Rabbi Philip Berg
Shraga Feivel Gruberger
August 20, 1927
|Died||September 16, 2013|
|Buried||Safed Jewish cemetery, Israel|
Rabbi Berg was a great populariser of Ashlagian Kabbalah. Having written a number of books on the subject of Kabbalah, Berg expanded its access to a greater audience than traditionally permitted, one which included secular Jews, non-Jews and women. Berg initially aimed at returning alienated Jews to their heritage through the teachings of Yehuda Ashlag, however he later adopted a more universalitic approach.
There is disagreement about whether Berg's teachings, as relayed through the Kabbalah Centre, have sufficient grounds and/or genuine authority according to Jewish law, as they include some dogmas and translations differing markedly from those of more-traditional Kabbalists. Some Jewish scholars emphatically reject such teachings, deeming them as foreign to both the Kabbalah in particular and to Judaism in general.
In poor health following a stroke in 2004, he died on September 16, 2013.
Berg was born as Shraga Feivel Gruberger in 1929 in Brooklyn, to an Orthodox Jewish family. His father, Max Gruberger, immigrated from Nadvorna in Galizia, a town now in Ukraine and worked as a clothes presser in Williamsburg. In his youth, Berg underwent Talmudic education at Lakewood Yeshiva under Rabbi Aharon Kotler. He later returned to Williamsburg and in 1951 at age 22 he received ordination from Torah VaDaat Yeshiva in Williamsburg. His first wife was named Rivkah Brandwein with whom he had eight children. Berg went into the business world and worked as an insurance agent for New York Life. He also became involved in real estate and by 1962 it is claimed he was a millionaire. It is likely that during his career in the business world he was called Philip as it is usual practice among jews with Yiddish names to use an English equivalent to be more comfortable in a secular environment.
It was Rivka's uncle, Rabbi Yehuda Brandwein, dean of a Yeshiva named Kol Yehuda, whom Berg first met on a trip to Israel in 1962, and who would become his Kabbalistic mentor. Brandwein was a Hasidic Rabbi from the Stretiner Hasidic Dynasty and a close student in the Kabbalistic circle around Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag. He was also the head of the Religious Department of the Israeli national workers union, Histadrut. Brandwein established Yeshivat Kol Yehuda, named after his Rebbe Yehuda Ashlag, as a continuation of Ashlag's yeshiva-publishing house "Beit Ulpana Itur Rabbanim". The uniqueness of Kol Yehuda was that students focused on kabbalistic study. The students would also receive a salary to cover their living expenses so they could devote themselves to full-time learning, however Brandwein faced difficulty in finding funds for the yeshiva and publishing. Berg had become Brandwein's book distributor and fund raiser in the U.S and it is likely he was encouraged by Brandwein to established the "National Institute for the Research in Kabbalah" in New York in 1965 to aid the Yeshiva.
Berg was also studying with another American student of Yehuda Ashlag who was living in Brooklyn, Rabbi Levi Krakovsky, and Krakovsky was interested in publishing his books through the National Institute, however Brandwein did not agree. In Brandwein's letters to Berg, he clarifies that he did not encourage seeking or accepting funds from non-Jews for the Yeshiva as this was forbidden according to Jewish Law. Eventually Brandwein allowed Berg to teach one student Kabbalah and in 1966 Berg received an additional rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Brandwein which acknowledged his knowledge of kabbalah, conferring him to the highest rabbinical rank.
After Brandwein's death in 1969, Berg returned to the U.S. and began working again with his former secretary and future wife, Karen, on the condition that she let him teach her Kabbalah, a discipline he claimed was reserved exclusively for men. In 1971 Philip and Karen married and traveled to Israel. It was there that they changed their surname from Gruberger to Berg as it was a common practice to shorten a European Jewish surname upon moving to Israel. In 1973 the Bergs returned to Queens, where they established their full-time headquarters during the 1980s.
Berg had been ill since suffering a stroke in 2004. He died on September 16, 2013. He was generally reported to be 86 (although the Los Angeles Times reported that according to public records he was 84). He is survived by his wife Karen and two sons, Yehuda and Michael who have led the Centre since his stroke. He also had eight children from his first marriage.
The Research Centre of KabbalahEdit
Berg was initially involved in the founding of a publishing house called "The National Institute for the Research in Kabbalah" in July 1965 along with another American student of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, Rabbi Levi I. Krakovsky who died the following year. This Institute was most likely a fundraising branch of Rabbi Brandwein’s Yeshiva Kol Yehuda as books published by the Institute have Rabbi Brandwein named as the senior figure while Berg was listed as its president.
Krakovsky was an emissary of [Yehuda Ashlag’s Yeshiva “Itur Rabbanim” and had translated some of Rabbi Ashlag’s writings into English to support the Yeshiva. He also wrote his own English introductory books to Kabbalah and established his own Yeshiva in America in the 1930s for the purpose of teaching Kabbalah in English. Krakovsky’s writings were also published by the new Institute.
In 1970 Berg legally changed the name of the National Institute to “The Research Centre of Kabbalah” and began publishing books of his own establishing an independent Centre. His writings ranged from a basic introduction and explanation of Lurianic and Ashlagian Kabbalah to astrology and reincarnation. In 1971 Berg moved to Israel where he strengthened the Centre, gave lectures and disseminated his books. In 1980 he established a Yeshiva “Or Hozer le’Limud ha-Nigleh ve ha-Nistar” ("Returning Light for the study of the revealed and the concealed") in Tel Aviv which circulated various kabbalistic works. On his return to the United States in 1984 with a number of Israeli students called the "Hevre" (friends) Berg expanded the Centre to more locations.
The aim of the now independent Research Centre was to resolve a widespread spiritual crisis affecting Jews, where many found traditional Judaism dry and unfulfilling and large numbers of young Jews were seeking eastern spiritual practices, involving themselves in dangerous cults or resorting to atheism. Berg believed Judaism was being taught dogmatically and was determined to show the answers to inquisitive soul searching Jews could be found in Kabbalah.
There is some disagreement over who succeeded Rabbi Brandwein as dean of Yeshiva Kol Yehuda. Berg has claimed to have replaced Rabbi Brandwein in that role, but that claim is disputed by Brandwein's son Avraham, who is the current dean. The Los Angeles Task Force on Cults and Missionaries claimed he was not affiliated with the 80-year-old Yeshiva Kol Yehuda in Jerusalem, once headed by Berg's ex-uncle-in-law by his first wife, the late Rabbi Brandwein, although a letter sent to him by Brandwein in July 1968 indicated he was President of the Yeshiva.
In 2010, the Internal Revenue Service launched an investigation, reportedly investigating whether funds were directed to the personal enrichment of the Berg family, and subpoenaed financial records of the organization and two affiliated charities connected to Madonna. The centre called the allegations “merit-less” and said it “intends to defend the case vigorously”.
Publications of Phillip S. Berg and The Research Centre of KabbalahEdit
- Philip S. Berg, The Wheels of a Soul. Research Centre of Kabbalah, 1984. ISBN 0-943688-13-2
- Philip S. Berg, Astrology, the Star Connection: The Science of Judaic Astrology. Research Centre of Kabbalah, 1987. ISBN 0-943688-37-X
- Philip S. Berg, Kabbalah for the Layman, Vol. I. Research Centre of Kabbalah, 1981. ISBN 0-943688-00-0
- Philip S. Berg, Kabbalah for the Layman, Vol. II. Research Centre of Kabbalah, 1988. ISBN 0-943688-83-3
- Philip S. Berg, Kabbalah for the Layman, Vol. III. Research Centre of Kabbalah, 1988. ISBN 0-943688-70-1
- Philip S. Berg, Kabbalistic Astrology Made Easy. Research Centre of Kabbalah, 1999. ISBN 1-57189-053-X
- Rav P. S. Berg, Kabbalistic Astrology: And the Meaning of Our Lives. Kabbalah Publishing, 2006. ISBN 1-57189-556-6
- Philip S. Berg, Power of Aleph Beth, Volume 1. Research Centre of Kabbalah, 1988. ISBN 0-943688-10-8
- Philip S. Berg, Power of Aleph Beth, Volume 2. Research Centre of Kabbalah, 1988. ISBN 0-943688-57-4
- Philip S. Berg, Time Zones. Research Centre of Kabbalah, 1990. ISBN 0-924457-01-5
- Yehuda L. Ashlag, Compiled and edited by Philip S. Berg, An Entrance to The Zohar. Research Centre of Kabbalah, 1974. ISBN 0-943688-34-5
- Yehuda Ashlag, Compiled and edited by Philip S. Berg, An Entrance to The Tree of Life. Research Centre of Kabbalah, 1977. ISBN 0-943688-35-3
- Philip S. Berg, The Kabbalah Connection. Research Centre of Kabbalah, 1983. ISBN 0-943688-03-5
- Yehuda L. Ashlag, Translated by Rabbi Levi I. Krakovsky, Ten Luminous Emanations, Volume 1. Research Centre of Kabbalah, 1969. ISBN 0-943688-29-9
- Yehuda L. Ashlag, Compiled and edited by Philip S. Berg, Ten Luminous Emanations, Volume 2. Research Centre of Kabbalah, 1973. ISBN 0-943688-09-4
- Rabbi Levi I. Krakovsky, The Light of Redemption. Research Centre of Kabbalah, 1970. ASIN B0006F83A8
- Rabbi Moses C. Luzzatto, General Principles of The Kabbalah. Research Centre of Kabbalah, 1970. ASIN B0006C9K1W
- Petition for Naturalization of Max Gruberger, Philip Berg's father accessed at Ancestry.com. Selected U.S. Naturalization Records - Original Documents, 1790-1974 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2009.
- Myers 2007, p. 33.
- Myers 2007, p. 51.
- "Rabbi Philip Berg".
- Harriet Ryan (September 16, 2013). "Kabbalah Centre founder Philip Berg dead at 84". Los Angeles Times.
- Udovich, Mim. "Kabbalah Chronicles: Inside Hollywood's hottest cult", Radar Online, June 15, 2005. (Copy at "Archived copy". Archived from the original on October 24, 2007. Retrieved 2006-08-05.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link))
- Lappin, Elena (2004-12-11). "Elena Lappin investigates Kabbalah: part one". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-02-24.
- 28 Questions and Answers About Kabbalah - Kabbalah Learning Centre 1992
- Myers 2007, p. 34.
- Csillag, Ron (18 March 1993). "The Kabbalah Centre". The Canadian Jewish News.
- Myers 2007, p. 35.
- Yedid Nafshi. Press of the Kol Yehuda Yeshiva. 1997. ISBN 978-1571890405.
- Myers 2007, p. 39.
- "Rabbi Philip Berg". Daily Telegraph. 2013-09-20. Retrieved 2013-09-21.
- "Rabbi Philip Berg, Who Updated Jewish Mysticism, Dies at 86". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 September 2013.
- The Kabbalah Centre and Contemporary Spirituality Jody Myers
- Meir, Jonathan (January 2013). "The Beginnings of Kabbalah in America". Aries. 13 (2). doi:10.1163/15700593-13130204.
- Krakovsky, If eventually - why not now? Kabbalah Foundation (1936).
- Myers 2007, p. 52.
- Ellin, Abby; Sacks, Adam J. "The Kabbalah Centre Wants your Heart - and your Money: The String that Binds" in The Village Voice, August 11, 2004.
- Berg 2010, p. 343.
This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (November 2010) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
- Daphne Merkin, In Search of the Skeptical, Hopeful, Mystical Jew That Could Be Me, New York Times Magazine, April 13, 2008
- Tamara Ikenberg, Madonna, et al. have watered down Jewish mysticism, scholars charge Louisville Courier-Journal, August 26, 2004
- David Rowan, Chief Rabbi sounds alarm on mystical Kabbalah group The Times, April 3, 2004
- Robert Eshman, L.A.'s Kabbalah Learning Center seems to attract many searching Jews, but criticism of it is widespread The Jewish Journal, February 14, 1997
- Aynat Fishbein, The Cabal of the Cabbalah Centre Exposed: New Relations "Tel Aviv" (An Israeli magazine) September 1994, pp. 31–35
- Nadya Labi, What Profits Kabbalah? Time Magazine, November 24, 1997
- The Truth about the Kabbalah Centre Task Force on Cults and Missionaries, Los Angeles, CA 1995
- Myers, Jody (November 2007). Kabbalah and the Spiritual Quest:The Kabbalah Centre in America. ISBN 0275989402
- Berg, Michael (February 2010). Beloved of My Soul, Letters of our master and teacher Rav Yehuda Tzvi Brandwein to his beloved student Kabbalist Rav Berg. ISBN 978-1-57189-645-2
- Jody Myers. Kabbalah and the Spiritual Quest: The Kabbalah Centre in America, London 2007.
- Boaz Huss. "The New Age of Kabbalah: Contemporary Kabbalah, the New Age and postmodern spirituality", Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, 6 (2006), pp. 107–125
- Jonatan Meir. "The Revealed and the Revealed within the Concealed: On the Opposition to the "Followers" of Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag and the Dissemination of Esoteric Literature", Kabbalah: Journal for the Study of Jewish Mystical Texts 16 (2007), pp. 151–258
- Jonatan Meir. "Phillip Berg and the Kabbalah Centre", Daat 70 (2011), pp. 159–162
- Jonatan Meir, "The Beginnings of Kabbalah in America: The Unpublished Manuscripts of R. Levi Isaac Krakovsky", Aries: Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism 13, 2 (2013), pp. 237–268