Its ubiquitous red string can be seen on the wrists of A list celebrities ranging from Demi Moore to Britney Spears. Madonna was among the first of the public figures to sing its praises, and it has since caught on like wild fire among the well heeled and famous. What is it? It’s a philosophy, it’s a roadmap for a better way of life, It’s Kabbalah, and it’s coming to a town near you.
Kaballah may look like the latest fad to sweep throughHollywood, but in reality it has been practiced in various incarnations for thousands of years, originally by orthodox Jews. Most orthodox Jews believe it began with secrets God revealed to Adam, although there is an opposing view that believes it began with a message given to Moses by God onMountSainai and the majority of orthodox Jews subscribe to its authority. Kabbala literally means “what has been handed down,” It is believed that just as there is a written scripture, “the revealed Torah,” there is also a “Hidden” Torah which describes the inner meaning of the Torah and reveals the secrets of the universe and the nature of God and man. It is this hidden Torah that is the basis of Kabbalah. In essence Kabbalah is the mystical aspect of Judaism just as Sufism is the mystical aspect of Islam.
How does this relate to Kabbalah’s latest incarnation as a pop cultural phenomenon and latest fad of the rich and famous? Madonna is not Jewish, nor is Demi Moore, so what are they espousing if not the original teachings of the traditional Jewish Kabbalah?
Over the centuries Kabbalah has attracted attention outside of the Jewish community and by the nineteenth century many western esoteric groups had incorporated its teachings into the bodies of their own religions. Today many western mystical practitioners practice Kabbalistic concepts, and a person does not have to be an orthodox Jew to be a practitioner.Western Kabbalah has been utilized and practiced for hundreds of years and is considered by many to be a spiritual tradition in its own right.
There are also many practitioners of what is known as Christian Kabbalah, which was born during the Renaissance as a result of studies and translations done by Christian Hebraists. The Christian Hebraists studying the Kabbalah believed there was proof of Christian doctrine in its teachings, and Johann Kemper was convinced it contained the Christian Doctrine of the trinity. Ultimately this led to a fusion of Christian and Kabbalic mysticism and Christian Kabbalism was born.
Modern day practitioners of esoteric Kabbalah believe it to be a way to gain spiritual enlightenment and fulfillment, erase pain and suffering from everyday life, and tap into the potential for greatness that some believe every human being is born with. Although it contains many elements of orthodox Jewish Kaballism such as the belief that it reveals the mysteries of the universe and the nature of mankind, it is not restricted to traditional Jewish doctrine and is open to study by all, although this is a matter of contention for some Orthodox Jews.
So what about the red string so prominently displayed on the wrists of many celebrities? Kabbalism focuses on positive and negative energies and the string is a tool for spiritual and physical protection. It is believed to have been used by ancient Kabbalists to eliminate feelings of jealousy and resentment from the wearer and protect the individual from the evil eye which is an ancient belief held by all of humanity that jealousy and envy emanate through the eyes, hence the term. Kabbalists believe negative energy can have a detrimental effect on health and well being, prevent people from achieving their goals and cause them to lose what they have. Luminaries such as Plato and Aristotle spoke of the evil eye and there is even reference to it in the bible. Ships steered by the ancient Greeks had eyes painted on the prows to ward against it, and the Romans referred to it as oculus malus. In light of its ancient purpose it is no surprise that modern day celebrity practitioners of Kabbalah with their envy inducing wealth and fame and so much to lose would be so eager to tap into the supposed power of the little red string.
Kabbalah has attracted some controversy as of late, particularly the Kabbalah Center whose home baseis inLos Angeles,California. TheKabbalahCenter to its proponents is a spiritual organization that teaches the Kabbalah to all individuals regardless of their religion or ethnicity in a simple and accessible way. To its detractors who claim it is non Jewish it is problematic because it is also attended by Jews, and some forms of Judaism prohibit Jews from participating in non Jewish rituals. Orthodox Jewish Kabbalists also decry the organization’s open door policy of allowing participation by women and non Jews, and the organization has been accused of trying to lure in the wealthy with promises of better health and more happiness. The Centre has been associated with superstars such as Madonna, Lindsey Lohan and Donna Karan. The Centre has also received criticism for comments made by a senior figure in the Centre who expressed the belief that the Holocaust occurred because the Jews did not use the Kabbalah. In spite of the controversy the Centre remains wildly popular, particularly among the wealthy and famous, and overall public interest in Kabballah is showing no signs of diminishing.
There are many who feel the Sacredness of the Kaballah has been tarnished by its emergence as a pop cultural phenomenon and although this is understandable is not necessarily true. Any philosophy whose teachings transcend religious barriers and offers ways for people of all faiths to live better lives and be more compassionate is valuable, and that value is not necessarily diminished by celebrity endorsement. A large part of the beauty and appeal of Kabbalah is its accessibility to all those from all walks of life, rich or poor. Its relevance has been acknowledged for thousands of years, and it remains intact, celebrity endorsement or not.