"At Request of Jewish Group,
Target Pulls Kabbalah 'Red String'"

September 23, 2004

Target has stopped selling bracelets made popular by pop icon Madonna and other celebrities after a Jewish group said the item commercialized a sacred religious tradition.

The International Society for Sephardic Progress (ISFSP), a Florida-based advocacy group for Jews of Spanish descent, protested when the Target Corp. began selling a red string bracelet it called "Kabbalah Red String."

The string is believed to ward off evil. It is literally wrapped around what is believed to be the tomb, in Israel, of the biblical matriarch Rachel, who is seen as a protector and mother figure to adherents of Jewish mystical philosophy. The string is then sent to the United States to be sold under the auspices of the Kabbalah Centre, a Los Angeles-based organization.

Controversial in Orthodox Jewish circles for teaching that Kabbalah is not a Jewish philosophy but available to all people, the Kabbalah Centre sells a length of red string that makes between eight and 10 bracelets for $26.

Adherents wear the bracelets until they fall off, a period of time that they believe depends on the amount of evil the person is exposed to.

The ISFSP wrote to Target in early August, asking the company to halt sales of the product. The group noted that the U.S. government had denied the Kabbalah Centre a patent and trademark for "Red String" because of its religious meanings.

Target responded with a letter that stated the string had been removed from the stores and Web site and is no longer advertised or offered for sale. Target did not respond to a request for public comment, but the ISFSP celebrated the decision.

"The Jewish people should not allow the corporate exploitation of their religion," wrote Shelomo Alfassa, executive director of the ISFSP, in a statement lauding Target's decision.

"Judaism, as well as Kabbalah, which is an inherent part of our sacred tradition, is not for sale, period."

Kabbalah Centre co-director Rabbi Michael Berg said the commercial aspect of his center's work is not a detriment to the ideals of the Kabbalah because all proceeds of the sales benefit the nonprofit organization.

"None of it goes into my pocket," Berg said in an interview. He said proceeds go to a "Spirituality for Kids" program, which provides free after-school programs in a dozen cities and operates two day schools in the United States. Bracelet revenues also go toward courses offered at Kabbalah Centres worldwide and even telephone lessons for people who do not live near a center, he said.

Berg added that anyone who cannot afford books, red string bracelets or other products his center sells will be given one for free.


Related ISFSP Press Release

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