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Philip S. Berg (original name Feivel Gruberger) is a rabbi and current Dean of the worldwide Kabbalah Centre organization, as well as its main figurehead.

He is known for his position that the Kabbalah should no longer be taught exclusively to a selected few Jewish scholars, but should instead become a shared wealth of practical wisdom available to all of humankind, and has written a number of books on the subject of Kabbalah. There is disagreement about whether Berg's teachings, as relayed through the Kabbalah Center, 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, while others applaud his populist advocacy. Also, the Centre's financial peculiarities have attracted growing attention, as another motive for suspicion and further controversy.It has been reported that following a recent serious illness, his role has been increasingly fulfilled by his wife Karen Berg along with their sons Yehuda Berg and Michael Berg, co-directors of the Centre.

Sources of knowledge

Born in New York City to a family with a long spiritual tradition of scholars and teachers, Rabbi Berg's upbringing followed a traditional religious path, and he was ordained at Yeshiva Torah Vodaas the renowned rabbinical seminary. Having studying in Israelmarker with the great kabbalist Yehuda Brandwein [book - Yedid Nefesh], he decided to devote his life to bringing Kabbalah to the world. Karen Berg eventually became Berg's wife and wholeheartedly joined in this decision. Upon returning to the United States they established The Kabbalah Centre with the purpose of bringing the teachings of Kabbalah to the general public.


According to Mim Udovich's "Kabbalah Chronicles: Inside Hollywood's hottest cult" (Radar Online, June 15, 2005) Philip Isaac Berg (real name: Shraga Feivel Gruberger) was born in Brooklynmarker to an Orthodox Jewish family. He is said to have been educated at a yeshiva where he was allegedly ordained as a rabbi in 1951 and then started working as an insurance salesman at New York Life two years later. His first wife was named Rivkah with whom he had several children. It was Rivka's uncle, Rabbi Yehuda Brandwein, dean of the prestigious Yeshiva Kol Yehuda, who Berg first met on a trip to Israelmarker in 1962, and who would become his Kabbalistic mentor. 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. [207379]. Despite this, Articles of Incorporation were filed with the IRS for U.S. branch of the "National Institute for the Research of Kabbalah" in 1965. These Articles of Incorporation were signed by both Rabbi Brandwein and Rabbi Philip Berg. Later, the organization's name was changed to The Research Centre for Kabbalah and finally, The Kabbalah Centre.

After Rabbi 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 the Kabbalah, a discipline traditionally reserved exclusively for men. In 1971 Philip and Karen married and traveled to Israel. Then, in 1973, the Bergs returned to Queens, where they established their full-time headquarters during the 1980s. [207380]

The Kabbalah according to Berg

Origins of the Universe according to Berg

The light is understood as part of the duality in the "light filled vessel" metaphor central to Berg's cosmology. In Berg's telling, the Kabbalistic origin of the universe is in agreement with the Big Bang - prior to a massive explosion, a sacred vessel was united with the light that filled it. The light was the force of creation and the vessel the force of desire/receiving. When the vessel desired to create, the two separated, resulting in void, followed by an explosion which shattered the vessel. These broken shards of vessel and light became the imperfect physical universe.

Berg on Free Will

All aspects of human life are spiritual but require Kabbalah - especially its concept of "restriction" tzimtzum in the sense of self-control, nonreactivity and proactivity - to harness them beneficially.

Negative aspects of the world - death, illness, pain, frustration, poverty, failure, loneliness, and so on - result from human mistakes but exist for the benefit of humans: they are opportunities for each individual to reveal light through behavioral corrections or "tikkun". By sharing with others, humans reveal more light, use this creative force to "become like God", and "make the world a better place" ((Repair the shattered vessel, tikkun olam)).

On combatting one's ego

A core principle is the importance of sharing, viewed as directly opposing the influence of the ego, defined in Berg's Kabbalah Centre texts as the "desire to receive for oneself alone". By actively combating the influence of the ego and increasingly sharing in life (both physically and emotionally), the Center promises that one will experience lasting satisfaction, fulfilment and the removal of "chaos" from life.

Sharing is based on the principle that one ultimately lives life with a single ongoing choice - whether to be influenced by the ego or the "light". The Centre teaches that the ego, sometimes referred to as "satan" (pronounced sa'tan) was created by the "light" in order to give humanity free choice.

On teaching Kabbalah

Berg states it is his destiny to reveal the real truths about Kabbalah. Traditionally, while some parts of the Kabbalah were considered acceptable to teach to younger Torah scholars, most of Kabbalah was held to be forbidden to be taught, or at the very least, severely discouraged, except to very learned scholars over forty years of age. Berg describes Kabbalah as a "universal philosophy", and claims that no one, regardless of religion or gender, should be denied study of it.

There are those who pose as religious leaders who, for their own selfish reasons, spread false requisites for the study of the Zohar and discourage people from "indulging" in its sublime treasures. Either these rabbis fear for their positions, because people tasting of the Kabbalah might embarrass them with the incisiveness of their questions, or, perhaps, because their own upbringing deprived them of this because their own knowledge, they see no reason to allow others of "lower standing" to be given the opportunity of partaking of Kabbalah's spiritual elixir....These kat (cults) of Rabbis have been, and are still in some quarters, blemishes and disfigurements on the face of Rabbinic Judaism. "The arid field of Rabbinism, the P'shat seekers are the fools and hate knowledge." (Tractate Sanhedrin, P. 99B) These Rabbis of ill-repute attempt to conceal from the layman the facts that the foremost Jewish legalists and talmudists were also famous kabbalists. (The Zohar, Ed. Berg, Introduction, Parashat Pinhas, p. xxxiii-xxxv)

Many of his ideas have angered other Kabbalists. For example, while most Kabbalists have traditionally taught that Jews must follow Halakha ("Jewish law") as strictly binding, Berg teaches that knowing the purpose behind Halakha is more important.

Judaism is not concerned with conforming to a strict religious way of life in which it is perceived that if one wants to be considered a Jew he has to perform certain ritual tasks. On the contrary, the goal is to connect to metaphysical forces through which we can fulfill our Desire to Receive. The Torah, properly understood, can completely fulfill all our needs, and once that goal has been achieved, the barriers that have been created between Jews and non-Jews will collapse (The Kabbalah Connection, p.43)


Berg advocates the use of astrology readings to counsel his students, and has written numerous books on the subject. Berg asserts that his beliefs in kabbalistic astrology are strongly influenced by the classic work of Kabbalah, Sefer Yetzirah, attributed pseudepigraphically to the patriarch Avraham (see also Sefer Raziel HaMalakh). In his belief, kabbalistic astrology provides a link between scientific astronomy and esoteric astrology. He refers to Kabbalah, where all living things, all matter, all energy and even space-time itself is a manifest of God. Because of this, cosmic forces have a divine nature, and Judaism was heavily influenced by them, including holidays like Passover and the Hebrew calendar.

However, traditional Judaism is often critical of using astrology in religion. The Talmud records stataments from different figures which both forbid and accept some use of astrology, a tension also present in other rabbinic literature from 600 CE until the enlightenment. Berg is not the only kabbalist who recognizes the Jewish connection to Astrology.

See Jewish views of astrology, Kabbalistic astrology, and Hebrew astronomy for a fuller discussion.

Reward and punishment

Berg believes that as living things, and as part of God, we have control over our own actions. Berg holds that God does not reward people for good behavior and punish them for bad behavior. Instead he believes that bad behavior lead to bad effects. The reason for rules in the Torah is to prevent adverse effects. If we all kill, what can happen? We can be killed. If we all steal, what can happen? We can be stolen from. According to Berg, the commandments were put in place by God to bring harmony to a chaotic world, not to judge people. Some claim this teaching is generally considered outright heresy in Orthodox Judaism, as it contradicts one of the Jewish principles of faith according to Rabbis Joseph Albo and Maimonides. But others believe that Rabbi Berg's teachings reinforce the Jewish principle of faith. Still, Berg's belief does correspond with that of his teacher Yehuda Ashlag as suggested in Ashlag's article There is None Else Beside Him.

Berg has written:
We are taught from childhood that if we do something good, God will reward us and if we do something bad, he punishes us. Never believe it. (The Wheels of a Soul, Berg, p. 46)


A central part of his theology is a belief in Gilgulim (traditional Kabbalistic concept of reincarnation), which he holds is a central tenet of Judaism. To him, the single destination of a soul only to the spiritual afterlife, is a purely Christian belief and has no place in Judaism. He holds that this phenomenon can be proven true by logical argument. This idea is accepted as true by many Orthodox Jews, but some Orthodox Jews, and most non-Orthodox Jews, view the entire idea as false, due to a lack of talmudic sources as well as writings from Rav Saadia Gaon that it comes from the "Indian religions." It is also felt that the concept is philosophically untenable. The issue of how Jews have traditionally understood reincarnation is discussed in Jewish eschatology and gilgul.

Reincarnation is not a question of faith or doctrine, but of logic and reason...the Bible is its Fountainhead. (The Wheels of a Soul, Berg, p. 29)


Berg's ideas about the effect of spirituality within Hasidic Judaism are similar to those held by other scholars of Judaism.

The fundamental purpose of Hasidism, which borrowed from the example of the Sephardim, was to inject spirituality into the religion, as opposed to the thoughtless formalism prevailing within the liturgy and ceremonies of their fellow Jews in Lithuania, the Mitnagdim. For this reason the Hasidim did not enjoy either credibility nor popularity among Mitnagdim.

The place that was assigned to the Zohar in the scheme of prayer and ritual by the Hasidim was one of the basic points at issue between the two sects. It was and is essentially a contest between the formalism of dogmatic ritual, as practiced by Mitnagdim and the spiritually-directed practices of the Hasidim. (The Zohar, Ed. Berg, Introduction, Parashat Pinhas, p. pp. xliii-xliv)

Subjects commonly viewed as pseudoscience

In his book, The Wheels of a Soul, Berg has written that many concepts often understood as pseudoscience are real, such as Kirlian photography (p.39), telepathy, and clairvoyance, (p.40-41.)

Mental illness and possession by evil spirits

In chapter six of this book he discusses reincarnation and Kabbalah. Here he writes that most mentally ill people are in fact not mentally ill, but are in fact possessed by evil spirits. (p.50) He commonly refers to these as clippot or blockages.

I know a woman who has been locked away in a psychiactric ward twice because she felt that she was being bomdarded by evil spirits and I can testtify that she is as normal as any who are deemed mentally fit. That definition, in itself, is suspect. I believe that between 70 and 80 percent of all who live display "abnormal behavior" at one time or another and that in most of those cases an invading spirit of evil is the cause. Rites of exorcism might heal far more of the "mentally ill" than all of the drugs and electro-shock therapy employed by the psychiatric community.

In chapter 13, recalling past lives, he teaches that astral projection is real (p.70).

Extra-terrestrial events influence Earth

Berg writes that all life affects one another, because the all began from the same source and are of the same body (God).

What seems to emerge from the Zohar is that seven forms of intelligence which emanate from the seven Sfirot are directly responsible for our universal manifestations. These advanced extra-terrestrial non-corporeal beings living in a solar system similar to ours direct the orbiting structures of our own universe and subsequently display the varied quantified degrees of the Force in varied, specific sections of planet Earth. All life dances to the music of astral influences as more clearly demonstrated by cyclical phenomenon. Unseen extraterrestrial forces affect terrestrial affairs and decidedly determine the ups and downs of terrestrial life.... It should be noted that the the term "extraterrestrial" does not imply space aliens, but rather angels and other energies which do not exist in the terrestrial realm of time, space, and motion.

Applying teachings to daily life

Berg emphasises the application of the wisdom of Kabbalah in life, in accordance to study of the Zohar. Students are encouraged to attend courses that explain how "chaos" (i.e. potential and current problems) can be removed from life by understanding and applying a variety of spiritual "truths" that are based upon Kabbalistic concepts.

The creation of the world

The world, a domain of separation, was created so that the "light" could be revealed (received) from choice with the application of effort. It is the ego (or satan) that allows humanity to apply effort by acting as an adversary or "opponent".

As humanity "reveals" more light in the world, by increasingly sharing and undertaking good deeds (despite the ego's efforts to the contrary), the more Bread of Shame is undone, allowing humanity to return to an original state of unity without the corresponding guilt.


Students are encouraged to understand the importance of non-reactivity, such as when prompted by circumstances to be angry or judgmental towards others. Such behaviour is described as reactive, "disconnecting' the student from the "Light" or more properly called en sof. In such situations, students are strongly encouraged to be "proactive" (i.e. realize that your reaction and not the situation is your enemy and be open to the guidance that will help you to solve the situation in a way that will benefit yourself and everyone else involved) and to "restrict" what is seen as the ego's attempt to make you "disconnect".

Berg teaches that if humanity as a whole continues to be influenced by the ego, exhibiting traits such as "hating for no reason", the "Light" (energy) will be blocked, creating chaos - potentially an Armageddon scenario. This is viewed as avoidable by "spreading" the wisdom of Kabbalah to as wide an audience as possible.


Critics of Rabbi Berg express concerns about his Kabbalistic pedigree, claims of special authority, adaptations to pop culture, business practices and high-pressure social tactics.In addition, it is claimed that no originality appears to be advanced in his work. His sole contribution is to popularise some basic concepts.


Philip Berg claims to have a doctorate, and many of his books are listed as being by "Dr." Berg. However, in different interviews he has offered different explanations of what type of Ph.D. he earned. He claimed to have a Ph.D. in comparative religion, at another time he claimed to have a Ph.D. in jurisprudence (in biblical law), and later claimed that his Ph.D. was given as part of receiving semicha, traditional rabbinic ordination. , but Semicha programs - especially Israeli Orthodox ones - are never given together with a PhD. He has never shown his Ph.D. to investigative reporters, and refuses to name the organization that gave him the Ph.D. Much of his kabbalistic knowledge and teaching is allegedly derived from his Orthodox background, but neither he nor the Kabbalah Centre are known to be affiliated to, or recognized by any Orthodox rabbinical organizations.

Berg used to call his center "Yeshiva Kol Yehuda," and claimed that it was affiliated with a genuine Orthodox Jewish yeshiva, Yeshiva Kol Yehuda, in Jerusalemmarker, Israel. The yeshiva in Israel was founded in 1922 by Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, and later led by Rabbi Yehuda Tzvi Brandwein. Berg claimed to be a student of Rabbi Brandwein, and alleges that he received rabbinical ordination at this yeshiva. However, investigative journalists have interviewed this yeshiva. They deny any relationship between his group and theirs. They also deny Berg received rabbinical ordination there, but confirm he studied Kabbalah with Brandwein.

For unknown reasons, Rabbi Berg has recently shunned his first name (Philip), noticeably in most of the Kabbalah Centre's publications, and instead has adopted the formula "Rav" Berg as if it were his real name. "Rav" has a higher connotation than the word "Rabbi", in a fashion similar to the term Rebbe. In recent times, as a sign of respect, some great rabbis are simply called "The Rav". If this is Philip Berg's intention, he could possibly be the subject of criticism for appointing himself to the title.

Teaching practices

Kabbalah teaching was traditionally to be taught only to male, Jewish, scholars with the whole of the Torah and Talmud, and much of the other writings, at their finger-tips, aged at least 30 (40 for some teachers), and married. Rav Berg is willing and eager to teach all peoples from any background. Traditionally, this would have resulted in his expulsion from the Jewish community.

Works by Philip S. Berg and his sons

  • 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, Kabbalistic Astrology Made Easy. Research Centre of Kabbalah, 1999. ISBN 1-57189-053-X
  • Michael Berg, The Way: Using the Wisdom of Kabbalah for Spiritual Transformation and Fulfillment. Wiley Publishing, 2003. ISBN 0-471-22879-6
  • Yehuda Berg, The 72 Names of God: Technology for the Soul. Kabbalah Publishing, 2003. ISBN 1-57189-135-8
  • Yehuda Berg, The Power of Kabbalah. Kabbalah Publishing, 2004. ISBN 1-57189-250-8
  • Yehuda Berg, The Red String Book: The Power of Protection. Kabbalah Publishing, 2004. ISBN 1-57189-248-6
  • Rav P. S. Berg, Kabbalistic Astrology: And the Meaning of Our Lives. Kabbalah Publishing, 2006. ISBN 1-57189-556-6


  • Mim Udovich "Kabbalah Chronicles: Inside Hollywood's hottest cult" Radar Online, June 15, 2005
  • Abby Ellin and Adam J. Sacks The Kabbalah centre wants your heart - and your money: The String That Binds The Village Voice, August 11, 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
  • Tamara Ikenberg, Madonna, et al. have watered down Jewish mysticism, scholars charge Louisville Courier-Journal/August 26, 2004
  • Nadya Labi What Profits Kabbalah? Time Magazine, November 24, 1997
  • David Rowan Chief Rabbi sounds alarm on mystical Kabbalah group The Times, April 3, 2004
  • The Truth about the Kabbalah Centre Task Force on Cults and Missionaries, Los Angeles, CA 1995

External links

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