From the Material Girl to Liz Taylor, more stars are exploring the mystical kabbalah

Roseanne does it. Madonna invites others to do it with her. Courtney Love does it too (but not always with Madonna). It is kabbalah, the study of Jewish mysticism that has improbably become one of the fastest-growing spiritual movements du jour in Hollywood. Until recently, the obscure branch of Judaism that emphasizes the link between self and the universe was so esoteric that few other than rabbis and religion scholars dared to study it. (The Zohar, kabbalah’s principal text, was said to drive any reader under 40 insane with its complexities.) Now, with the millennium approaching and anything spiritual doing big business (see: Deepak Chopra), kabbalah has gone mainstream. ”It’s hitting a spurt with celebrities now,” says Rabbi Chaim Solomon, an instructor at L.A.’s Kabbalah Learning Center, where many celebs study and, according to Solomon, there aren’t enough teachers to meet the demand. ”[Stars] have made it on a physical level — they’ve got money, power, and influence. But they’re not necessarily happy, and they’re looking for answers.”

This metaphysical appeal is what hooked the Material Girl, who started taking kabbalah classes when she was six months pregnant. She has become such a devout follower that she hosted a high-powered reception in L.A. Sept. 18 to spread the word. ”She said, ‘Kabbalah is the one place I don’t feel like a celebrity,”’ says the singer’s instructor, Eitan Yardeni. Madonna, who has spent much of her career flouting her Catholic upbringing, told the group that nothing had ever spoken to her like kabbalah and that only now was she able to take responsibility for her life.

Traditionally, kabbalah involved rabbis reading the Scriptures using nontraditional approaches, resulting in an understanding of the relationships between humans and God, and life and death. In the new version, students are fed the lessons without actually having to read original texts. Call it kabbalah lite.

Lourdes’ mom isn’t alone. Barbra Streisand has become a disciple. (”Barbra has a very strong and continuing interest in Jewish studies,” says the singer’s spokesman.) Sandra Bernhard, who was introduced to kabbalah by her personal trainer and who is one of the key people in spreading the word to the celeb set, claims, ”Kabbalah has awakened the truth and wisdom inside of me, which is within each of us.” Others who have gone mystical include Roseanne, Love, Elizabeth Taylor, Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern, Donna Karan, and Isaac Mizrahi. ”I was raised as a Reform Jew and had heard about kabbalah,” says actress Judith Light (Who’s the Boss?). ”I’ve always wanted to know the spiritual side of Judaism.”

Kabbalah’s emergence has also been reflected in pop culture at large. The Bible Code, the best-seller that says the Old Testament holds secrets about the future that can be decoded through computers, is based on a kabbalistic principle. This summer’s Lilith Fair drew its name from Adam’s first wife — a tale from the kabbalah tradition. And an episode of The X-Files last season told the story of a golem, a creature based on a kabbalist concept about the ability to create life with words.