“Ok, I would like to add my own personal experience. I am a former student of Bnei Baruch who studied at the organization for over a year. After that time, I came to the conclusion that, even though many of the people I had contact with were very nice people and I had often enjoyed their company and the group’s cohesiveness, I eventually decided to sever contact with this unhealthy group for the following reasons:
1. I realized that so much of my free time was being used to study or disseminate Bnei Baruch work. BB was constantly and endlessly concerned with dissemination of BB material. I was beginning to have no other life and I was already sensing that I would need to give more and more in order to reach spirituality because the idea of the group was for it to unify. (Many of the references on Amazon.com to Laitman’s books actually come from members intent on promoting BB).
2. I was constantly asked to join in more and more BB events despite my already very active participation in the group and I was not compensated for my many hours of work.
3. I began to lose contact with friends and others.
4. I noticed that many of the men at my local group were also extremely involved in dissemination and, despite having full time jobs and family responsibilities; many told me that they only had time for their families one day a week. Wives clamored for more attention as did children but they often did not get it and were told to just deal with it.
5. The men would work full time jobs, sleep for four-five hours and get up to study. They always seemed to be sleep-deprived. In my opinion, this constant state of sleep deprivation made them more susceptible to manipulation on the part of the organization.
6. I learned that Rav Laitman was not a rabbi ordained by any of the Jewish streams, but his students called him “Rav” out of respect. Not once during the time I studied at BB did I ever hear “Rav” Laitman correct this assumption. Laitman’s books and website still refer to him as “Rav”. This is deceptive.
7. People always referred to Laitman as “Rav”, “Rav said such and such”. To normal ears, “Rav” would be followed by a name but here “Rav” by itself was understood to be referring to “the” Rav, “Rav” Laitman.
8. There was general difficulty among members of BB in criticizing Laitman, even constructively. They all seemed to speak of him as if he were a sort of god or Messiah. Many a pair of eyes would light up when the words “Rav” would pass their lips.
9. While the group was officially non-hierarchical, Laitman did have an inner circle which was referred to in hallowed terms by his many dedicated students who seemed to have suspended all rational thought.
10. The BB forum moderators often evaded questions of all types, especially when one could guess that the answer wouldn’t be pleasing, but questions having to do with the role of women and homosexuality were dealt with in a kind of double-speak and often ignored or pooh-poohed. Sometimes, I got the impression that certain questions were not welcome; other questions were welcome to a certain point before the moderator would get aggressive. They especially didn’t like talking about other “ways’.
11. Though I liked almost all of the Forum Moderators, I thought that Tony Kosinec’s moderating style was abrasive and authoritarian (and he certainly seemed that way outside the forums anyway), and he seemed the least likely of the BB Forum Moderators to give a straight or respectful answer.
12. I later discovered from an independent source that, contrary to BB propaganda, the person designated to succeed Yehuda Ashlag was his grandson Simcha Ashlag, not Michael Laitman.
13. I had a lot of trouble Laitman’s references to an authoritarian Creator “sending beatings” and other afflictions to people as a demonstration of His love and desire to bring them close to Kabbalah. This would be familiar and understandable to people accustomed to such abuse.
14. I didn’t like the dismissive and arrogant way that Laitman responded to some of the students’ questions. One could never predict whether or not a question would be deemed “acceptable” by “Rav” and one could never predict how he would react. He humiliated a fair amount of students during my tenure.
15. I disagreed with BB’s stance that their way was the only way and NO other way was acceptable or even possible.
16. One could only reach “spirituality” (ruchaniut) through a group with BB. The famous refrain of BB was “You need to have the right books, the right teacher (Laitman) and the right group (BB)”.
17. Gay men, while officially tolerated in the group, had to have a wife to reach spirituality (they needed a wife to reach spirituality). One gay man was apparently asked to leave the group because he brought up the topic too much. Lesbians were more manageable or something because they were women and just needed to be attached to a group.
18. Women could only reach spirituality through their husband or by being attached to a group. They were just “vessels”.
19. There was no verifiable way to ascertain whether one had attained spirituality or to know what it was like because it was forbidden to ask someone if he had reached spirituality (the reason given was that others might become jealous).
20. I disliked the constant separation of men and women. Men and women would eat separately. The men would sing songs and put their arms around each other but the women did not sing songs or put their arms around each other. Only in the strictest interpretations of Judaism did men and women sit separately. Thus it seemed to me that BB, as a non-religious group, should qualify to allow men and women to sit together but they insisted on the separation.
21. There was a large amount of alcohol consumed at BB events and dinners. Congresses were also full of people addicted to nicotine, as could be heard by the constant coughing and people always smoking.
22. BB seemed to have its greatest appeal to people who were accustomed to an authoritarian lifestyle. In my opinion, it is this in addition to a quest for spirituality that attracted a large amount of Russians and Israelis (combined, they were perhaps the vast majority). The Russians and Israelis were already used to a communal lifestyle. The Russians had no trouble with groups because many had grown up under Communism. The Israelis had the experience of being in the army and were accustomed to having an authority at their lead.
23. I didn’t like the authoritarian and harsh way some of the BB students interacted with their children.
24. Laitman and the group mindlessly attributed certain characteristics and energies as supposedly inherent in males and females.
25. People in the group were not encouraged to talk about their backgrounds or their personal lives.
26. The group was used in a way to keep the men on track (under control?)
27. People were instructed to ignore the intellect and instead just be present for the lesson. In the lesson, there were many complicated diagrams. I learned that, just because someone speaks over your head, especially about spirituality, doesn’t mean he knows anything.
I could go on!!! This is my experience and my opinion regarding my experience with the added benefit of hindsight. There are some very good people there but I need to keep myself sane so I removed myself from the scene.
I think it’s important that other former members share their experiences with this forum. I believe that current BB members are not reliable as they seem to want to defend BB and Laitman without really responding to the evidence brought forth, as has been previously established by the moderator of this forum.
Bnei Baruch, the Group
It is considered a great honor to be part of Bnei Baruch, not because the people within the group are special people, but because the Creator chose them to reveal the Wisdom of Kabbalah and spread it throughout the world – therefore they are special.
This very peculiar situation is supposed to build a strong team spirit between group members, reminiscent of that in the military, which, from an elementary psychological perspective, is very easy recognizable by most Israelis. Bnei Baruch students learn indirectly and subtly to look upon themselves as ‘the soldiers of truth and freedom’. The same morning lessons are often called “struggles”; and in Laitman’s words the act of reaching the first spiritual level is said an “attack”. The group enjoys singing a song in which it calls itself a “commando of strong and special people”. As in the Army, everyone is said to depend on the each other, and the group itself on each and every single “fighter”.
This general attitude is combined together with the inducted feeling that whatever is outside the group, being part of the big swindle (or physical appearance of creation), is fake, low, pathetic and unbearable. As a result Bnei Baruch members measure people who belong to the group and those who don’t in a completely different way from the norm. The group is your life, the air you breathe, your refuge, your family, the gathering of your only friends, your only and exclusive spiritual hope.
Outside the group there is no life, people are like beasts (meaning their behaviors and desires are no different from those of animals) and there is nowhere to go. The group owns the Way, the group owns the only tools to possibly reach the target, the group owns the truth. Everyone, once they have been accepted to become one of the group, is indoctrinated to fear finding himself outside!
The group’s behaviour towards its members can be summarized by the motto “either with me or against me”. The comparing of opinions is allowed and promoted inside Bnei Baruch, as long as it doesn’t exceed the theoretical limits outlined by Laitman’s teachings. Could it be any different? Should it be?
Unfortunately things become problematic when it concerns the view and treatment of people who have, for one reason or another, left the group. The one who is sent away, or leaves the group for ideological reasons, becomes infected, ceases to exist and ‘dies’. As a rule, people within the group are not allowed to talk with them anymore, nor even look at them and say “hello”. I will try to be more precise with a personal example, and it merely illustrates many other similar cases.
Approximately one year ago, for reasons connected to bad feelings she had collected in the space of two years and partly related to what I’m writing here, my wife decided to leave the group. The women of Bnei Baruch rapidly rejected her, to the point of ignoring her existence. The men simply supported, or even pushed, their wife’s position, or encouraged me that ‘after all she was a bit crazy’. They suggested that this was only a disturbance that, as always, would lead me closer to the target because, for His mysterious reasons, the Creator likes torturing those He loves… Someone said “her eyes are dead”, another tried to convince me to behave like the horse in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and told me “work harder!”, others suggested that I should consider getting married again and that a woman after all is nothing but a cow that brings cattle into the world. Most of the so-called friends were apathetic.
Now, the terrible thing is that in other places or ages, behaviors of this kind would surely have resulted in a harsher dismissal, such as lapidation (stoning), mutilation, or other violent abuses of human rights. Only the fact that we are living in more enlightened times spared everyone from falling into such an abyss. Nevertheless, the quality of the facts remains unchanged. To make it clearer, we could call it social lynching.
This behaviour might be considered normal for a pack of hyenas that fights over a chunk of meat, but it is unacceptable when originating from the “most developed souls” of the world. It is much closer to a sectarian or tribal behaviour than to the attitude I expected from those who want to spread the universal religion of “love thy neighbor as thyself” all over the globe.
The sectarian aspect of Bnei Baruch may be necessary to facilitate spiritual work, but it shouldn’t lead to harm and disrespect for human life and feelings.
There is absolutely not (or at least there was not when I was there) transparency about the use of money. Except for the leader and a very restricted number of his followers none knew how much money enters and how much money is spent and how. We all supposed most of it was for distributing the ideology of Kabbalah through books, videos, internet and such.
Unlike what Mike [Kellogg – Bnei Baruch instructor] says, donations are free but only ’til a certain stage. If one wants to study Kabbalah and develop spiritually, one must give the 10% of his salary to the group – there is a spiritual reason for that, Laitman says, and he can also explain it to you. He himself paid it for years to his teacher and that’s a practice of all chassidic groups of Judaism. But I must tell you that for a European sensitivity like mine (which made it only my problem), that practice was intrusive at all, a memory of hundreds years of ecclesiastic tithe.
Mike says that the group could dismiss Laitman. That’s “legally” true, but actually a total fake. That group without the guidance of that teacher wouldn’t exist anymore. They would vanish in confusion after a few hours. When I was there, it happened sometimes that Laitman said: “I’m going to leave you, so finally you’ll start doing your work!” But that was only a way to scare us: without him the group would be lost, but he without the group is lost as well – like any other leader, without followers what would he be leader of? As a matter of fact he never dared to leave the group and Israel. He was just woofing at his sheep…
That’s it from me for now. But look, if you’re trying to find the bugs in Bnei Baruch you shouldn’t look at simple things like money or sex. They’re above that. They have other plans: what do you know, for instance, about the foundation of the State of Kabbalah or the world ruled by a small group of wise kabbalists? It seems paranoid (“what is that, a plan of world domination? are you anti-Semitic?”) but it’s perfectly lined up with Laitman’s teachings.
Bnei Baruch are not only chosen but, as to say, chosen in between the chosen. They are the cream of the world, they think, and those who won’t agree with them… “Well”, Laitman says ” we’ll see how to face them. What matters is that they won’t bother us.” (that’s all recorded btw). What Mike and other people like him, I mean living far from Israel, don’t realize yet – or perhaps they’ve never heard about it (or they don’t care) – is that they won’t ever achieve anything in their position. The teacher says (never publicly, God forbid!) that only Jews and married males studying in the israeli group have some chance to achieve spirituality. Others are only steps of their ladder – forgive me the brutal metaphor.