Pop star Madonna, for years known more for her lurid behavior than praise of the sage Rabbi Isaac Luria, has written a song on her new album in tribute to the master of Jewish mysticism.
While no one claims to have yet seen any of the lyrics, even the idea of including a song, titled "Isaac," on her forthcoming album, "Confessions on a Dance Floor," has incensed those who care for Rabbi Luria’s tomb as well as the seminary devoted to study of his teachings in the northern Israel city of Safed.
"This is an inappropriate act, and one can feel only pity at the punishment that she will receive from heaven. The sage Isaac is holy and pure, and immodest people cannot sing about him," Rabbi Rafael Cohen, director of the seminary, told the Israeli paper Maariv.
The Material Girl has raised Jewish hackles before, particularly with her 2002 video "Die Another Day," which showed her wearing tefillin and escaping from an electric chair adorned with Hebrew letters spelling out the name of God.
This time around, kabbalists are having a relatively benign reaction to Madonna’s new move.
Daniel Matt, author of a new translation of Jewish mysticism’s central text, the Zohar, said that he thinks a song dedicated to Rabbi Luria, also known as the Ari, is "all in all good for the Jews.
"I have respect for Madonna," he said. "I think she’s really gone through a spiritual transformation and it happens to have come through kabbalah, so I’m intrigued by it and not offended as some are. It’s inevitable that a tradition gets diluted when it spreads to the masses. But to spread awareness of kabbalah, despite the dangers of diluting it and cheapening it, is a good thing."
Rabbi Meir Fund, leader of The Flatbush Minyan in Brooklyn and a well-known teacher of Jewish mysticism, related a chasidic parable said to originate with the creator of Lubavitch chasidism. In it, the rebbe tells a visitor the story of a king whose only son is deathly ill. A wise man instructs the king to remove the most valuable stone from his crown and grind it down, then feed some of it to his son. That, says the wise man, will save him.
"The kabbalah is the jewel in the crown of the Torah," said Rabbi Fund. "Sometimes to get it out in the world, to spread it to people who otherwise might die spiritually, you have to grind it down. Madonna is in effect grinding down the stone in order to feed it."
However, "clearly in the parable the prince is not being saved by being fed a mixture of ground diamonds and filth," said Rabbi Fund, "which Madonna unfortunately is busy peddling."