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Having written a number of books on the subject of Kabbalah, Berg believed that the philosophy should not be taught exclusively to a select few Jewish scholars but become a shared wealth of practical wisdom available to all of humankind.
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, while others applaud his populist advocacy.[according to whom?]
In poor health following a stroke in 2004, he died on September 16, 2013.
Berg was born as Shraga Feivel Gruberger in Brooklyn, to an Orthodox Jewish family. 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, whom Berg first met on a trip to Israel 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.
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. Then, in 1973, the Bergs returned to Queens, where they established their full-time headquarters during the 1980s.
Reports about Berg are conflicting. According to a 1994 article in Tel Aviv magazine, Berg said he was ordained in the U.S.A. in the early '50s and received an additional ordination in Israel from his former father-in-law. Berg received rabbinic ordination by the Lakewood Yeshiva in 1951, though he has been denounced by the traditional Orthodox Jewish community as represented by the Lakewood Yeshiva. According to Burg website he was an alumnus of Yeshiva Torah VeDaas not BMG, Lakewood. 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, the late Rabbi Brandwein, though he claimed he was.
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”.
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.
Works by 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, "Kabbalah for the Layman", Vol. II. Research Centre of Kabbalah, 1993. ISBN 0-924457-19-8
- 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
- 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.
- 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 Internet Archive)
- "Rabbi Philip Berg, Who Updated Jewish Mysticism, Dies at 86". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 September 2013.
- 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.
- "Rabbi Philip Berg". Daily Telegraph. 2013-09-20. Retrieved 2013-09-21.
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (November 2010)|
- 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
- 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
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