Kabbalah spiritual figure who drew Hollywood following dies

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Rabbi Philip Berg, the spiritual director of the Los Angeles-based Kabbalah Centre who helped popularize a form of Jewish mysticism that attracted celebrity followers such as Madonna and Britney Spears, has died at age 86, his organization said.

The Kabbalah Centre's statement late on Monday did not say when Berg passed away, but the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported he died at a Los Angeles hospital on Monday.

Kabbalah has traditionally been reserved for certain learned members of the Jewish community, but at his center Berg worked to open the teaching and practice of kabbalah to anyone, including non-Jews.

A long list of celebrities in recent decades became affiliated with the Kabbalah Centre, including pop stars Madonna and Britney Spears and the actress Demi Moore.

"The Kabbalah Centre is deeply saddened to announce the passing of our teacher, Rav Berg," the Kabbalah Centre statement said. "Throughout the Rav's 86 years, he created a path for millions to learn and live Kabbalah."

Berg, who was born in New York, had already been ordained as an Orthodox Jewish rabbi when he began his study of the mystical tradition kabbalah in the 1960s with Rabbi Yehuda Brandwein in Israel, according to the website for the Kabbalah Centre museum.

In 1965, Berg set up in New York a small institute that was the forerunner of the current Kabbalah Centre, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2011. He later moved to Israel and then back to the United States where he expanded the organization and in 1998 made Los Angeles its headquarters, according to the paper.

The Kabbalah Centre now has centers in more than 40 cities around the world, according to its website. A spokeswoman for the Kabbalah Centre did not return emails seeking more details on Berg's passing.

The Kabbalah Centre's assets, built in part on the organization's emphasis on cash donations from followers, are now believed to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Internal Revenue Service and federal prosecutors in New York have investigated the Kabbalah Centre for possible tax evasion, the paper reported. But no charges have been filed.

Berg's widow, Karen, and his sons, Yehuda and Michael, continue to be involved in running the center. (Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Leslie Gevirtz)