Philip Berg dead: Farewell to the rabbi who made Kabbalah the religion of stars

Berg drew several major celebrities to his new-age brand of ancient Jewish mysticism, including Madonna and the actors Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher

Los Angeles

Kabbalah adherents can this week add a black armband to their red string bracelets. Philip Berg, the founder of the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles, who drew several major celebrities to his new-age brand of ancient Jewish mysticism, has died. Most famously, the spiritual organisation counted Madonna among its followers, and in 2005 the actors Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher were married at the Kabbalah headquarters on Robertson Boulevard.

The Centre announced Berg’s death on its website on Monday, saying the Rabbi (Rav in Hebrew) was 86 – though the Los Angeles Times reported that public records show he was 84. In a statement, it said: “Throughout the Rav’s 86 years, he created a path for millions to learn and live Kabbalah. The Rav has left us with incredible knowledge through thousands of hours of teaching, examples of courage we will never forget, and the comfort of a Kabbalah Centre we can all call home.”

Berg was born Shraga Feivel Gruberger in New York, and established the Kabbalah Centre there in 1969. He repackaged Kabbalah, a strain of Jewish mysticism dating to at least the 13th century, with new-age ideas, and became known for drawing comparisons between biblical stories and the struggles of modern life. However, orthodox Jewish leaders criticised him for offering a superficial version of their privileged wisdom to a popular audience.

After these attacks, Berg relocated to Los Angeles in 1993, where his teachings attracted celebrities including Britney Spears and Gwyneth Paltrow. But it was Madonna’s involvement that made Kabbalah world famous, not to mention the red string bracelets worn by its adherents, and “blessed” water sold by the Centre.

The non-profit organisation, which is now thought to have assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars, was until recently the subject of a tax-evasion investigation by the US authorities, though the current status of the case is not public. After the controversy became public in 2011, Madonna cut ties between the Centre and her charity, Raising Malawi. At the time, the organisation acknowledged tax authorities were looking into its wider finances, but denied wrongdoing.

Since Berg suffered a stroke nine years ago, the Centre has been led by his wife Karen and their sons Yehuda and Michael.

The Kabbalah Centre Philip Berg founded in Los Angeles (Getty) The Kabbalah Centre Philip Berg founded in Los Angeles (Getty)  

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?