The queen of pop has become the queen of ancient Persia – and she’s got the Judaic trappings to prove it.
When Madonna – now also known as Esther (as in the Jewish queen who saved her people) – blows into town Sunday for the Boston leg of her Re-Invention Tour, she’ll be schlepping more than the string of hits that made her 22-year career. She’ll also be flashing the symbols of her newfound faith: Kabbalah, with a capital K, an offshoot of ancient Jewish mysticism.
The Hebrew letters lamed, aleph, vov (which together, as LAV, supposedly form one of the 72 names of God) will light up giant video screens behind Madge’s dancing minions. A red string with seven knots (said to ward off the evil eye) will encircle the left wrist of the ex- (she says) Material Girl. A T-shirt reading “Kabbalists Do It Better” will cling to her yoga-toned body. Memories of tefillin – scripture-filled leather pouches worn during prayer, which Madonna uses in her music video ‘Die Another Day’ – will hover over the turntable that spins center-stage. The house will be dark on Friday night and Saturday – the Jewish Sabbath.
What, we wondered, would local rabbis and scholars make of Madonna’s Jewish routes?
None we asked questioned her intentions, though one did wonder whether she’d been drawn into the fold by the promise of immortality through potential DNA restructuring – a tenet, he’d heard, of the Los Angeles-based Kabbalah Centre, where Madonna, 45, practices. The same kind of molecular magic, performed by Centre leader Philip Berg, is rumored to transform upstate New York spring water into healing pre-Flood Kabbalah H2O.
But the experts did marvel at her lack of scholarship. “I think she’s a spiritual seeker and not just a faddist,” said Arthur Green, professor of Jewish thought at Brandeis University and a Jewish-mysticism scholar. “She uses letters and they inspire her, and I have no objection to that. But I can’t say there’s any knowledge reflected there.”
Moshe Waldoks, rabbi of Temple Beth Zion, an Independent congregation in Brookline, was more skeptical. “It’s a very strange phenomenon to get involved with the Kabbalah without getting involved with Judaism,” he said. The Kabbalah Centre, which boasts 50 branches, including one in Newton Centre, proclaims on its Web site that “Kabbalah is about ‘light’ not religion!”
“I think one of the main issues that conventional Jewish leaders have with the Kabbalah Centre approach is that Kabbalah is historically and most traditionally something that was preserved for scholars who had achieved a fluency in rabbinic thought and literature,” said William Hamilton, rabbi of the Conservative congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline.
Rabbi Hamilton has no problem with the letters LAV being projected on a screen, because, he said, it’s “not one of God’s names that cannot be erased,” that is, one of the seven names that, when they appear on paper, can’t be discarded because they have an “inherent sanctity.” Rabbi Waldoks doesn’t think most people will even be able to distinguish the letters from “pig Latin” or “a design.”
The tefillin binding her arm in the music video are another matter. “That I’d be more critical of because I think that gets into perhaps other associations with leather straps and the like, and I don’t even want to go there,” said Rabbi Hamilton.
“A lot of people must think this is a bondage film,” Waldoks cracked.
Though the pop icon’s brand of worship doesn’t appear to put much stock in the central Jewish principle of mitzvot (good deeds), said the experts, good can still come from her embrace of Kabbalah, which has attracted Jews and nonJews alike for hundreds of years.
“Kabbalah has always attracted very serious followers and trivial, superficial followers, because it makes promises that sound very close to magic, like rewards for study that are not always spiritual but sometimes good fortune and magical powers,” said Green. “That is not at all the true meaning of Kabbalah, but the element has always been there. Madonna is turning out to be surprisingly serious in her orientation.”
“Often it’s the nonJew that gets fascinated who brings Jews to re-examine,” said Waldoks. “Madonna’s interest might ignite more Jews to rediscover. Shabbat observance is not one of the top things Jews do. God works in mysterious ways.”
source : bostonherald.com