Published by Task Force on Cults and Missionaries
Los Angeles, CA 1995
Who is "Dr. Philip S. Berg"?
Philip S. Berg is the charismatic founder and leader of a quasi-Jewish cult functioning under the name of "Research Centre for Kabbalah." It has branches in New York City, Los Angeles, Toronto, London, a few other cities. Berg portrays himself as an orthodox rabbi and proclaims his "Kabbalah Centre" to be a Jewish orthodox institution. IN his youth he did study at an orthodox Yeshiva in Brooklyn NY, and it seems that he was ordained. Berg claims to have a doctorate (all his books go under the name "Dr. Philip S. Berg"). In some of his books he alleges to have a doctorate in "comparative religion," while another source claims his doctorate to be in "jurisprudence in biblical law." When personally confronted about the discrepancies, and questioned about his alleged doctorate, he admitted (in a published interview) that in fact -he has no academic degree at all - and that his alleged "doctorate" is "part of his smichah (ordination)". Everyone knows, of course, that there is no such thing. For his public lectures Berg advertises himself invariably as "the greatest Kabbalist in the world;" "the world's foremost authority on the Kabbalah;" "a living Kabbalist and the rarest of teachers;" or other such flamboyant terms of self-aggrandizement. Outside of his own Centre and circle of followers, neither the academic nor the Jewish religious worlds know anything about him except for the anomalies of his centers. They have absolutely no regard for him, his teachings, writings or activities. In fact, he is universally condemned by both the orthodox rabbinate and contemporary schools of Jewish mysticism in Israel, the USA and elsewhere, as a charlatan.
What is the "Kabbalah Centre"?
One of the most extensive articles about Berg and the Kabbalah Centre was published in a national Canadian Jewish weekly, the Canadian Jewish News, dated March 18, 1993, pp. 2, 6-7 and 9. It exposed, with names, some of the Kabbalah Centre's anomalies, such as:
All the above is extracted from the Canadian Jewish News article. None of these matters was ever questioned or denied by Berg or the Centre.
Berg's Use of "Libel Chill"
Berg has literally millions of dollars at his disposal. The net assets of his New York branch in 1990, according to IRS-returns, are close to 10 million dollars. Using the principle of "libel chill," he scares detractors who will speak out openly against him with expensive libel and slander suits. That is why rabbinic condemnations of him and his centre are usually couched in very careful and often veiled wordings. One rabbi was not that careful: Canadian rabbi Emanuel Schochet, a rabbinic scholar and authority on Jewish mysticism well-known throughout the world, author and editor of numerous primary texts, dared to speak out against Berg and the Kabbalah Centre in a lecture delivered in 1993 in South Africa. On his return to Canada, Berg hired one of Canada's top-paid lawyers in libel to sue Rabbi Schochet for $4.5 million dollars for "libel and slander." Rabbi Schochet condemned the Jewishly unacceptable practices of Berg and his centers of
a) using horoscopes and astrology in general in counseling their victims,
b) the indiscriminate use and teaching of sacred and complex teachings of the Kabbalah to people totally illiterate in anything Jewish and devoid of Jewish observances as well as to gentiles,
c) the exorbitant prices they charge for the sale of the Zohar and other writings pressed upon their victims at mark-ups of over 500% of the fair market-price,
d) acts of extortion by scaring naïve people with all kinds of evil and curses that will come upon them if they refuse to offer money for the Kabbalah Centre, and ludicrous promises of physical health and wealth if they will purchase their publications; and other such flagrant violations of Jewish law and tradition, as well as other samples of immoral behavior.
Documented list of Perversions
Dr. Phil Abramowitz, Director of the Task Force on Missionaries and Cults at the Jewish Federation of New York, circulated a memociting: "Only some if the items have been brought to his attention regarding the work of Dr. Philip Berg:
The same memo also cites reports from Rabbi Yitchak Sladowsky, Executive VP of Vaad HaRabonim of Queens:
The Canadian Jewish News - article quotes Arnold Markowitz, director of the Cult Hotline of the New York Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services, that he has received a fair amount of calls complaining of "high pressure" and abusive tactics employed by the Kabbalah Centre's New York branch. "The calls, usually from current and former members and their relatives, tell of people 'totally consumed' by the centre 'while neglecting family and work.'" Markowitz said that the centre exhibits many cult-like qualities similar to "name" cults like the Unification Church of Rev. Sun Myung Moon. He adds that his research "has shown the centre to impart 'an inordinate amount' of submission to its rules - the neglect of other pursuits - a his level of suggestibility, denial of privacy and a strong focus on a self-appointed, charismatic leader, namely, Berg. It also employs some 'hard-sell' tactics usually associated with better-known cult groups. The centre displays a strong inwardness too: 'They see the outside world as unenlightened. It's a very 'us-versus-them' mentality.'" The article cites the same type of reports from Dr. Phil Abramowitz of new York Jewish Community Centre's Task Force on Missionaries and Cults, Bernie Farber of the Canadian Jewish Congress, and Julius Ciss of the Toronto counter-missionary group Jews for Judaism.
Mockery of Jewish Law and Tradition
Selections from Berg's Writings
Berg masquerades as an observant "orthodox rabbi." Anyone who observes his practices or reads his books, however, will discover an altogether different picture:
"It is forbidden to submit a law-suit for adjudication before gentile judges and their courts of law even if the sentence will conform to Jewish law. This is prohibited even if both parties agree to submit the case before them. Whosoever submits a law-suit for adjudication before them is a rasha (totally wicked person) and is regarded as one who reviles, blasphemes, and rebels against the Torah of Moses our Teacher! GLOSS: The Bet Din is authorized to ban and excommunicate him until he will remove the authority of the gentiles from his fellow (Jew). One excommunication also anyone who supports the one who goes to the gentiles!" (Schulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat, section 26, paragraph 1)
Following here are a few examples of Berg mocking and denying fundamental principles of traditional Judaism in his writings:
"Like the scientists, the leaders of the three main streams of Judaism today are interpreting the body of the Torah according to their own Desires to Receive and the Desire to Receive embodied in their congregations. Unhappily, whereas the sages who presented commentaries on the Talmud, from Rashi and Rabbi Tam of the Tosafot and others worked and disagreed with one another in the spirit of pure science inspired by G-d and believing totally in what they wrote, the last century has seen a turning away from the sanctity of Halacha - away from pure science in favor of applied science which, in this case, means conforming more readily and easily to the mainstream of contemporary life. The reality of gufei Torah thus is lost, abandoned and forgotten. We no longer inquire, as did the sages of the Talmud, into the nature and structure of the "cables" of observance - the physical aspect of communication with the metaphysical plane. We have become, instead, obsessed with the need to tailor Judaism to fit as many Jews as possible".
In other words, the gospel according to Berg declares that there is no longer any valid Halacha. Halachic authorities in the last century are but professional "tailors" who cut, weave and sew to order, their Halachic pronouncements seeking to accommodate the desires and caprices of as many customers as possible.
"Judaism is not concerned with conforming to a strict religious way of life in which it is perceived that if one wants to be considered a Jew he has to perform certain ritual tasks. On the contrary, the goal is to connect to metaphysical forces through which we can fulfill our Desire to Receive The Torah, properly understood, can completely fulfill all our needs, and once that goal has been achieved, the barriers that have been created between Jews and non-Jews will collapse".
And on p. 44:
"The aspect of Law does not have its customary secular implication of conformity and sanction. The Halacha of binding of Tefillin each morning is not a rule laid down by the Torah to keep the Jewish people in line. It merely bears witness to the fact that for six days in every week, the Tefillin is in tune with the paths by which energy is flowing, and that if we want to use that energy, this is the means by which we can connect with it. Halacha, properly understood, is therefore descriptive rather than prescriptive. To say, that a particular deed or action is "Halachically incorrect" is not to say that one is doing wrong, is not an observant Jew or is not fitting into the mainstream of Judaism. We are merely making the observation that the particular action is question is not properly connecting with the energy pattern available to it."
Even the most ignorant Jew knows that the word mitzvah (pl. mitzvot) means commandment, thus a Divine edict and obligation. Halacha, regardless of the etymology of that word, means specifically Jewish LAW, in the plain sense of that term.
The Torah states very explicitly that the observance of Mitzvot goes with promises of rewards in the here-and-now or the hereafter, while the violation of mitzvot incurs punishment - ranging from purely spiritual penalties to fines, flogging, excommunication and capitol punishment. [See also further on, chapter VII.]
Berg, therefore, displays sheer ignorance, stupidity, an outrageous perversion of the facts, and a total distortion of the Torah. His nonsense of mitzvot being "descriptive" (suggesting that it is optional) rather than "prescriptive" (which means obligatory), is the typical claim of licentious renegades who seek, and wallow in, anti-nomianism (discarding the legitimacy and relevance of law). The Torah, and all of Jewish tradition, makes it very clear, beyond any shadows of doubt, that to act "Halachically incorrect" is indeed to "do wrong" - which requires (even on the unintentional level) an act of repentance.
[For sources see: Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Pardes Rimonim XXVII:27; Rabbi Chaim Vital (citing Rabbi Isaac Luria), in Sha'ar Ru'ach HaKodesh, Tikun III, in Likutei Torah, section Shemot, and also in Sha'ar Hamitzvot, section Shemont. See also Rabbi Yehudah Hechassid, Sefer Chassidim, par. 204-5, and the commentaries there.]
Berg's indiscriminate and unqualified involvement with Kabbalah resulted in precisely all that these warnings predicted. Like the alchemists of old, who pursued the study of the Kabbalah and the occult sciences in order to produce gold to indulge their desires, and like all others who sought to master the Kabbalah for personal gain, Berg reduces the Torah and Jewish tradition into a manual of magic and astrology to manipulate Heavenly forces or energies to attain personal gratification or to avoid personal misfortune. Berg's "system" promises his followers that they can turn Almighty G-d into their private lacky, a genie in a bottle, to do their bidding. The Torah (Halacha), which Jewish tradition sees as the revelation of G-d's Will, G-d's commandments, G-d's prescription for the proper life, behavior and human self-discipline, are discarded by Berg as rabbinic myths, orthodox naiveté, a nefarious plot of ignorant religious fanatics to control the ignorant masses.
Slander of Rabbis and Halachic Authorities
More selections from Berg's Writings
These kat (cults) of Rabbis have been, and are still in some quarters, blemishes and disfigurements on the face of Rabbinic Judaism. "The arid field of Rabbinism, the P'shat seekers are the fools and hate knowledge." (Tractate Sanhedrin, P. 99B) These Rabbis of ill-repute attempt to conceal from the layman the facts that the foremost Jewish legalists and Talmudists were also famous Kabbalists."
What a stupendous statement! All the great authorities who warned and cautioned about the study of Zohar and Kabbalah that this is for the properly qualified only, authorities which include Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (author of the Zohar), the foremost Kabbalists like Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Rabbi Isaac Luria and Rabbi Chaim Vital, the Vilna Gaon, the Baal Shem Tov, the Siftei Kohen, and so forth, in Berg's view "posed as religious leaders," made their pronouncements for "selfish reasons," "feared for their positions," and were "afraid of embarrassment"!!! They were "cultists" - "blemishes and disfigurements on the face of Rabbinic Judaism," "Rabbis of ill-repute." Berg, knowingly fully felt that his followers are even more ignorant than he and would never bother (or know how) to check his allegedsources, invents from his fertile imagination a quotation from the Talmud, "Tractate Sanhedrin P. 99B." It so happens that his quotation does not exist either there or anywhere else. There is nothing even remotely on that whole folio of the Talmud!
And where is Berg's evidence for Rav Saadiah Gaon, Rashi, Rabbenu Tam and so many others? (If Berg assumes that a commentary on Sefer Yetzirah, implies involvement with Kabbalah, obviously he does not know anything about Sefer Yetzirah. Many, including Rav Saadia Gaon, read it from a philosophical, non-Kabbalistic - or, at least, not in the normatively understood Kabbalistic - perspective.) C. In this vein, Berg also presents an original revisionist account of history. He writes in the same introduction, pp. xliii-xliv: "The fundamental purpose of Hasidism, which borrowed from the example of the Sephardim, was to inject spirituality into the religion, as opposed to the thoughtless formalism prevailing within the liturgy and ceremonies of their fellow Jews in Lithuania, the Mitnagdim. For this reason the Hasidim did not enjoy either credibility nor popularity among MitnagdimŠ The place that was assigned to the Zohar in the scheme of prayer and ritual by the Hasidim was one of the basic points at issue between the two sectsŠ It was and is essentially a contest between the formalism of dogmatic ritual, as practiced by Mitnagdim and the spiritually-directed practices of the Hasidim. Like the Sephardic Jew, the Hasid maintained that the quintessence of the Jewish religion lay in the internal-spiritual study of Talmud, combined with a determined belief in the efficacy of prayer. Thus, both groups opposed the robotic, despiritualized form of prayer observed within all three factions of Judaism --[reform, conservative, orthodox]. The Mitnagdim, contrarily, although they could not reject outright the validity of the teachings of the saintly Tannah, R. Shimon bar Yohai and his Zohar, regarded Jewish life and religion as consisting of strict obedience to the laws based upon the literal study of the Talmud and the precepts. The Talmud, without the assistance of R. Shimon Bar Yoshai's interpretation, is, to the Kabbalist's way of thinking, an exercise in lifeless, rigid ritualism, the result of which has been an abandonment of the study of Talmud, not only by most Jews, but even by the majority of Orthodox Jews." One need not be a scholar at all to know that the foremost leader of the Mitnagdim, the fiercest opponent to Hassidism, was R. Elijah, the Vilna Gaon. To reduce that confrontation to an argument about the stature, study and use of the Zohar, is absolute ignorance about both the struggle between the Hassidim and the Mitnagdim and personality of the Vilna Gaon, his teachings and writings. The Vilna Gaon wrote some of the most incisive commentaries on the Zohar. Like few before or after him, he wrote extensively about the absolute necessity of studying the Kabbalah (see, for example, the anthology Even Shelemah). His prayer-book, and accounts of his practices and customs, follow Kabbalistic teachings and devotions. He taught Kabbalah to his disciples. Nefesh Hachayim, the major work of the Gaon's principle disciple Rabbi Chaim of Voloszin, is based completely on the Zohar and the writings of Rabbi Isaac Luria. The Lithuanian School of Kabbalah, founded by the Gaon, continued generation after generation, through the author of Aspaklaryah Hame'irah (which is partially printed in the margins of the standard editions of the Zohar) to the recent works of the late Rabbi Shelomoh Eliyashuv. So much for our alleged "doctor in comparative religion"-'s knowledge of Jewish history in general, and history and development of Kabbalah in particular.
Denying Fundamental Principles of the Torah and Inventing new ones
"We are taught from childhood that if we do something good, G-d will reward us and if we do something bad, He punishes us. Never believe it."
In other words, Berg tells you not to believe one of the "13 Fundamental Principles of Judaism" (Principle 11, in Maimonides' formulation) that "G-d rewards those who perform the commandments of the Torah and punishes those who transgresses its admonitions." According to this "greatest Kabbalist" we are not to believe the numerous passages in the Torah that speak explicitly of reward and punishment, such as Leviticus ch. 26 and Deuteronomy ch. 28-29; or in the Shema recited twice daily - Deuteronomy ch. 11:13ff., to mention but some major sources.
Very interesting. Why is it, then, that some of the greatest authorities of Judaism, including Rav Saadiah Gaon (to whom Berg makes several references and who says of the idea of reincarnation that it is no less than "madness and confusion"), R. Abraham Ibn Chinya, R. Abraham Ibn Daud and R. Joseph Albo, denied and rejected the idea of reincarnation? One need not be too great a scholar or student of religion to know that one can hardly imagine something more absurd than Berg's assertion than "Judaism is not concerned with conforming to a strict religious way of life" requiring the performance of certain religious tasks. Religious law and ritual is the very foundation, the beginning and the end, of the Torah and Judaism. Berg's teachings are no more than a poor-echo of the basic claim of the apostle Paul, in the New Testament, and later of the movement of the false Messiahs Shabbatai Tzvi and Jakob Frank, that the laws or rituals of the Torah and Jewish tradition are no longer required. So is his claim that "proper understanding of the Torah," i.e., the teachings and doctrines of Bergism , will remove "the barriers that have been created between Jews and non-Jews."
Berg's "Prophetic Powers"
A good sample of Berg's keen mystical insights, which cannot be explained by anything but an implied status of prophecy, is to be found in that same tract, The Wheels of A Soul. In chapter 12, titled 'The Man Who Returned as His Nephew,' Berg claims to have determined that a certain individual did not violate the terrible sin of suicide but must have been murdered. His "proof" is as follows. Aryeh was born on Cheshvan 9, 5719, corresponding to the civil date of November 12, 1958. [Berg did not bother to check a calendar. The 9th of Cheshvan 5719 corresponds to October 23, 1958! In my case, no connection is ever made with his birthday.] On August 19, 1978, 'Aryeh' was found dead, and his family was deeply perturbed by the question whether he committed suicide or was murdered. Thus they called on Berg to resolve this question. Berg discovered that Aryeh's brother had a baby born on the 29th of Nissan 5739 (which corresponds to April 26, 1979), and was named after his uncle. From this, Berg concludes that the baby-Aryeh must have been conceived in the preceding (Jewish) month of Elul 5738 (thus between Elul 1, 5738, corresponding to September 3, 1978, and Elul 29, 5738, corresponding to October 1, 1978). Referring to a passage in the writings of Rabbi Isaac Luria about babies corn or conceived in the month of Elul, and combining this with the fact that the dead man and his new-born nephew have the same name, Berg concluded that this "indicates that the two Aryehs were the same" (i.e. that the baby must have been an incarnation of his dead uncle). Now, from September 3 to April 26 there are 235 days, which is 33 weeks and 4 days, or 7 months and 23 days. From October 1 to April 26 are 208 days, which is 29 weeks and 4 days, or 6 months and 26 days. Normative birth occurs in the ninth month. This clearly raises the obvious question: How would Berg know that the child "must have been conceived" between the end of the 7th month and the end of the 8th month prior to birth??? Secondly, Berg claims that there is a Talmudic interpretation that says "anyone below the age of 20 cannot be condemned to death in the event of premeditated murder." In his notes he cites "Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin, p.' - leaving the page number blank. He had to leave it blank as he could not find it for the simple reason that no such quote exists there, or anywhere for that matter. To give Berg some benefit of doubt, we may assume that he might possibly have been confused by remembering something about no punishment being meted out before the age of 20, which appears in the commentary of Rashi on Genesis 23:1, learned by little children in grade 1 or 2 of a Talmud Torah. The source for this can be found in tractate Shabbat 89b and in the Jerusalem Talmud, Bikurim 2:1. The problem however, is that this refers specifically to the punishment of karet (excision of the soul) from Heaven. Indeed, a simple study of the Torah-text, undertaken by even little children and without need of any commentaries, shows that there are several cases in the Torah itself, explicitly prescribing capital punishment for youths below the age of twenty. Berg thus again displays arrogant ignorance and distortion, and on this he bases his case that the baby must have been an incarnation of his uncle. Thirdly, from his "prophetic assumption" that the baby is an incarnation of its late uncle, Berg arrives at the stupendous conclusion that the dead Aryeh must have been murdered and could not have committed the sin of suicide. For, says Berg, if he had committed suicide he would not have been reincarnated! How convenient. First he takes for granted that there is a case of reincarnation, and thus concludes that therefore there could not have been a suicide. Even a child can recognize the absurdity of this circular argument.
Berg the "Inventor"
Lies and More Lies
a) he made these works available, when most of them were out of print and difficult to obtain;
b) he published them in comfortably readable print, and affordable volumes; and
c) he added references to sources in Biblical and Rabbinic writing and numerous cross-references to the writings of Rabbi Luria.
The truth is:
High finances of the Kabbalah Centre
In the 1988 "Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax" submitted to the USA Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, covering the fiscal year July 1, 1988 to June 30, 1989, signed by Berg himself on January 14, 1990, Berg's so-called "Research Centre of Kabbalah" of New York, NY, declares: Gross Sales (minus returns and allowances) of inventory (i.e., "Cost of good sold") valued at $241, 744, for the amount of $2, 824, 449, thus a "Gross profit of $2,582,705 (two million and five hundred and eighty two thousand and seven hundred and five dollars"!!!!! This means a gross profit of 1168% (One thousand and one hundred and sixty eight percent). This is in addition to "collecting contributions" of another $648,048. Line 75 of that "Return" indicates that by the end of the fiscal year, Berg's outfit in New York had a net worth of $9,675,448, for a net gain of $6,164,550 from the beginning of the fiscal year! Against this income and profit, their functional expenses for that year are $79,311 for "program services" and $158,853 for "management and general" (including $96,758 for "depreciation, depletion etc."), for "Total functional expenses of $238,164." The same return (Part II, Statement of Functional Expenses) notes that "Research Centre of Kabbalah" acquired right to publishing over 15 books and 15 audio-video tapes, cassettes over the next 10 years worth of $2,585,000." Since their primary publications are Berg's materials, one would assume that this amount paid (largely, if not exclusively) to Berg himself who officially received compensation (salary) of only $12,000 for that year. In comparison, the smaller "Kabbalah Centre" in Toronto, Ont., Canada, reports in their Charity Return for the year ending December 31, 1989, filed on June 28, 1990, receipt of contributions in the amount of $445,780, and assets of $330,852. The Toronto-branch also claims that in 1989 it spent $25,422 for "management and administration costs," and a whopping $399,247 for alleged "charitable programs." (The return-form does not provide for information on value and income of books, tapes etc. sold.)
Is there need for saying anything more? All the above clearly shows who Berg and the Kabbalah Centre are and what they are doing. Let the people see, know and judge for themselves.