But what's generated the most buzz by far are rumors about the ceremony itself. Before Britney and Kevin acceded to parental pressure last week and decided to wed in a Catholic ceremony in a California monastery, it was reported in a widely reprinted story that Spears was planning the "first celebrity Kabbalah marriage." Readers were told this wedding would "take place beneath a traditional Jewish canopy known as a chuppah, with wedding vows inspired by the cult religion."
Now it seems that another celebrity kabbalah-loving duo will take Britney's place at the altar. Rumors are flying that actors Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher will tie the knot in a "kabbalah ceremony" as part of their mysticism-themed pilgrimage to Tel Aviv next week in honor of the Jewish new year. But what would a kabbalah wedding ceremony be like?
Here's what we know for sure. Though Kabbalistic customs, practices, and beliefs have influenced traditional Judaism over the centuries, Kabbalah is not a "faith," or even a "cult religion," no matter what the gossip columnists might write. Though Kabbalists wrote many Jewish prayers and hymns, there is no specifically Kabbalistic liturgy.
Kabbalah (the Hebrew word for "tradition" or "received") refers to a body of esoteric, mystical Jewish teachings that flowered in medieval Provence and Germany, but whose roots extend back to Biblical times, and which continues to evolve--in a staggering variety of manifestations--today. Kabbalists have sometimes wandered far afield of what we think of as traditional Judaism, cultivating ecstatic trances, incorporating Neoplatonic, Pythagorean, Sufist, and Gnostic ideas into their metaphysics, practicing numerology, astrology, and palmistry, and believing in reincarnation. But the bedrock of Kabbalah is undeniably Jewish. Kabbalah teaches that the Torah is the revealed word of God; the universe itself, it says, was created out of Hebrew letters.
Not that the Kabbalists weren't iconoclastic. Recognizing how perilously close to heresy some of their ideas skirted, as well as the psychological risks attendant upon the intense religiosity they cultivated, until recently its teachers flatly refused to accept students who weren't married, male, deeply versed in Torah and Talmud, and committed to obeying Jewish law . "Even after one has achieved the spirituality of an angel, one must still abide by the commandments like a simple Jew," declared the Baal Shem Tov, the mystical 18th-century rabbi who founded modern Hasidism.
So if Kabbalah is so Jewish, how did the Catholic-raised Madonna and the Baptist-raised Britney Spears, along with Demi and Ashton, find their way to it? As early as the 1400s, there were Christian adaptations of Kabbalah. Kabbalistic texts and teachings have also had a significant influence on alchemy, Rosicrucianism, and other occult movements, and, through them, on a vast array of contemporary beliefs that fall under the rubric "New Age." But that is not why Kabbalah has been cropping up on the gossip pages. The Kabbalah of Madonna, Demi, Barbra Streisand, Britney, Posh Spice and so many other celebrities is very much the creation of one man, Philip Berg.
According to a recent article in the Village Voice: "Nearly 4 million people have walked through various Kabbalah Centre doors since its first course was given in 1969 on the campus of Tel Aviv University. The first U.S. center opened in 1972; there are about 40 branches worldwide, the latest in Warsaw (the largest are in Tel Aviv and Los Angeles, with about 1,000 students each; Manhattan is quickly catching up). About 20,000 people visit the website kabbalah.com each month."
In Berg's teachings, Kabbalah is a "spiritual technology" that "promises nothing less than a world wholly free of chaos, destruction, and death." The wisdom of Kabbalah, he says, is meant for all creeds--"Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and all humanity. After all, everyone is entitled to happiness and a fulfilling and productive life free of chaos." Many Jewish leaders have deplored Berg's version of Kabbalah as watered down Judaism, "snake oil for the soul." Others see it as a sinister cult.
So if you want to know what a Kabbalah wedding would look like, you need search no further than the Kabbalah Centre, whose invention it is. Their website explains the sort of wedding Demi and Ashton might be planning: "While many of the customs seem to be Jewish," it reads, "the kabbalistic wedding ceremony is full of understanding, wisdom, and connections that essentially sew the two soul-halves together, creating one new whole soul. There are seven blessings recited in this process, reading from the Zohar, from Psalms, and other key factors."
In other words, it would look pretty much like a traditional Jewish wedding, with some additional readings from the Zohar, the central, 13th century Kabbalistic text, and some mystical interpretations. The seven blessings mentioned on the website are direct from a traditional Jewish wedding (they're called the sheva brachot and are for wine, Creation, the Creation of humanity, human reproduction, the future of Zion, the happiness of the bride and groom, and the reign of love and peace in a restored Jerusalem).
Presumably, as she'd do in a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony, Demi will walk in a circle around Ashton (foiling any demons who might wish to spoil their union); perhaps a ketubah (a Jewish wedding contract) would be read, answering the question of whether the two stars signed pre-nups. Ashton would stamp on a wine glass.
But if there is no such thing as a traditional Kabbalah wedding, Kabbalah is downright lusty on the subject of marital relations. Indeed, the Zohar and other major Kabbalistic texts are filled with blush-inducing erotic metaphors. At the very heart of the Kabbalah are the Sefirot, the ten divine emanations by which God enters the world. As sacred as they are, the Sefirot are described in the most carnal of terms. Binah, or divine understanding, is the womb; she receives seed from Hokhmah, divine wisdom, and gives birth to the seven lower Sefirot. The Shekhinah, the immanent spirit of God, is feminine in the Kabbalah's depictions; she is the bride of Tif'eret, the glory of God, "the Holy One, blessed be He."
When human beings perform mitzvot (fulfill divine commandments), the Shekhinah is aroused with desire; she is penetrated by Yesod, the phallus or conduit through which the forces of divine creation are released into the physical world. Human lovemaking mirrors this divine union, uniting the corporeal and the spiritual realms. "When sexual union is for the sake of heaven, there is nothing as holy or pure," declares the Iggeret ha-Qodesh, an anonymous 13th century manuscript. "The union of man and woman, when it is right, is the secret of civilization." (This passage appears in "The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism," translated and edited by Daniel C. Matt.)
As anyone who has watched Britney's videos, or has read rumors of Demi and Ashton's public displays of affection, these stars are far from shy about flaunting their sexuality. A "top Hollywood psychologist" worries that this bodes badly, especially for Britney. "She's so consumed with sex she's neglecting herself," Dr. Lillian Glass has been quoted as saying. "She looks terrible and this is not a good thing for her own well being as well as her career. Too much sex can be hazardous to your health." But maybe Britney's just following the lessons of Kabbalah. In the words of the poet Kenneth Rexroth, "For the Kabbalist the ultimate sacrament is the sexual act, carefully organized and sustained as the most perfect mystical trance."