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The Rise of Kabbalah in America

by Gad Nahshon

The studying of Kabbalah has become a new popular fashion in America. Many Jews who do not have a background in Judaism are being attracted by the magic of Kabbalah, the best of Jewish mysticism or they are fascinated by the Kabbalah"s most popular book, the Zohar. It should be noted that the Kabbalah is a very hard to learn philosophy.

Kabbalah is a sophisticated kind of theory. So, it is a study to be taught to smart, well-educated people. But we learn that many celebrities, mostly gentiles, such as Madonna or Michael Jackson, are studying Kabbalah. Recently, the book stores are being bombarded by books about Kabbalah or about the Zohar.

One of the pioneers of the Kabbalah education was the famous author of the Israeli-Jewish anthem, Hatikvah, Naftali. Herz Imber (1856-1909). Imber, a great Zionist poet and the first Jewish Hippie, lived in the U.S. from 1892 to 1909 and died in New York City. He was re-interred in 1953 in Jerusalem. Imber, a prolific writer in Hebrew, Yiddish, and English, was a sick and poor poet but he was also a fighter for social justice. He was a new type of proud Jew. He always stressed the contribution of the Jews to the world civilization. Therefore, he claimed that the Jews created the world of mysticism or occultism.

As a child he was fascinated by the Jewish mystics. He preferred to learn Kabbalah rather than the Talmud. Coming to this country in 1892, Imber decided to establish, in Boston and later in New York, perhaps the first modern clubs of Kabbalah teaching in America. Remember: The Jews also invented Kabbalah, a unique philosophy. In order to tell the world about this Jewish contribution to the spiritual world, in August 1895, Imber published the first and only publication In the world of the Jewish media which was dedicated to the science of Kabbalah. Imber managed to publish only two issues of this magazine entitled Uriel - A Monthly Magazine Devoted to Cabbalistic Science.

Imber was the editor and he wrote all of the articles such as: What is Cabbala?, Music in Mysticism, Love to God, and others. In the first issue (69 pages) Imber wrote that when the world will see the light of the redemption, the world will recognize the fact that the Jewish Kabbalah is the most ancient kind of world of secrets. Uriel is the "Angle of Light," the "Victory of Truth." Uriel is also a Cabbalistic Army, therefore, Imber wrote: "Let truth"s triumph march sound. Her banner hold on high till you bring to the ground the tower of the lie."

In his "Uriels" Imber educated the readers about the basics of Kabbalah and established its primacy over other occults or theosophy ideas. Imber also argued that Moses was the father of the Jewish mysticism. Imber used to define him as Mahatma Moses. Imber loved Hasidim and all those in the Jewish history who practiced Kabbalah. But he also argued that the Zohar is not the most important book of Kabbalah but another book, Sefer Yetzira (The book of creation). This book was ascribed to our patriarch Abraham. (Some scholars such as Solomon Schechter argued later that this book was a fake...). Indeed, Imber loved occultism, mysticism, and Buddhism, as well.

For many, many years, Americans did not hear about Kabbalah studies. Of course we do not discuss here the scholarly world (Dr. Moshe Idel, is the most recent expert on Kabbalah). But the masses did not know anything about Kabbalah. One could find in Jerusalem or Tspat, people who learn and practice Kabbalah.

In 1992, Rabbi Yehuda Ashlay established in Jerusalem the first modern Kabbalah Center. His idea was to launch an educational Kabbalah movement. He started to develop means to spread the message of Kabbalah among the Jewish masses in Palestine and abroad as well. Many teachers and experts were educated in this center which also published books and guides of Kabbalah. Since 1969, Rabbi Berg became the center"s director. The Center gave birth to 39 centers all over the world with 3.4 million students. Only 50% of them are Jews! Kabbalah turned out to be a universal kind of movement. One of its great achievements is the Center in Los Angeles located at 1054 S. Robertson Blvd., Ste. 201 (Tel: 310-657-5404). The directors of this center are Rabbi Berg and Karen Berg.

The Center teaches the basics of Judaism and the basics of any religion as a spiritual experience. Later, the student is being taught the basics of the Zohar. According to the Jewish Orthodox tradition, Zohar was given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai but according to scholars, Zohar was written by Rabbi Moshe DeLeon and Rabbi Moshe Abulafia in the 13th century in Spain. They were two famous Mekubalim.

The Zohar is not the only Kabbalah publication. Indeed, Judaism means a rational - Halacha kind of movement (Talmudic world) but also an irrational, secret, messianic, movement as well. This movement of mysticism kept the idea of redemption alive. Indeed, its roots are to be found in the era of our destruction. I mean the Temple in Jerusalem, 70 A.D. This national catastrophe of destruction and exile was the mother of our quest for a new redemption. Since this movement we started by using Kabbalah to find the answer to the question: When will the Messiah come?

The Center of Kabbalah in L.A. with his teachers (The Bergs) is not promising to answer this hard question, of course, but the Center offers education, wisdom, and " bring harmony to the chaos of contemporary life..." And it promises: Kabbalah will foster positive social change and social unity." Also, each student (ten week course) gets the red strings. He wears them around his or her wrists. This is the Kabbalah Center"s symbol: The red strings are prepared in Beit Lechem"s tomb of Rachel, our Matriarch. The strings means that Rachel is protecting us, let"s hope, from "negative glances and envious stares" which promote chaos in our personal life.

Of course, Kabbalah is a powerful weapon against the Satanic powers of our universe. If you believe in this notion go and study Kabbalah.

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