Gentiles have always been fascinated with Judaism, and for good reason. Wherever the Jews have gone, they bring education, prosperity and a coherent theology of God that has attracted followers across the globe.
Even Hollywood has found an attraction to the ancient faith. Some would say that the pop stars of the starlit city could use a good moral compass, but celebs who have tried their luck with Jewish practices have not always found their way.
Elizabeth Taylor was one of the first Hollywood stars to convert to Judaism after her Jewish husband died in in a plane crash in 1959. His sudden death sent her on search for the meaning of life that her Catholic upbringing didn’t provide. How much did Judaism help Taylor find her way? She famously went on to marry eight times to seven different men; she married Richard Burton twice.
The late-Sammy Davis Jr. converted to Judaism in 1961 after nearly dying in a car accident. Davis told Time Magazine: “I wanted to become part of a 5,000-year-old history which would give me inner strength. I wanted to become a Jew because Judaism held an honesty and spiritual peace that was lacking in my personal makeup.” Davis maintained a strong Jewish identity until his death in 1990.
It was Madonna who popularized Judaism among modern Hollywood stars, or at least the mystical branch of Judaism called Kabbalah. Born to Catholic parents (who else with a name like that?), Madonna took an interest in Kabbalah when she was pregnant with her eldest child. "I was pregnant with my daughter, almost 14 years ago,” she wrote in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot in 2009. “I realized I had spent my whole life worrying about myself, and that I would soon be responsible for someone else's life. Something was missing in my life," wrote Madonna. Through Kabbalah she claims that she “woke up."
Madonna’s studies in Kabbalah did lead her to take an interest in helping others. She later adopted two children from Malawi and became a major philanthropist for poor children in Africa. Still, it is not clear how she reconciles her provocative performances with any form of Judaism.
Britany Spears was introduced to Kabbalah by her long-time friend Madonna. She told Christianity Today: “I read the Kabbalah books and I meditate on them. For some reason, I am thirsting for it.” Other well-known stars who have gotten involved in Jewish mysticism include Lindsay Lohan, Roseanne Barr, Ashton Kutcher, Leonardo DiCaprio, Demi Moore, Mick Jagger, Alex Rodriguez and Rosie O'Donnell, to name but a few. Paris Hilton told the UK's More Magazine: “When I split with Nick Carter, I coped by going straight to the Kabbalah Center in Los Angeles, told everyone about the break-up and got a new red string Kabbalah bracelet. I go there regularly. It helps me deal with my life.”
The red strings Hilton and other Hollywood stars wear are one of many questionable, some would say superstitious, practices that often accompany Kabbalah. That is why in normative Judaism, only scholars who were married religious men over the age of 40 were encouraged to study Kabbalah. Originally written in Aramaic, the Zohar, or book of Kabbalah, is filled with cryptic and coded language, not unlike other apocalyptic and esoteric writings from the Middle Ages.
When a Kabbalah Center opened its doors in Los Angeles in 1984, they “sought to make the wisdom of Kabbalah accessible and understandable to everyone, regardless of race, gender, or religious belief,” according to their website. The center continues to attract many Hollywood stars after Madonna become a major donator to their efforts. The question is, does this new celebrity interest in Judaism and Kabbalah help lift us up out of the rowdy commercialism that dominates our culture, or is it dragging an ancient and profound faith down with us?
PHOTO: US pop star Britney Spears got a police escort to the Western Wall during a 2017 visit to Jerusalem. (Shlomi Cohen/Flash90)