Is Madonna’s Kabbalah, Kabbalah?
As far as I know, no sect of fundamentalist Judaism promotes sex through a hole in a sheet (although I would totally totally love to write a Kinsey-style review of all the other unusual sexual practices in Jewish fundamentalist communities). I find the question amusing and I always share my explanation: I believe that myth grew out of seeing tzitzis hanging out to dry on clothes lines. Those square, ritual garments that fundamentalist Jewish men wear under their shirts look very much like a small sheet with a hole in the middle.
The Kabbalah comments I find less amusing. They annoy the heck out of me. Ever since Madonna became interested in the Kabbalah Centre in the 90’s, with a handful of other celebrities trailing after her, Kabbalah has become a (pop/new-agey) cultural phenomenon. Just the other day, I was eating lunch at the communal table of my favorite macrobiotic restaurant, when the woman across from me showed me her red string bracelet and raved about her experiences at the Kabbalah Centre.
“That’s not Kabbalah!” I wanted to scream, like I always want to, when people bring this up. But of course, I didn’t. I just smiled, nodded, ended the conversation and finished my seitan sandwich in exasperated silence.
The Kabbalah Centre is an international organization founded by Feivel Gruberger (formally of Williamsburg, now known as Philip Berg). Already popular and well known, it’s recently re-surfaced in the news because of investigations of its financial mismanagement of its charities, including a school in Mali it was involved in, in partnership with Madonna.
“That’s not Kabbalah!” I want to scream, when I read coverage of this latest story.
My annoyance is a vestige of my childhood, fundamentalist self. The Jewish fundamentalist community views this narishkiet, this foolishness, as a a vile appropriation of the sacred wisdom of the ‘authentic’ Kabbalistic practice. It’s strange that I still get so annoyed as a secular adult, because, when I think about it, I am no longer certain who, if any of these parties, are actually ‘authentic’.
See, I’ve never learned much Kabbalah. Sure, I had a class in seminary on the mystical meanings of the Hebrew alphabet, but beyond that, as a young woman, the only glimpses I got of this esoteric practice restricted by Jewish law to wise Jewish men over the age of forty, was through an enchanting historical novel I read as a kid, about Shabtai Tzvi. He was the seventeenth century leader of a dramatic Messianic movement, who experimented liberally and dangerously with the Kabbalah he studied. I loved the strange details I gleaned from the story, but I knew I’d never be allowed to know more.
I also don’t know very much about the Kabbalah Centre. I’ve never attended one of their events or read their literature. I’ve only had access to second-hand reports of their beliefs.
That said, who says what fundamentalists say is the authentic ‘Kabbalah’ is authentic, or what the Kabbalah Centre practices, isn’t?
Let’s say, as fundamentalists would probably claim, that Kabbalah describes an actual, objective reality in the world, a truth. That Kabbalah is a science. That it’s similar for example, to geology, which describes external objective truths about rocks. If this is the case, and ancient Kabbalistic teachers were talking about these objective truths, who is to say the leaders at the Kabbalah Centre haven’t also accessed that same body of truths or different pieces of that same ‘science’ of truths, making them equally ‘accurate’ and ‘authentic’?
If there is no actual objective truth in the world that Kabbalah is describing, and Kabbalah is just a story passed down over generations, like the tale of Sleeping Beauty, can one storyteller be ‘more authentic’ than the other? Both (fundamentalists and the Bergs) are then making up lies, claiming them to be true,misleading people with various consequences. The version of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ that the fundamentalists tell might be more similar to the story told in the past hundred or so years, but is it more authentic? More valid? If they are both lies, is that question relevant anymore?
My husband, a terrific guy of innumerable talents and immeasurable brilliance, is awful at washing dishes. He’ll spent ten minutes soaking a dinner plate under the kitchen faucet and scrubbing it with soap. The next morning, I’ll be using that gleaming plate for my toast, and I’ll find a hardened crumb of mashed potato under the rim. Leaving a fundamentalist community is kind of like that. Although I’ve ripped off most of the veil that was glued to my eyes as a religious child, every once in a while, I’ll find a little forgotten scrap still stuck to my eyeball, obscuring my vision. It’s time to pull this scrap off.
I will stop senselessly defending the authenticity of the world of my childhood. Let Madonna have her Kabbalah, let the fundamentalists have theirs. If they are the same or if one is more truthful than the other or if one is sacred and the other profane, I’ll leave it up to the god I no longer believe in to decide and judge.Printable Version