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Op-Ed: Madonna Brings Religion to the Jews

The Israelis will take recognition anywhere they can get it, so who am I to complain if it comes from Hollywood's Kabbalahh fringe?
Published: Tuesday, September 21, 2004 11:07 PM


The Israelis will take recognition anywhere they can get it, so who am I to complain if it comes from Hollywood's Kabbalahh fringe?

Good enough. I'll take that headline - "Madonna Takes Israel By Storm" - over the usual, and we all know the usual.

When's the last time we had good news from our relatives in Israel? And if you're Jewish or Christian, you've got a relative in Israel.

Evangelical Christians know what I'm talking about, and thank goodness for them, and okay, thank goodness for Madonna.

She's been there in Israel over the High Holy Days to "energize her interest in Kabbalah mysticism."

I refuse to go negative on the Material Girl's embrace of Kabbalah. I refuse to believe that this is just another Hollywood craze.

Israel is world-class for producing miracles in technology and medical science. We don't read much about that.

So let it be Madonna and her entourage that make the news, an entourage that includes Donna Karen, Marla Maples, Britney Spears, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, and a cast of thousands, all of them Kabbalah converts, if not necessarily Jewish. In fact, you don't have to be Jewish.

Show biz flair will do, if that's what Israel needs to lift its spirits. The Israelis aren't asking for much, not even love. Just somebody to stop by and say, "Hello!"

Anwar Sadat paid a visit, said hello, and the Israelis were so grateful, they said, "Here, on your way back, take the Sinai."

No such gifts for Richard Gere, Chris Noth, Madonna and a few others who made the trip, but still, gratitude.

The prophet Bilaam said that Israel is fated to dwell alone; it will not be counted among the nations. Says so in the Hebrew Bible.

He was wrong. Israel is counted practically every day in the United Nations. The Hebrews can't seem to escape being scorned and condemned.

So thank you, Madonna and company? and so what if they probably don't know Aleph from Tav, a pilgrimage is a pilgrimage.

Or, to put it in movie slang, they're paying Israel homage.

So she isn't totally versed in Torah and Talmud, which is supposed to come first, before you hit Kabbalah.

So she is a woman and not a man - another rule for Kabbalah.

So she hasn't reached that hoary great age of learning and wisdom before anyone is allowed to turn even the first page of such mysteries.

Who has time to go through all those steps?

This is America, home of one-stop shopping, the Quick Fix, and most important, Satisfaction Guaranteed.

So, of course, why not spirituality while-you-wait?

When my computer doesn't come on the instant I give it a click, I start pulling my hair. Even 10 seconds is too long.

On this much we can all agree; going straight to Jewish mysticism from Start, without any training in between, is like me playing center field for the New York Yankees tomorrow. Those bus rides in the minors and Triple A Ball are a waste when all it takes is a phone call to George Steinbrenner.

That's Hollywood and Kabbalah. Quick, get me Safed and I want the En-Sof, now!

The En-Sof is unlimited light, or, as others define it, "without end," but along any interpretation, it's all concealed truth and terribly esoteric.

But where does it start for a star? Probably in Beverly Hills at the dog grooming boutique, and next thing you know, though you were raised Catholic, your name is Esther, your mentor is a rabbi (from Central Casting?) the hot beach read is authored by a 16th century mystic, Isaac Luria of Safed, and off you go into Kabbalah.

Safed, founded about 70 CE, is still in Israel and is still the center of Hebrew mysticism after all these centuries. Can Arafat make such a claim?

Tradition has it that the Messiah will arrive in Jerusalem from Safed. That's where scholars, many arriving from the Spanish expulsion, gathered with Luria during those Middle Ages to pick up where Shimon Bar-Yochai left off. This Roman-era sage is said to be the father of the Zohar, the text for all Jewish mysticism thereafter.

Luria was chief among those who developed the proposition that the Almighty contracted (or distanced) Himself to create a void for us to fill. That's called zimzum. Don't say, "Huh?" or else I start charging for lessons, like some Hollywood rabbis, and I don't know much more than they do.

But the idea, as I get it on the run, is that God's holiness is so immense that if He were to join us down here, we'd all be consumed by the fire of His brilliance. So, as you'll recall from Sunday school, "In the beginning? all was formless and void." "Void" is the key word. First came the void, then the rest of us.

There's no room on earth for both at the same time - humanity and God. It's one or the other. How does that bring us closer to God? I don't know.

I don't live in Safed, and I don't live in Hollywood. Besides, Kabbalah is too sacred and too deep for me. I haven't paid my dues. Even true scholars emerge from those depths shaken and sometimes insane. You cannot touch such flaming spirituality without getting scorched.

If you want to get high on religion, fine. But if you're getting Kabbalah from some Hollywood rabbi/guru, you're getting bronzed not from the sun but from a tanning salon.

But anyway, thanks Madonna. Your search for "unlimited light" is commendable.

Meantime, you've shed your own star-light upon a people who live uncounted among the nations, and for that, kol hakavod.