Patent Office Rules Against Kabbalists

By Steven I. Weiss

Published December 12, 2003, issue of December 12, 2003.

Thanks to The Kabbalah Centre, various celebrities can be spotted donning red strings on their wrists that Jewish mystics say can ward off evil spirits. Apparently the threads, also known as bindles, do not work against the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

The patent office has rejected an attempt by The Kabbalah Centre to trademark the term “Kabbalah Red String” on the grounds that the group’s application “merely describes the goods/services.” News of the rejection was first reported on the Web site TheSmokingGun.com, which also posted a copy of the trademark application filed last summer and the patent office’s rejection.

The center, with 50 branches, encountered a similar problem when it tried to trademark its own name in 2001. A spokesperson at the patent office, Brigid Quinn, told the Forward, “There are no special rules for religious symbols or terms.”

“However,” she added, “the Trademark Act bars registration of descriptive terms.” Neither the center nor the attorney who prepared its trademark application responded to requests for comment from the Forward.

The center has six months to appeal the decision.

Devotees, including a glitzy roster of celebrities, say that the center has transformed them into kinder, more spiritual people through a steady diet of Jewish mystical teachings. Critics claim the center is a cult and have complained about what they describe as its focus on raising money – a criticism likely to be fueled by news of the patent request.

“Wearing bindles is a traditional practice — half of Boro Park women are wearing a bindle,” said Rabbi Alan Brill, an authority on kabbalah and founder of a traditionalist organization called Kavvanah.

Rabbi Bob Carroll, also of Kavvanah, said that the practice of tying the red string around one’s wrist likely originated at least as far back as the 19th century. Carroll said the purpose of the red bindle is found in its shape, which is said to be similar to a worm, and that, “Supposedly, the point is that if you look at this red string, you will be reminded of this lowly creature and you will avoid being prideful and other people will not be jealous of you.”

Carroll was quick to add that he did not think many people understood the original purpose of the string. “In recent years people have tried to play these things up as though they’re an amulet, and that is absurd,” he said. Many people today will place a string on a crib to protect the baby, “but the baby cannot be made to feel humble by the bindle, so it’s ridiculous,” he said.



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