Madonna's Kabbala guru accused of extorting money

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The Independent Online

Police claim Mr Youdkevitch and rabbis running the Israel Kabbala Centre persuaded Leah Zonis and her husband, Boris, to make what they called "a significant and painful donation" if she wanted to recover. They were also alleged to have sold her bottles of "holy water" at inflated prices under the Kabbala label.

Mr Zonis's lawyer, Haim Cohen, told Haaretz newspaper: "The woman's condition continued to deteriorate and instead of telling the truth, that these were empty promises, they took more money and cheated with medication that is just a bottle of water."

When the couple said they could pay no more, the rabbis are said to have suggested the husband work for the centre. He refused and complained to the police. Mrs Zonis, a 50-year-old with two children, subsequently died. Mr Zonis said: "She was a sick person, on the verge of despair. In that state a patient grabs at any straw to be saved. They were our straw until we realised we had been exploited."

Madonna, Catholic pop diva turned Jewish mystic, was among 2,000 celebrity searchers after truth who attended a five-day spiritual retreat last September in a five-star Tel Aviv hotel. At the opening ceremony, Guy Ritchie, her film director husband, was reported to have danced in ecstasy embracing a Torah scroll.

The singer made a midnight pilgrimage to the Jerusalem tomb of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, author of Sulam, a commentary on the Zohar, the Kabbalistic "Book of Splendour". Madonna meditated inside the mausoleum for more than an hour, circling the grave, praying, chanting and lighting candles.

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