Philip Berg, rabbi to the stars and dean of the worldwide Kabbalah Center organization, died Tuesday in Los Angeles after battling disease. The prominent rabbi, believed to have been 86 at his death, was known for spreading Kabbalah, a branch of Jewish mysticism, around the world, to Jews and non-Jews alike.
The Kabbalah Center’s website released the following statement: “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. 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.”
Berg was born to an Orthodox family in New York as Shraga Feivel Gruberger in 1927 or 1929 and was ordained as a rabbi in 1951. Following the death of his Kabbalah mentor, Rabbi Yehuda Brandwein, in 1969, Berg went on to set up the Kabbalah Center organization with his wife Karen. Together they created a worldwide empire, comprising 40 centers across the globe.
The Los Angeles center is home to such celebrity followers as Madonna, Britney Spears, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, who famously sported the Kabbalah red string on their wrists.
Berg has been subjected to criticism and was completely boycotted by the ultra-Orthodox community for ignoring Jewish practice in teaching Kabbalah by inducting women and non-Jews into the secrets of the mystical Jewish philosophy. The rabbi’s followers, however, denounce such criticism, and credit Berg with making Kabbalah a household term.
Upon news of Berg’s death, followers congregated at the LA center, where a ceremony was held in his honor. The rabbi will be buried in the Israeli city of Safed, which has been associated with Kabbalah for centuries.