The Bergs insist their writings are a direct interpretation of the Zohar, an ancient text, dense and complex, that contains a mystical discussion of what God is.
"We go directly to the source, directly to the Zohar. We don't teach anything that's ours. We don't claim to be teachers. We don't even care if anyone respects us or not. Our job is to bring content to people, content that wasn't there before. Nothing we do comes from our brain," said Yehuda Berg, one of the couple's sons, who runs the Kabbalah Centres with his mother and brother, Michael Berg.
Indeed, the Kabbalah Centres' approach to the Zohar is a far cry from the rigorous intellectual pursuit of Jewish scholars. The Bergs teach that merely to have the Zohar in your possession offers one protective powers, a claim scholars say is ridiculous.
Ellis has spent thousands of dollars buying complete sets of the Zohar for his home, office and family. "That's the telephone line to God. All you have to do is plug it in and you're connected," said Ellis, who admits he doesn't know what the ancient Hebrew and Aramaic text he's reading means. "I have no idea what it says. But anyway, that doesn't matter. This is powerful stuff," he said.
Karen Berg said the message of the Kabbalah text transcends language barriers "because your brain, your subconscious has a way to pick up what -- they're almost like a scanner in a supermarket. You know it's just a code, a bar code. And yet they can manage to take the material they need from it."
Adlerstein says this is nonsense. "The notion that you can mumble a couple of words or find the right mantra, or by focusing on letters with your fingers, is the antithesis of what Kabbalah is," he said.