In the early 2000s, Hollywood was seized by a new (and at the same time, very very old) spiritual fad: Kabbalah, an ancient Jewish mysticism that previously could only be studied by older Orthodox men who had devoted their lives to Judaism. Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton are not older Orthodox men, but that didn’t stop them from “converting” to Kabbalah in the mid aughts—or at least sporting the trendy red string bracelet that suggests they had.
For that, we have the Kabbalah Centre to thank. Offering up a more accessible study of the Kabbalah, the centre, started by Rabbi Philip Berg and his wife Karen Berg, is more focused on self help and self betterment than it is on theological study. The Bergs eventually attracted Madonna, who has since become the Kabbalah Centre’s most well-known practitioner. Soon after, a slew of other celebrities like Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, and Britney Spears all followed.
But as is the case with most celebrity trends, involvement with the Kabbalah Center fell out of popularity almost as quickly as came into it. (It’s still around, though—Madonna remains connected, as does Kutcher.) This week on DirtCast, we’re joined by Broadly contributor Emalie Marthe, whose recent article “Why Celebrities Stopped Following Kabbalah” offers an in-depth look at the rise and fall of the Kabbalah Centre’s celebrity following.
“[The early 2000s] was such a time of conspicuous consumption,” Marthe tells us. “It was sort of like, ‘Oh, these celebrities are wearing Juicy sweatsuits. I’m gonna by a Juicy sweat suit!” So celebrities go out wearing a Kabbalah bracelet and everyone is like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna get a Kabbalah bracelet!” And so you sort of see how virally it went celebrity to celebrity to celebrity.”
Also in the interview, Marthe shares her favorite rumors she learned while researching her article, including a claim from Karen Berg that Madonna asked her then-husband Guy Ritchie to get circumcised (and he allegedly complied) as she got in deeper and deeper with the Kabbalah Centre.
Our show is produced by Levi Sharpe with editorial oversight by Kate Dries. Mandana Mofidi is our Executive Director of Audio. Our theme music is by Stuart Wood. This episode was mixed by Brad Fisher. Listen to our politics podcast, Big Time Dicks, here.
[Correction: Sandra Bernhard did not introduce Madonna to the Kabbalah.]