The Material Girl has become a material setback for Rabbi Phillip Berg of the Kabbalah Centre, as another rabbi known for his association with questionable celebrities, Shmuley Boteach, attacked the star’s endorsement of the celebrity-heavy establishment.
In a syndicated essay last week, Boteach — best-known for his 1999 best seller, “Kosher Sex” — described the singer Madonna Ciccone as a “slut,” telling Berg, “Do us all a favor and dump Madonna as your principal spokesperson.” The statement was repeated in gossip columns and tabloids worldwide.
Boteach had famously spent time with Michael Jackson a few years ago, taking him along to synagogue services. Recently, Boteach disavowed Jackson.
The statement brought a quick response from Madonna’s spokesperson, Liz Rosenberg. “I find Rabbi Boteach’s comments regarding Madonna frightening,” she said. “His vile attacks on her character and as an artist are staggering for someone who professes to be a religious person.”
Many Jewish communal insiders dislike what they see as Berg’s blatant commercialization of the Jewish mystical tradition. He is known for selling religious wares at high prices and even tried to trademark the term “kabbalah red string,” referring to a string traditionally worn by some Jews. Moreover, some view his approach to kabbalah as at variance with Jewish tradition.
Nevertheless, the situation seemed comical to many, since Boteach is widely seen as no less a marketer of religion than Berg. Mainstream rabbis rarely comment on the actions of either rabbi, considering them not worthy of rebuke. Several rabbis contacted by the Forward would not provide comment.
Boteach’s rant was part of an essay that criticized mainstream Jewish debate for its irrelevance to pressing issues, choosing instead to worry about matters such as the hair used in Orthodox women’s wigs. Some wigs have been ruled unkosher because the hair is shorn in polytheistic Hindu ceremonies.
“Having been in Israel last week and walked through the city of Hebron with its mass of memorials to dead Israeli civilians, the last thing on my mind was the origin of my wife’s wig,” Boteach wrote, adding, “While Jewish legal prohibitions against idolatry must be taken seriously, I would prefer seeing rabbis providing direction as to the advisability of further territorial concessions that will only bring Israel’s enemies closer to its major population centers.”
Less widely reported was Boteach’s qualification of his statement. “To be sure, I am not advocating that the Kabbalah Centre throw Madonna out,” he wrote. “Every human being should be encouraged to approach God, regardless of other choices they have made.”
The Kabbalah Centre did not return a request for comment.
FACE OFF: Shmuley Boteach, left, called singer Madonna, right, a ‘slut’ and urged the Kabbalah Centre to distance itself from the pop star.