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Jewish Journal

Kabbalah Centre sues alternative community

by Brad A. Greenberg

October 2, 2008 | 5:13 pm

Madonna

When Shaul Youdkevitch and his wife left the Kabbalah Centre in February, after nearly three decades living and working at the now-celebrity-rich religious center, they didn’t want to give up the esoteric teachings of Jewish mysticism too. So they started their own kabbalah community, and because Youdkevitch had been a higher-up at the Kabbalah Centre, his organization quickly got the attention of his former employer.

Now he’s being sued for allegedly stealing trade secrets and leading people astray.

Details of the lawsuit, which I wrote about for this week’s Jewish Journal, are after the jump:

The lawsuit, which seeks damages in excess of $100,000 as well as any profits, accuses Universal Kabbalah Communities of unfairly competing, of stealing “trade secrets,” of setting up a Web site and using an acronym (UKC) that people could confuse with the Kabbalah Centre (TKC), of trying to steal the center’s members and of claiming to be intellectual successors to the teachings of Rabbi Philip Berg and his predecessors.

The 23-page suit cites numerous cases in which their activities allegedly violated California law. Among them, that their Web site, www.livekabbalah.org, is too similar to the center’s, www.kabbalah.com, and that Universal Kabbalah Communities invited members of the Kabbalah Centre to a celebration on the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Yehuda Brandwein, who led the center before he handed the reins to Berg in 1969.

Aviv Tuchman, an attorney for the Youdkevitches, called the lawsuit “groundless.”

“The word kabbalah is not trademarked; the observance of the rabbi’s yahrzeit is certainly not some proprietary right, the observance of Jewish holidays is not some proprietary right,” Tuchman said. “The sole purpose of their lawsuit is to harm Shaul and Osnat—it is to intimidate them and deter them from freely practicing Judaism and kabbalah.”

Youdkevitch and his wife are not the first people to start an alternative to the Kabbalah Centre; they just might be the highest-profile former employees to do so. Because of that, their activities have drawn the attention of many active members and employees of the center.

Across the United States and, particularly, in Israel, countless individuals and organizations teach various forms of kabbalah, said Jody Myers, chair of Jewish studies at Cal State Northridge and author of “Kabbalah and the Spiritual Quest: The Kabbalah Centre in America” (Praeger, 2007). The most significant of these, she said, is Bnei Baruch Kabbalah Education & Research Institute, which started in Israel in 1991.

That someone who left the Kabbalah Centre would start their own kabbalah community should be no surprise, Myers said. But that the center would file suit is.

“I find it problematic,” Myers said. “We have First Amendment rights here. People are going to keep teaching kabbalah.”

Calls to the Kabbalah Centre’s media office were not returned. Janet Grumer, an attorney for the center, declined to comment.

The lawsuit is presented not as a religious matter but a business dispute. Repeatedly referenced is how the Universal Kabbalah Communities are cutting into the profits and economic advantage of the center. (Although the Kabbalah Centre is a nonprofit religious organization, its revenues fluctuate like those of a for-profit business.)

Youdkevitch’s attorneys claim the suit is a vain attempt to skirt constitutional protections of freedom of expression and religious exercise.

“Couching its allegations under the guise of a business dispute cannot dodge the First Amendment dagger and review the corpse that is plaintiff’s complaint,” they wrote in a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Read the rest here.

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