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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 September, 2004, 17:07 GMT 18:07 UK
Madonna attends Kabbalah lecture
Madonna in Tel Aviv
Madonna attended the lecture in a Tel Aviv hotel
Madonna has immersed herself in the spiritual teachings of Kabbalah during the first day of her visit to Israel.

The singer and her family are on a spiritual pilgrimage to mark the Jewish New Year.

On Thursday, Madonna listened to a lecture about Kabbalah, a type of Jewish mysticism, at a Tel Aviv hotel.

The trip has been criticised by some pro-Palestinian groups, as Madonna's itinerary includes a tomb in Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Madonna listened attentively to the lecture, which was delivered by her spiritual teacher, Eitan Yardeni.

Based on 5th and 12th century Jewish mystical texts from Spain and Middle East
Popularised in the West in 1960s
Teaches creation is 10 spheres, symbolised by different Hebrew letters and parts of the body
Emphasis on individual spirituality, multi-faith appeal
Fans are Demi Moore, Britney Spears, Roseanne Barr
"Past and present are interconnected, the personal and global as well," said Yardeni, speaking in English with simultaneous translations appearing on large screens in Hebrew, Arabic and Spanish.

Madonna's husband, film-maker husband Guy Ritchie, was seen in the men's section of the conference hall, which had been converted into a synagogue for the event.

Their visit has been welcomed by the Israeli government who are keen to attract more celebrities to the trouble-hit country.

Madonna also plans to speak at an event bringing Palestinian and Israeli children together.

But pro-Palestinian activists have criticised her "insensitive" decision to visit the tomb of the biblical matriarch Rachel near Bethlehem, which is on Palestinian land occupied by Israel.

Israeli soldiers provide security as members of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel demonstrate against Madonna's visit to Rachel's tomb
Protests against Madonna's planned visit to Rachel's tomb have been held

Thousands of police have been drafted in to protect the Kabbalah group, with details closely guarded because of security fears.

Madonna is also expected to visit graves of Jewish sages in northern Israel, as well as the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

"These are energy vortexes," explained Rabbi Shaul Youdkevitch, head of the Kabbalah Center in Israel.

"It is known among Kabbalists, among people that study Kabbalah, that you can go there and recharge yourself with positive energy."

Israel's tourism ministry said Madonna's visit was a boost to Israel's flagging tourism industry.

Red bracelet

More usually known for her raunchy outfits, Madonna's interest in Kabbalah became public when she was spotted wearing its traditional red string bracelet.

Since then, a string of high-profile celebrities including Britney Spears and Courtney Love have been seen sporting the bracelet.

The number of centres dedicated to the faith is growing, particularly in the US, where there are centres in many major cities, while there are also dedicated centres in London and Paris.

Kesha West reports
"Her visit to Israel is a chance to practise her new-found faith"


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