I have never been to the Kabbalah Centre, never studied with one of its teachers, and cannot comment on its practices. My sole direct exposure was to watch a videotape produced by the center, "The Power of Kabbalah: A Documentary," from 1996, in which it claims, among other things, credit for producing the Oslo accords--credit which it may be presently inclined to disavow. But no matter. I spent an infuriating hour reading "Becoming Like God" by Rabbi Michael Berg. If I can succeed in persuading one person not to buy this confused, contradictory, intellectually disreputable and Jewishly perverse volume it will be well worth the exasperation.

The Torah recounts that at the very outset of the human journey God throws Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden. They are thrown out not for what they have done as much as for what they might do: "What if he should stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and live forever?" (Genesis 3:22). Human beings must not be permitted to escape death. The Bible insists that built in to the human condition then are two fundamentals, each of them is the basis of faith, each irreversible: We are not God, and we are not immortal.

"Becoming Like God" promises two things: first to make you like God, and second, to make you immortal. We can conquer death. In one of the stranger passages in this surpassingly strange book, Berg writes, "Many consider the Bible the word of God, yet refuse to believe in the possibility of resurrection, even though it is declared in the Bible's pages."

Yet in order for there to be resurrections, there must be death.

Berg sees death as the enemy, the fate of the unenlightened. The conquest of death, resurrection and a different life is certainly part of classical Jewish belief, one that is borne of a messianic hope. Yet the word Messiah does not appear in this book.

The word Torah does not appear in this book. The word Talmud does not appear in this book. Every Jewish sage cited in the book, of whatever era or orientation, is called simply "a kabbalist." There is an oft-repeated talmudic tale that everyone masters the entire Torah before birth, and the instant before we are born an angel presses a finger above our lip, causing us to forget our learning (Niddah 30b). But since the word Talmud must not appear in the book, nor the word "Torah," the story is credited to "a kabbalist" and the angel causes us to forget not "Torah" but "everything." The idea that there are no superfluous words in the Torah, a staple of Jewish interpretation that runs through the Talmud, becomes a kabbalistic idea. The use of the term yetser hara, the evil inclination, becomes kabbalistic, not a borrowing from the Talmud. And so on. If Ravina and Rav Ashi, the redactors of the Talmud, held a copyright, the allegedly massive holdings of the Kabbalah Centre might build them a very capacious yeshiva.

"Becoming Like God" opens with a story about leaping souls known to be from the Kotzker Rebbe, whose name actually does appear elsewhere in the book. Once again, the story is told without attribution. Although this may seem academic, not only do the rabbis teach us that one who quotes in the name of another brings redemption into the world, I fear there is a deeper motivation for the relative anonymity. This is a book that seeks to rip Kabbalah from its Jewish moorings.

Anyone who opens a page of the Zohar, or any kabbalistic book, sees that Kabbalah is inextricably bound up in the Jewish tradition. In Kabbalah (real Kabbalah, that is) ritual practices are given cosmic meaning. The Talmud is quoted on each page of the Zohar; authority is granted to the Zohar because it is attributed to Rav Simeon Bar Yochai, a talmudic rabbi. Kabbalah, for the uninitiated, is a Hebrew word-that ought to provide a clue. To teach it as a universal "technology" of salvation is a travesty of tradition and a spiritual sham.

Permit me to quote Berg, lest you think that I exaggerate:

"A story is told in the Bible about Rebecca. During her pregnancy, she noticed something quite strange: Whenever she passed by certain parts of town-a place of study or prayer-she felt her child wanting to go there. At the same time, whenever she passed by other parts of town-a house of idol worshipers or a den of thieves-she felt her child wanting to go there also. The phenomenon worried her, because she thought her child might be hesitating over whether to follow the path of evil or the path of righteousness."

She decided to go to a wise man for advice, and he told her, "You are carrying two children. One twin is going to be a spiritual giant, and the other is going to be drawn to darkness." He was referring to her two sons, Jacob and Esau.

"Upon hearing this news, Rebecca had an astonishing reaction: She was not in the least bit dismayed. She was delighted."

At this point, the faint of heart might just give up. For this story does not appear in the Bible. It is a rabbinic Midrash, and a badly paraphrased one at that.

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