'Kabbalah Today' uses mass media to hasten final redemption

Magazine's executive editor says the pursuit of pleasure is the source of all of humanity's problems. And Kabbalah is the cure.

zohar kabbalah 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
zohar kabbalah 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Ushering in the end of days might seem an ambitious goal for a tabloid, but the publishers of Kabbalah Today aim to do just that. Widespread dissemination of Kabbalah, Judaism's esoteric teaching on the origins of creation, will get all of humanity over the last spiritual hump separating it from final redemption, according to members of Bnei Baruch, an organization headed by ontology professor Michael Laitman. "Right now we are in a stage in humanity where everyone should make the final correction," says Chaim Ratz, executive editor of Kabbalah Today. "So far more traditional methods managed mankind's basic egoism and self-centeredness," says Ratz, who grew up on Kfar Blum, a secular kibbutz in the northern Galilee. "But today we have reached such extreme levels of egoism that the traditional methods simply do not work." According to Ratz, man's most basic drive, the pursuit of pleasure, is also the source of all of humanity's problems. And Kabbalah is the cure. "Kabbalah has the power to eradicate egoism and transform an individual into a more community-wise, altruistic human being," he says. Ratz says Bnei Baruch's Kabbalah is based on the teachings of Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag as explicated in The Sulam (the Ladder), an exegesis on the Zohar, Judaism's central mystical text. However, unlike Ashlag and his son Baruch, who strictly followed Orthodox Jewish practice, members of Bnei Baruch are not obligated to do so. "At the center, we keep the halacha," says Ratz. "And Prof. Laitman says that doing so helps improve the positive impact of Kabbalah's teachings. But it is not essential. Whatever works for you is legitimate." Close to 400,000 copies of Kabbalah Today are distributed for free in English, Russian and Hebrew in Israel and America either once or twice a month. The Hebrew edition of Kabbalah Today, called Kabbalah Le'Am, which is published every other week, is distributed at intersections, street corners and coffee houses, and as an insert in Haaretz. A few thousand copies of Kabbalah Today in English are distributed in Israel. Circulation is about 50,000 in Mexico, Canada and the US. Around 65,000 Hebrew editions are put out in Mexico, Canada and the US, most as an insert in the US edition of Yediot Aharonot. Bnei Baruch's approach deviates from traditional Jewish conceptions about the study of Kabbalah. According to Rabbi David Batzri, whose father, Yitzhak, heads Yeshivat Hashlom, a respected Kabbalistic Yeshiva in Jerusalem, there is a prohibition against the widespread dissemination of Kabbalah. "Kabbalah contains many secrets that must not be revealed to the public," says Batzri. "It is for men who have learned the tradition Jewish texts such as Talmud and the Shulhan Aruch for many years. "Only at the age of 50 may one begin, except in very rare cases." Batzri, who says he is unfamiliar with Bnei Baruch, does agree that at the end of days more and more people will begin learning Kabbalah. "That is because they will be spiritually prepared to so. But you can't put the wagon before the horse," he says.