New Age Mysticism

It's hard to avoid the fact of celebrities learning Kabbalah, that ancient discipline of Jewish mysticism. Stars like Madonna, Britney, Gwyneth, and Demi are all wearing red string bracelets and studying the mystic texts. By now, you can't help but wonder: what's the deal?? Why is the study of Kabbalah all the rage? Perhaps more important is the basic question: what is Kabbalah?

Hidden Meaning

In essence, the study of Kabbalah relates to the hidden meaning found in the words of the bible. It also concerns itself with the relationship between man and his Creator. The Kabbalah treats the subject of the human soul and the nature of the Divine. According to Jewish tradition, the study of Kabbalah is reserved for only the most learned and pious of scholars. These scholars would be getting on in years, since the study of the Kabbalistic texts is not permitted until a man has reached the emotional maturation of a 40 year old.

Oral Tradition

The word Kabbalah translates into English as "reception," and refers to receiving the revealed inner meanings of the Divine. The ideas expounded in the kabbalistic texts go back 2000 years and were transmitted by word of mouth. By the late 12th century, the oral tradition had become a written one, and the important texts, such as the Zohar, were being published in Spain.

Pinchas Giller, a professor of Jewish thought at the University of Judaism in Bel-Air, CA, and an expert on Kabbalah posits that celebrities are attracted to the study of Kabbalah because the texts speak to fulfilling specific needs. "I think that performing artists are attracted to the Kabbalah's images of struggle, the overcoming of impediments and the underlying instability of present-day existence," Giller said. "These anxieties are at the root of much traditional Kabbalistic writing and inform the popular writings of the Kabbalah Centre."

Spiritual Transformation

Professor Hava Tirosh-Samuelson of Arizona State University, a student of the relationship between philosophy and Kabbalah remarks that the burgeoning field of Kabbalah study has nothing to do with tradition, but rather speaks to filling spiritual needs, which has made the study of Kabbalah attractive to both Jews and non-Jews. Tirosh-Samuelson's philosophy on the subject of popular Kabbalah is three-pronged:

*Kabbalah involves the attainment of perfection and spiritual transformation for the individual so there is a psychological motivation for deep study.

*Kabbalah is artistic and employs the visual, not in a physical sense, but in the privacy of the human mind of the Kabbalah practitioner.

*Kabbalah treats the topic of human and Divine sexuality, so there is an aspect of titillation.

New Imagery

As Tirosh-Samuelson puts it, "The combination of the emotional, the imaginative and the sexual makes Kabbalah extremely attractive to artists, who are seeking new imagery or who are displeased with the shallowness and emptiness of American consumerist culture."