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Stringent Code of Kabbalah Laam
Documents and testimony obtained by Haaretz offer a close-up look at the organization with hundreds of thousands of followers.
Uri Blau Aug 30, 2012 3:32 PM
A drab industrial building on Jabotinsky Road in Petah Tikva. Between Shahaf washing machine parts and Gaya Rooms for Rent by the Hour lies the modest entrance to the main building of the Kabbalah Laam organization. In less than an hour, the daily lecture by Michael Laitman would begin, and the parking lot was already buzzing. A stream of men of all ages, religious and secular, began to arrive; most swiped a magnetic card at the entrance.
“It opens the door and also transmits a report to the person at the computer as to who arrived when,” a former member of the group will explain later. “Ten minutes after the lesson begins, the guy in charge calls those who didn’t show up. Many of the people are woken by the phone call and come, others give excuses, some don’t answer, and others get yelled at by their wives, because the whole family gets woken up.”
The guard at the door nods in welcome to the arrivals. Day in and day out, 365 days a year, in every season and all kinds of weather, they come. Around 200 men, sometimes more. Two floors of offices and classrooms, rows of faucets and hot water urns for coffee and tea, a large study hall where the lessons are held and broadcast live on TV and online. And there is also a large roof, with an array of fitness equipment, chairs and a smoking area overlooking a typical local, urban landscape.
“Isn’t it hard to get up at this hour every night?” I ask a young man who’s been part of the group for more than a decade.
“You get used to it,” he replies.
“And what happens in the morning, when you have to go to work?” I press him.
“Luckily, I don’t start work until 11,” he says with a smile. “But there are people who just go to bed early − at 9 P.M.”
Women do not show up; they watch the lessons from home. “We come here to study and you have to be able to concentrate,” explains the young man, explaining graphically the kind of distraction a female presence might cause. He himself met his wife through Kabbalah Laam. “If it hadn’t been that way, it would have been hard,” he says. “I’d have to explain it all to her, involve her in it, too.”
Like many of the people here, this young man plans to move closer to this area. It’s 2:45 and he hurries to get a good seat in the main hall. The photographer and I follow. We leave our bags at the entrance to the room like all the other students.
But then Avihu Sofer, a prominent Kabbalah Laam activist, arrives. “Come outside,” he says to us, and escorts us out of the building. This is a kabbala organization − and a sign is hanging at the entrance for the “Arevut Movement,” whose aim, says its website, is “to put the value of mutual responsibility at the center of the public discourse in Israeli society” − and everyone is ostensibly welcome, but not the photographer or me.
“You were not invited here,” Sofer says, and turns to go back inside. Before disappearing, he turns around for a moment and says: “Don’t you have anything better to do at 3 A.M.?”
Kabbalah Laam, founded by Michael Laitman, is dedicated to the teaching and dissemination of kabbala. The organization is run by a nonprofit association called Bnei Baruch, founded in 1997. In the United States, Canada and Germany, there are sister organizations of Bnei Baruch, under the same name. Kabbalah Laam has one major competitor for the hearts of believers: the Kabbalah Center founded by Shraga Berg, whose most famous student is the singer Madonna.
At Kabbalah Laam one also finds some local celebrities, including singer Arkadi Duchin and actor Sasha Damidov. According to the book, “Kabbalah for Beginners” ‏(in Hebrew‏), put out by the Bnei Baruch organization, “the wisdom of kabbala” can provide the answers to questions like “What is my purpose in this world? What does the future hold? And, how can one avoid unnecessary anguish and achieve tranquillity and confidence?”
Kabbala, says the book, “gives a person the ability to ask any question and arrive at the inner, personal experience that will give him the full answer ... There are precise, genuinely scientific explanations here for how to achieve that supreme feeling of boundless pleasure and to gain total control over the course of your life...
Rabbi Michael Laitman, the student and personal aide of Rabbi Baruch Ashlag, is the one who teaches us how to properly understand the texts and, through them, to achieve the goal for which they were created.”
Though his followers call him “rabbi,” they acknowledge that Laitman never underwent ordination and that the title is mostly an honorific. The Kabbalah Laam website explains that in 1991, after the death of his mentor, Rabbi Ashlag ‏(known as the Rabash‏), “Rabbi Dr. Michael Laitman” − a professor of ontology, with a Ph.D. in philosophy and kabbala and a master’s of science in bio-cybernetics − founded Bnei Baruch, naming it after his teacher, “whose side he never left in the final 12 years of his life, from 1979-1991. Dr. Laitman was Ashlag’s prime student, personal assistant and is recognized as the successor of Rabash’s teaching method.”
Ashlag was the eldest son of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag ‏(aka Ba’al Hasulam‏), author of “Hasulam” ‏(“The Ladder”‏), a commentary on the Book of Zohar. According to the website, Kabbalah Laam bases its lessons and activities on the teachings of these two great spiritual leaders. In 1995, with the aim of sharing the wisdom of kabbala with all, Laitman founded his organization.
Bnei Baruch was established mainly by immigrants from the former Soviet Union, but in recent years its activity has expanded to other sectors of Israeli society. Shai Ben-Tal, a doctoral student in Jewish philosophy at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, has been researching it for several years.
“According to Bnei Baruch, kabbala is the natural heir of science,” he explains. “Traditional science has reached the end of the road, and the time has come for a new scientific method to take its place on the stage of history and lead humanity to the final stage in its progress.”
Tomer Persico, an expert on new religious movements in Israel who has been monitoring the organization’s activity for some years and writing about it on his site ‏(tomerpersico.com‏), estimates that it currently has 50,000 local followers.
“Bnei Baruch,” he says, “is the most successful new religious movement in Israel. They present a popular adaptation of the kabbala of Rabbi Ashlag, which stresses the community ethos on the one hand and the internal transformative process on the other, as ways of getting closer to the godliness they identify with the universe itself. In addition, they are motivated by a totalitarian messianic vision that envisions, in the not-too-distant future, a government of kabbalists who cannot be challenged.”
Many followers get up to listen to the daily lesson by Laitman at the Petah Tikva center between 3:10-6 A.M., which is also broadcast live on the Internet and on Channel 66, launched by his organization.

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