Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on ReligionInstitute for Studies of Relgion
IJRR :: 2017 Volume 13 :: Article 2
2017 Volume 13, Article 2
Pragmatic Kabbalists: Bnei Baruch and the Globalization of Kabbalah

Author: Massimo Introvigne (Center for Studies on New Religions)

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ABSTRACT

Bnei Baruch is the most successful Israeli new religious movement, with some 50,000 participants in its meetings in Israel and some 150,000 worldwide. It is part of the current known as "Ashlagian Kabbalah," which includes more than twenty movements claiming the heritage of the prominent 20th century kabbalist Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag. Michael Laitman, a prominent disciple of Yehuda Ashlaga's son Baruch, founded Bnei Baruch ("Sons of Baruch") in 1991. It proposes a pragmatic approach to Kabbalah, opening its teaching to non-Jews and presenting Kabbalah as part of a universal wisdom rather than of a specific religion. Bnei Baruch's approach to Kabbalah has been contested in Israel by ultra-Orthodox Jews, who regard Kabbalah as a Jewish form of mysticism that should be taught to Jews only, by some academics, who criticize Laitman's interpretation of Kabbalistic texts as at odds with prevailing scholarship, and by the local anti-cult movement. This article draws on participant observation and interviews of members of Bnei Baruch in different countries. It explores life in Bnei Baruch and processes of affiliation to the movement, in an endeavor to explain why what was in 1981 a tiny band of ten disciples of Baruch Ashlag was able to transform itself in a comparatively short time into a global movements with tens of thousands of followers.

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