Is That Ashton Kutcher in the Audience?


What would Madonna say?

"She'd say — 'Bring it on!' " roars Rabbi Rayzel Raphael.

The rabbi is doing just that — bringing on "Kabbalah, the Musical," to the Philly Fringe Festival for a number of performances at the Elkins Estate in Elkins Park, beginning Sept. 2.

It is no mystery why Madonna — a very vocal advocate of Kabbalah, the mystical "magical" doctrine of Judaism which some have called a key to the enigmas of the universe — would be entranced by this entertainment provided by the rabbi and a cast of 10. The these-days so-called non-material girl probably would give the unorthodox piece two tzitzit up (well, this is the Fringe Festival). After all, all of Hollywood seems to be hip to things Jewishly mystical these days.

Indeed, could Mick Jagger, Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Rosie O'Donnell, Alex Rodriguez and Paris Hilton — all known for their intellectual heft — all be wrong?

What's enlightenment got to do with it — as Tina Turner (not a practitioner) might have said? "What most people have been exposed to is a smorgasbord of pop psychology and self-help that pretends to have some connection to Jewish mysticism, but it rarely, if ever, does," says Rabbi Shimon Leiberman of

"It is easy to see how people are fooled. In most disciplines, you expect to know and understand something after studying it. But when it comes to mysticism, people expect to be mystified. So they are willing to accept incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo."

In the Jumbotron of faith, Hollywood is not getting the true big picture. Make no mistake, the real mystical appeal is part of Raphael's rhyme and reason to do the musical. Raphael — offstage, the rabbinic director of InterFaithways of Delaware Valley — is no Kabbalist-come-lately: A noted singer/songwriter/liturgist and co-creator of Shabbat Unplugged, Raphael plugged into Kabbalah "predating my days at Reconstructionist Rabbinical College," in Wyncote, class of 1997.

The rabbi forever credits former RRC dean and teacher Rabbi Arthur Green for inspiring her interest in the topic. Raphael, whose latest CD is "Friday Night Revived," knows that Kabbalah is no mere revival meeting of the hot and hip. Many of those types gather at the West Coast epicenter for such things, the Kabbalah Center, under the aegis of Philip Berg.

"Am I jealous of their success? Of course!" she says good naturedly, admitting she does "not want to cast aspersions" on the center or its controversial captain. "Would we only have such success for our Jewish day schools and camps," she says, a sigh in her voice.

But is Kabbalah turning camp these days with every Tom, Dick and Shmuel sporting the fashion accoutrement of a red thread to ward off the black soul of evil? Nothing wrong with the thread, she says. "I wore a red thread around my belly when I was pregnant for good luck," says Raphael of the belly belt (ironically, her first album was "Bible Babes A-beltin' ").

At the Fringe, where the interactive theatrical presentation's cast will cast out for truths about Kabbalah, the rabbi wouldn't mind reeling in one potential potent audience member.

Esther, do you hear her? Madonna, Raphael calls out, tongue-in-chic, come on down!


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