Jody Myers, a professor of religious studies at Cal State Northridge, has just released a new book about the Kabbalah Centre called, Kabbalah and the Spiritual Quest: The Kabbalah Centre in America. As many of you know, I spent time researching the Kabbalah Centre and Professor Myers’ conclusions are a bit different from mine. (I have not yet read Professor Myers’ book, but am basing my discussion on the Jewish Journal’s analysis of this work.)
First, the analysis seems to make a big deal out of the Kabbalah Centre’s ability to get by without money from foundations. This is quite simply because the Centre charges for almost everything that occurs in its building. From books to courses to tchotchkes to Kabbalah Water to use of the mikvah (never mind donations from wealth as well as not-so-wealthy patrons), the Centre is a retailer of all things Kabbalah. (See example below and www.kabbalah.com for many, many more examples.)
Second, just like the megachurches the Kabbalah Centre made religion accessible in order to attract a large audience. The question is, however, what constitutes faith and what constitutes marketing? In fact, the Kabbalah Centre goes out of its way to say it’s not a religion (or even mention God, they use “the Light” instead). If it’s not a religion, what is it?
Third, I’m not sure if Prof. Myer looked at this, but the big question is not how many people enter the congregation, but how many stay. Based on my interviews, a year or two seemed to be the norm.
Fourth, Prof. Myer finds justification for the red string and for scanning the Hebrew in the Zohar, the sacred text of Kabbalah. I did not find this (though I admit I am a marketer and not a theological scholar). However, scanning a language you do not understand smacks a whole lot more of marketing than mysticism.
I did meet people at the Kabbalah Centre that were thoroughly committed to what they believed was the good of Kabbalah. I also met people who were utterly turned off by the Centre’s consumerism. Some of the huckster mentality has definitely been toned down over the last few years (you’ll have to read the book for that information), but I don’t believe that they have yet found a balance between faith and profit.
Note: If you are particularly interested in this subject, you must see the piece that 20/20 did on the Kabbalah Centre. (The video is no longer available, but the transcript may be through Lexis-Nexis.)