Founder of the Kabbalah Center in Los Angeles, Rabbi Philip Berg, also known as "Rav," passed away in a Beverly Hills hospital, Monday morning. Rabbi Berg was famous for drawing celebrity followers to kabbalah, including actors Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, singer Britney Spears and singer-actress Madonna.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the center gave his age as 86 but public records showed him to be 84. He had been in ill health since suffering a stroke in 2004. Berg will be laid to rest in the holy city of Tzfat in northern Israel.
"The Rav has left us with incredible knowledge through thousands of hours of teaching, examples of courage that we will never forget, and the comfort of a Kabbalah Centre that we can all call home," read a statement on the center's website.
"Kabbalah teaches that the body is an instrument to do the work of the soul in this physical reality. When the body's work is done, the soul travels to the upper worlds to serve without limitation. Today we believe the Rav has begun to share with us from above, and we will all happily remain connected to and inspired by the Rav's soul and his vision."
The Kabbalah "Trend"
Berg's vision was seen as controversial in Jewish Orthodox circles, who were angered by what they saw as his "cheapening" of kabbalah through gimmickry and accused him of not actually having any qualifications in the field of Jewish mysticism.
In-depth study of Kabbalah has been considered throughout the generations as a holy field reserved exclusively for outstanding scholars above the age of 40. The new "trend" of teaching the text to anyone, including non-Jews, by someone who was not officially ordained as a Rabbi was seen as an affront to the Zohar, a book considered to be the most central kabbalistic text.
Despite those who were against his teachings, in total, Rabbi Berg's followers are estimated to be around four million, with students in Kabbalah Centers all over the world.
Berg is survived by his wife Karen and eight children who "will continue their work and vision for the Centre," the website said.