Monday, July 12, 2010

Madonna Offends Traditional Jewish Kabbalists in Israel

*** Check out Madonna creating a stir with religious in Israel.

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Madonna performs in Madrid last year. (Susana Vera/Reuters)

From Denny: What's all the commotion of the Jewish Kabbalists in Israel complaining bitterly about Madonna? Ten years ago Madonna started studying Kabbalah. Since then her fame helped catapult an ancient philosophy of Jewish mysticism into the limelight, making it popular. It also revitalized an Israeli town by the name of Safed, a small mountaintop town that serves as the spiritual center for the Kabbalah mysticism movement.

Strict Hasidic and Kabbalist, Yaacov Kaszemacher, artist and photographer, has strong opinions as to the validity of Madonna as a true Kabbalist. "It is not respectful to what is really Kabbalah," he said, commenting upon Madonna’s interest into the mystical side of Judaism: Kabbalah.

There are those conservative traditionalists that sniff their noses and complain that Madonna is not a true Kabbalalist. Basically, these are the self-styled guardians you get in any religious mystical sect where the letter of the law takes dominance over the spirit of the law mentality.

Madonna is known as The Material Girl, a far cry from the image of a monkish ascetic languishing in the desert to fast in order to tame his fleshliness so he can hear God better. Madonna has always been all about the excess of the fleshly pursuits in life. So, it's understandable why they would be put off by her promoting their Jewish mysticism. In their minds, they just don't see her as their spokesperson or God's. Well, stranger things have happened. Just ask God and take a peek into the Old Testament Bible.

Traditionalists in this town of Safed have not taken kindly to Madonna making Kabbalah fashionable. The reason for all the debate in this town, besides being the nerve center for Kabbalists, is that Madonna visited last September. Since then the town has transformed dramatically. Residents actively debate the changes. They also discuss Madonna's position of the most high profile celebrity Kabbalist.

The coordinator of Safed's Visitor Center, Laurie Rappeport, says that "Hollywood and Madonna have so strongly adopted Kabbalah mysticism they made it popular, practically turning it into their own religion. Madonna had a lot to do with the promotion."

Because of this flashy promotion and shallow popularity that local Kabbalists like Kaszemacher are unhappy. Of course, everyone who studies Kabbalah knows that Kabbalah is not a religion or an offshoot of Judaism. As Kaszemacher says, "it represents the deepest levels of understanding of Jewish religious texts, drawing out subtext and hidden meaning to achieve a deeper understanding of the Jewish faith."

To traditional study Kabbalists they are of the opinion a person should only study Kabbalah after they have spent decades studying the Torah and other top scholarly works. In their traditions, they do not believe a person is ready to delve into the deep mystical world of Kabbalah's ancient wisdom. You must prepare your mind not just with knowledge but with familiarity of spiritual principles and wisdom.

One angry resident Kabbalist, Moshe Yiar, a Kabbalah artist that plants verses of the Torah into his watercolor works, says Madonna "doesn’t know anything about Kabbalah. There are even big rabbis that don’t understand Kabbalah."

Yet it's the new found popularity in the West of ancient Jewish mysticism, the Kabbalah, that is the very reason for the renewal of this small town of Safed and its art scene. "I don’t think these artists would have developed here if the popularity weren’t there," Rappeport said.

How did this art scene develop in this town for such a tradition? Israel was founded in 1948. Israeli artists flocked here because the real estate was cheaper in the then empty Arab quarter. The local culture ended up developing around the art scene during the 1950's and the 1960's. Safed became the cool Bohemian capital of Israel at the time.

by the late 1970's the town of Safed went into creative decline as the older artists began to retire and die off. What really turned the place into a virtual ghost town was the government complicated matters for new people to purchase land and property there. Even as recent as ten years ago there were very few art galleries present. Now, with Madonna's and Hollywood's promotion, the Bohemian renewal has blossomed again with that hippie vibe. All this juxtaposed against the very ultra conservative backbone of the local traditionalists it is a thriving tourist destination.

Talk about cultural contrast: Yemenite Jews peddle organic pizza down the street from an old couple who peddle traditional Jewish souvenirs. Young hip Israeli version of hippies pass on the street the traditional uptight buttoned down Hasidic Jews. The streets are narrow and winding limestone alleys, crowded with cultural contradictions. The town of Safed is considered to be one of Israel's holiest cities.

Because of Maddona's interest in this town and Kabbalah, tourists and Kabbalah enthusiasts have come to visit from far and wide. As a result, new art galleries have opened outside the traditional artist quarter, closer to the tourists, and ended up boosting the economy.

Kabbalist art tends to be wide in scope. Artists often employ basic geometric constructions in order to convey mystical thoughts. In Hebrew, each letter of the alphabet is assigned a numerical value. The artists play with shapes conceptually in order to draw out the numbers - which actually equal letters - to spell words that carry mystical meaning.

Kabbalist artists use as their focal point the concept of finding balance in Life. To convey that sense of balance they often use divided shapes and contrast colors that are on opposite ends of the color wheel like black and white or red and green.

Not everyone believes Madonna has cheapened their mysticism of Kabbalah. An American painter from Michigan, Avraham Loewenthal, moved to Israel 15 years ago. He is now a prominent Kabbalist painter. He says most artists stress the complexity of Kabbalah while he reduces it down to the several simple themes at its core teachings.

When asked what his opinion was of Madonna and how her interest in his town had changed the atmosphere, he responded better than the traditionalists. This man truly understands the core teaching of the Kabbalah. "It’s so hard for a person to find out what their spiritual work in this world is. Within the Kabbalah, we only look inside ourselves because we can’t know what someone else’s spiritual work in this world is." And that is the colossal dividing difference of the letter of the law from the spirit of the law.

*** See Also: Kabbalah Quotes: How to Know You Are On The Right Path For You

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