I’m always tickled when I read stories like In Israel, Madonna Finds Little Solitude. This type of story is so easy to parody: big celebrity seeks spiritual truth; big celebrity embraces some equally big guru or spiritual system; big celebrity announces he/she has achieved spiritual enlightenment and life is now good. But you’ve heard this story so many times before. The big celebrity has an ego the size of the Grand Canyon. The big celebrity’s infatuation with the spiritual system du jour lasts only as long as it stays “hot.” When some other form of enlightenment becomes hotter, the celebrity goes elsewhere fast.
Madonna dons a “modest” head covering on tour of Kabbalist tomb (credit: Reuters)
I know there are a tons of Madonna fans out there who will rise to her defense. But her recent trip to Israel leaves her open for merciless parody. The poor woman on a spiritual quest couldn’t even get out of her car to worship at Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall because of peripatetic papparazzi trailing her every move.
Back at her hotel, where she had a bit more control over her environment, she participated in spiritual exercises in the conference rooms. But the killer is that the hotel room that was turned into a synagogue observed the Orthodox tradition of strict gender segregation (mechitza). Don’t you find it laughable that the ardently feminist “material girl” would subject herself to the repressive strictures of Orthodox Judaism? I know I do. And I’ve got news for Ms. Madonna. You don’t have to be Orthodox to study Kabbalah. I find it deeply objectionable that she should fall prey to an Orthodox Jewish interpretation of Kabblah and Jewish tradition in general.
Poor Madonna added insult to injury by making a truly lame statement about how safe Israel is (and how would she know having spent at most a few days there??):
“I was a bit hesitant to come here after seeing so many news reports about terrorist attacks,” said Madonna, wearing a low-cut dress with a black and white leopard print. “I realize now that it is no more dangerous to be here than it is to be in New York.”
What an idiotic statement! It shows her to be no different than all the other empty-headed, airbrained celebrities who make the mistake of trying to exercise true mental function in a public setting. The results are all too commonly embarassing to both the celebrity and the human race. Madonna is no exception. Israel certainly IS a more dangerous place to live than New York, especially if you choose to live beyond the Green Line.
And don’t you just love her outfit (“a low-cut dress with a black and white leopard print”)? I didn’t know that her Kabbalist friends had sanctioned her wearing such unchaste outfits. A definite violation of that sacrosanct Orthodox stricture which calls upon women to dress chastely (in Yiddish, zeniusdik).
At the risk of appearing to kick a girl when she’s down, I’ve got to quote another precious passage from her stock of wonderful Israeli pronoucements:
“I’m here as a student of cabala,” she said. “A cabalist sees the world as a unified whole. A cabalist asks why. A cabalist believes that he or she has the responsibility to make the world a better place.”
I guess I should feel slightly honored since her allusion to making the world a better place comes from the Kabbalistic term, tikun olam (also the name of this weblog). But if her seven years of Kabbalah study has only taught her that Kabbalah “sees the world as a unified whole” and that the Kabbalist “asks why,” why then she hasn’t learned terribly much.
I’m truly touched that the great one ventured forth to “pray, chant and place candles” at the tomb of Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag, the Kabbalist sage. But I have to draw the line when the writer says “shortly before leaving [she] wiped tears from her eyes.” This is too much. She’s appropriated all the exterior trappings of Kabbalah (including the “red thread on her wrist, a cabala trademark intended to ward off the evil eye”) and now she would have me believe that she’s shedding tears for one of Kabbalah’s great sages?! Gimme a break!
Bethlehem protestor reminds material girl that real people suffer all around her as she pursues spiritual perfection (credit: CBSNews.com)
I’m so sorry to hear that M’s planned visit to the Tomb of Rachel, located in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, didn’t pan out. I guess she has better relations with Israelis than Palestinians. After all, the broad-minded spiritual seeker is probably wondering what kind of spiritual traditions can they have that would possibly compare with Kabbalah? Right, material girl?
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not attacking Kabbalah. I personally studied Kabbalah as an undergraduate and graduate student at the Hebrew University and the Graduate Theological Union. It is one of the great traditions in Judaism and takes its honored place among the mystical traditions of world religions. But I detest spiritual fads that turn traditions with a thousand years of history into grist for Hollywood seekers.
Israeli government officials were no fools. They jumped right on the Madonna bandwagon hoping to turn her visit into a propaganda coup in the fight for international legitimacy. They asked her to stirke of pose with Prime Minister Sharon. The New York Times article doesn’t make clear whether Madonna stopped short of allowing herself to be shamefully exploited for political advantage.
Should anyone wish to pursue real, serious study of the Kabbalah, I highly recommend my former Zohar teacher, Danny Matt’s new translation of the Book of Zohar, the literary basis of the Kabbalah.