established The Kabbalah Centre in 1969 to propagate their distinctive approach to Kabbalah to men and women of all faiths, ages, and ethnic backgrounds throughout the world. In the early 2000s there were over 50 centers internationally offering lectures, courses, spiritual counseling, and ceremonies to adults and children, as well as an extensive and sophisticated presence on the World Wide Web. The Kabbalah Centre publishes popular literature on Kabbalah and translations of classic works in 10 languages. The Bergs' sons, born during their parents' 10-year sojourn in Israel, are important contributors to the Kabbalah Centre mission. They were educated at the Hafetz Hayyim and Shaar Hatorah yeshivot in New York and received ordination at Knesset Yehezkel in Jerusalem. In addition to writing popular literature, yehudah (1972– ) produced (with his father) a prayer book according to the Lurianic tradition that includes meditations from later kabbalists; michael (1973– ) authored a full English translation of the Zohar with Ashlag's commentary Ha-Sulam.

Distinctive Kabbalah Centre teachings acknowledge that God designed Kabbalah as a gift to all humanity, even though it was preserved by and limited to Jews for centuries and was embedded within a Jewish society that advocated strict adherence to biblical and rabbinic Judaism. According to Philip Berg, the scientific advances of the 20th century and the beginning of the astrological Age of Aquarius fulfilled the preconditions for the inevitable worldwide spread of kabbalistic knowledge. Kabbalistic knowledge, he teaches, contains the foundation principles of all science, the structure for achieving spiritual perfection, the path to world peace, and the means to success in such earthly pursuits as business, personal relationships, and health. The mitzvot of the Torah are tools designed by God for humanity to achieve these ends, as are special kabbalistic devices (holy water, the red bendel) and ritual practices (meditations using divine names and Zohar texts). The Kabbalah Centre ignores the traditional Jewish context of these concepts and practices, as well as the many restraints upon and critiques of these practices voiced by Jewish teachers over the centuries. Kabbalistic teachings are synthesized with modern, particularly New Age, themes such as astrology, reincarnation, holistic healing, and spiritualism. In its effort to reach the widest possible audience, the Kabbalah Centre uses mass-market advertising and showcases its celebrity followers, the most prominent of whom is Madonna.

[Jody Myers (2nd ed.)]