(RNS) Philip Berg, the rabbi who made an ancient strain of Jewish mysticism known as Kabbalah popular among the Hollywood elite, died Monday (Sept. 16).
He was 86, according to the Kabbalah Centre’s website, though the Los Angeles Times says public records show he was 84. He had been in declining health since suffering a stroke in 2004.
“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,” said a statement on the Kabbalah Centre’s website.
Berg, who was born Feivel Gruberger in New York in either 1924 or 1926, established his Kabbalah Centre there in the 1960s. After years of theological disputes with orthodox Jewish leaders, he moved the center to Los Angeles in 1993.
Soon after, he started attracting celebrities such as Madonna — Kabbalah’s most famous adherent — Gwyneth Paltrow, Britney Spears, and Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, who held their 2005 wedding at the center. The red bracelets associated with the religious tradition soon became a red-carpet staple.
“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,” the statement said. “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 Centre has been under the leadership of Berg’s wife, Karen, and two sons, Yehuda and Michael, since his 2004 stroke. It has also been under scrutiny by the IRS for tax evasion, and an investigation may still be ongoing, according to the Los Angeles Times.
(Trey Barrineau writes for USA Today.)