Having written a number of books on the subject of Kabbalah, Berg believed that the philosophy should not be taught exclusively to a select few Jewish scholars but become a shared wealth of practical wisdom available to all of humankind.
There is disagreement about whether Berg's teachings, as relayed through the Kabbalah Centre, have sufficient grounds and/or genuine authority according to Jewish law, as they include some dogmas and translations differing markedly from those of more-traditional Kabbalists. Some Jewish scholars emphatically reject such teachings, deeming them as foreign to both the Kabbalah in particular and to Judaism in general.
In poor health following a stroke in 2004, he died on September 16, 2013.
Berg was born as Shraga Feivel Gruberger in Brooklyn, to an Orthodox Jewish family. His first wife was named Rivkah with whom he had eight children. It was Rivka's uncle, Rabbi Yehuda Brandwein, dean of a Yeshiva named Kol Yehuda, whom Berg first met on a trip to Israel in 1962, and who would become his Kabbalistic mentor. There is some disagreement over who succeeded Rabbi Brandwein as dean of Yeshiva Kol Yehuda - Berg has claimed to have replaced Rabbi Brandwein in that role, but that claim is disputed by Brandwein's son Avraham, who is the current dean.
After Brandwein's death in 1969, Berg returned to the U.S. and began working again with his former secretary and future wife, Karen, on the condition that she let him teach her Kabbalah, a discipline he claimed was reserved exclusively for men. In 1971 Philip and Karen married and traveled to Israel. Then, in 1973, the Bergs returned to Queens, where they established their full-time headquarters during the 1980s.
Reports about Berg are conflicting. According to a 1994 article in Tel Aviv magazine, Berg said he was ordained in the U.S.A. in the early '50s and received an additional ordination in Israel from his former father-in-law. Berg received rabbinic ordination by the Lakewood Yeshiva in 1951, though he has been denounced by the traditional Orthodox Jewish community as represented by the Lakewood Yeshiva. According to Burg website he was an alumnus of Yeshiva Torah VeDaas not BMG, Lakewood. The Los Angeles Task Force on Cults and Missionaries claimed he was not affiliated with the 80-year-old Yeshiva Kol Yehuda in Jerusalem, once headed by Berg's ex-uncle-in-law by his first wife, the late Rabbi Brandwein, though he claimed he was. He also fathered 8 children with his first wife RIfkah.
In 2010, the Internal Revenue Service launched an investigation, reportedly investigating whether funds were directed to the personal enrichment of the Berg family, and subpoenaed financial records of the organization and two affiliated charities connected to Madonna. The centre called the allegations “merit-less” and said it “intends to defend the case vigorously”.
Berg had been ill since suffering a stroke in 2004. He died on September 16, 2013. He was generally reported to be 86 (although the Los Angeles Times reported that according to public records he was 84). He is survived by his wife Karen and two sons, Yehuda and Michael who have led the Centre since his stroke. He also had eight children from his first marriage.
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