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Two years later they launched their own idiosyncratic brand of Kabbalism, popularizing what had until then been teachings reserved for advanced Talmudic scholars.
The Bergs eventually expanded to 77 centers and study groups around the world.
The Kabbalah Centre’s impressive growth has been paralleled by the volume of its detractors, some of whom have labeled it “Jewish Scientology.” Disaffected followers have accused Berg and his family of treating congregants like personal servants, housing them four to a bedroom, paying them a -a-month stipend, and advising them to apply for food stamps. taking some of our sacred books and reducing it to mumbo-jumbo, all kinds of hocus-pocus.”Berg, who is now 81 and referred to by insiders as “the Rav” (an honorific meaning teacher), is still very much the patriarch of the Kabbalah Centre, despite a stroke in 2004.
The Bergs’ lavish lifestyle, one executive says, is “100 percent subsidized.”Kabbalah Centre tax attorney Shane Hamilton contends that the Bergs include ordained rabbis who are “treated as ministers of the Gospel” and are thus entitled to “a parsonage as part of their compensation.” Hamilton says some household services are provided by chevre, center members who take a vow of service and are supplied with basic necessities in exchange for 12-hour days of labor.Illustration by Guekit: Nina Berman / Sipa (Philip Berg); Mike Hutchings / Reuters-Landov (Madonna); East News-Polaris (Karen Berg); Amos Gumulira / AFP-Getty Images (Michael Berg); Michelly Rall / Getty Images (sign)One year ago, Madonna squatted in the rust-colored dirt of a sprawling empty lot outside Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world.With curious villagers and invited photographers crowding around, she laid the ceremonial first brick for a planned million girls’ academy, a noble mission in a nation where only 27 percent of girls attend secondary school.In a blog post on the website of her Raising Malawi foundation, she wrote that the brick, inscribed with the words “Dare to Dream,” was “not just the bedrock to a school—it is a foundation for our shared future.”Last week it was announced that the future would not be built.Despite the fundraising success of Raising Malawi, which collected a reported million in donations and spent .8 million on the planned academy, the girls’ school has been abandoned and the Raising Malawi foundation has imploded.
Goldman was often seen at the Manhattan temple, introduced as an attorney by millionaire garment businessmen.